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The Reification of Time

Author: Bob Makransky
Posted: January 13th. 2008
Times Viewed: 2,658

“At one time I waded through the river and at one time crossed the mountain. You may think that that mountain and that river are things of the past, that I have left them behind and am now living in this palatial building – they are as separate from me as heaven is from earth.

“However, the truth has another side. When I climbed the mountain and crossed the river, I was time. …. I have always been; time cannot leave me. When time is not regarded as a phenomenon which ebbs and flows, the time I climbed the mountain is the present moment of being-time. When time is not thought of as coming and going, this moment is absolute time for me. …

“Do not regard time as merely flying away; do not think that flying away is its sole function. For time to fly away there would have to be a separation between it and things. Because you imagine that time only passes, you do not learn the truth of being-time. In a word, every being in the entire world is a separate time in one continuum. And since being is time, I am my being-time. Time has the quality of passing, so to speak, from today to tomorrow, from today to yesterday, from yesterday to today, from today to today, from tomorrow to tomorrow. Because this passing is a characteristic of time, present time and past time do not overlap or impinge upon one another.”
– Dogen-zenji

“ (The Daimon, or Oversoul) does not perceive, as does the human mind of man, object following object in a narrow stream, but all at once, and because it does not perceive objects as separated in time and space, but arranged alone as it were in the order of their kinship with itself, those most akin the nearest and not as they are in time and space.” – William Butler Yeats

“The shamans of ancient Mexico never regarded time and space as obscure abstracts the way we do. For them, both time and space, although incomprehensible in their formulations, were an integral part of man.

“Those shamans had another cognitive unit called the wheel of time. The way they explained the wheel of time was to say that time was like a tunnel of infinite length and width, a tunnel with reflective furrows. Every furrow was infinite, and there were infinite numbers of them. Living creatures were compulsorily made, by the force of life, to gaze into one furrow. To gaze into one furrow alone meant to be trapped by it, to live that furrow.

“A warrior's final aim is to focus, through an act of profound discipline, his unwavering attention on the wheel of time in order to make it turn. Warriors who have succeeded in turning the wheel of time can gaze into any furrow and draw from it whatever they desire. To be free from the spellbinding force of gazing into only one of those furrows means that warriors can look in either direction: as time retreats or as it advances on them.” – Carlos Castaneda, The Wheel of Time

Contrary to popular belief, space and time have no objective existence. Therefore, to base our science and philosophy – not to mention our everyday lives – upon the assumption of reified space and time is about as absurd as basing them on the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Indeed, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are considerably more real in the cosmic scheme of things than what we call “space” and “time”.

Space and time are merely tools – techniques for organizing cognition – which evolved as sentient beings evolved. Just as the sense of vision is a cognitive tool which evolved as animals evolved; and visual acuity is more pronounced in predatory animals such as eagles than it is in e.g. blind cave fish; so too are the sense of space and time cognitive tools which are sharper (more highly evolved) for humans than for “lower” animals. The belief that they are centered in space and time enables beings to focus attention upon one thing at a time instead of everything at once; and also gives rise to the sense that there is a separated being which is focusing this attention.

What time really is, is not how we perceive it to be in our normal, everyday consciousness; any more than what love really is, is not how we perceive it to be when we are infatuated. Although human perception and cognition make sense to humans, the universe itself doesn’t make sense in the way that humans believe. There is no space or time out there.

Where materialistic science sees time as linear, magical science sees time as rhythmic. Materialistic science measures points and intervals along a well-ordered continuum, whereas magical science measures cycles upon cycles. This is what astrology is all about: the moment of birth can be viewed as a point along a linear continuum, as it is in materialistic science; or, conversely, it can be viewed as a stage in the unfoldment of potentialities on various levels – i.e. as the intersection of many different interpenetrating cycles, as it is in astrology.

It is more accurate to describe time as an emanation of birth – death – rebirth. The so-called real number system has no model in nature: the universe is not continuous, but rather explodes into being and dissolves into nothingness with every passing instant of “time”. What we take to be linear time is but a fragmentary way of apprehending and dealing with this phenomenon, which has evolved in tandem with human consciousness.

While animals are vaguely aware of the passage of time – i.e. while animals also organize their cognition temporally – animal consciousness is far less focused than human consciousness. Animals have far less sense of being separated individuals than humans have – they have less awareness of a separated self, are less “there” than humans feel themselves to be; and as a result their experience of time is less “there” as well.

We humans – especially we modern humans, are in a big hurry. Being in a big hurry is how we define ourselves. “We” are something that is in a big hurry; being in a big hurry is what “we” are made out of.

Linear time is a completely human invention, like golf or the latest Paris fashions – a set of rules, which have no reference to anything outside of human experience. Linear time is predicated on linear thinking. When linear thinking stops – when the constant internal dialogue which most people engage in from the minute they awaken to the minute they go to sleep ceases – then so too does linear time.

The argument in favor of linear time really boils down to the old post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – that things make sense because they make sense; that there’s a reason why this and not that; that everyday life, our experience of waking reality, is not just a dream – a mere flood of random hypnologic hallucinations to which we quite arbitrarily (and unskillfully) attribute sequence and causality: “First this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened; and that’s who I am. That’s how I define my self as an individual – my sense of being centered in a body, in a world, in a reality.”

In hypnologic hallucination – the flood of images which pass through our minds as we are dropping off to sleep – we can view the process by which we create our own dream reality; our waking reality is created analogously. In waking life, as in hypnologic hallucination, there is no reason why this image or situation is chosen and not that one.

Reasons why things are have to be cobbled together in retrospect, to provide a post hoc justification for why things are the way they are. Although causes do give rise to effects, and these effects are even predictable at times, there is in truth no reason why this and not that. In other probable realities it came out that and not this.

While brain research being carried out in neuroscience will undoubtedly lead to many useful discoveries, it has nothing to do with the study of consciousness. The so-called physical brain, like the physical body it inhabits, is merely a projection of the mind, exactly in the same fashion that the dreaming body is a projection of the mind. The only difference is that the waking body and brain are persistent enough for us to dissect.

If we could make dreaming hold still long enough to examine minutely we would find that our dream bodies and brain were made out of molecules and cells and neurons and whatnot too. Or whatever. The only reason why stuff is made out of molecules and cells instead of fire, earth, air, and water is because that’s the way science went in this particular probable reality.

But none of this actually exists; it’s all just a dream – an arbitrary hypnologic hallucination.

In the magical model moment-to-moment decisions are not made by mind, much less by a physical brain; they are merely reflected in mind. Mind conjures up reasons after the fact to justify the decisions that have already been made on a level of feeling (dreamless sleep). In the magical view decisions are made “first”, and then circumstances arise “later” which reflect those decisions; i.e. everyone creates their own reality.

That is to say, mind – and the so-called physical brain – is like the scoreboard at an athletic contest. The scoreboard reflects what is happening on the field, but it doesn’t create it. Similarly, mind and the brain reflect decisions that are being made on a feeling level, but they certainly don’t create anything. They don’t even apprehend anything. They just keep count, keep score, and keep tabs on what is really going on. A body – whether in dreaming or waking – is merely a counter: first this happens to it, then that happens to it, then the other happens to it, then it dies.

The actual situation is one of complete randomness – of all likely outcomes occurring simultaneously in different probable realities. And in each probable reality mind clicks out a thought form to justify / explain why this or that particular reality occurred. E.g. there is no “competition for scarce resources” going on; this is just the presenting problem, the superficial appearance of an energy dynamic in which sentient beings appear to be in turmoil, preying upon and devouring one another’s energy.

This is what W.B. Yeats’ termed Deception – the appearance that the acts of creation and destruction are not exactly identical, flip sides of the same coin, like the snake devouring its own tail. Elephants don’t have long proboscises because this confers an evolutionary advantage. Rather, they just have them, period. Any evolutionary advantage this bestows is a post hoc, materialistic interpretation: things are the way they are because that’s how they are, and this explains why they are that way.

Anyone who discerns any purpose in the outworkings of the universe – whether this purpose is conceived of as the will of God, or survival of the fittest and most prolific reproducers, or the selfishness of genes – is looking at things backwards.

Both Christianity and rationalistic materialism (science) are projecting images, which aren’t there.

Like the cabalistic Gematria which finds hidden connections in every biblical name and phrase, or like a paranoid who detects sinister plots against him in every chance occurrence, Christianity and materialism project meaning and purpose onto complete chaos. There is no purpose to anything except as in retrospect it can be argued that things are the way they are because that is how they were meant to be.

But this is an illusion, the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which in turn is predicated on the fallacy of linear time.

This is not to say that there is no causality in the universe: effects do not arise without a cause. However that causality is not embedded in linear time, and indeed it is too complex to analyze rationally (though here and there its results can be anticipated or predicted by intuition / feeling, as we do in astrology).

What most of us take to be causality is merely an illusion – mistaking how humans in our society make agreements amongst themselves for laws of the universe; as if golf or the latest Paris fashions were somehow universal principles with application outside of human society. What we take to be causality is merely post hoc sophistry: “See, I told you so!” But it doesn’t prove anything whatsoever.

For example, we mistakenly believe that first things happen to us, and then we react to them. E.g., first we get laid off from our job, and then we feel depressed and helpless. However from the magical point of view, the decision to feel depressed and helpless is primary – is made “first” (on the level of dreamless sleep).

The “getting laid off” thought form is conjured up “later” (on the level of waking consciousness) to justify feelings of importance – that it’s important to feel depressed and helpless.

In astrology we can often see bad times coming up in the future, in the progressions or transits, although it’s not always possible to predict the exact thought form situation, which the bad times will take.

The point is that either causality has nothing to do with linear time, or else astrology is a false doctrine. Q.E.D.

If we’re going to understand this point of view we have to get over our prejudice, which is all it is, about time being linear. The fact is that time is not linear. Here’s a way of looking at it: survivors of near-death experiences often report having seen every single event that ever happened to them during their lives flash by them in no time at all.

Sometimes they report seeing everything that ever happened to them zip by, but still being able to see each scene discretely, in a few seconds’ time. Others report seeing each individual event of their entire lives in one, complete take. In any case, it would seem that we experience the thought forms of our lives twice: once in linear fashion over a lifetime, and then in a timeless fashion (everything at once) at the moment of death.

This idea that time can be non-linear is easiest to see in dreams. Dreamtime is sequential, but not linear in the same sense in which waking time is linear. Dreamtime doesn’t have the same cause-and-effect inexorability that waking time has. This is because there is less focus in dreams, so everything is more here-and-now.

Unlike waking consciousness, in dreaming we are rarely influenced by past or future events. We don’t define ourselves in terms of personal history and future so much as we do when we’re awake. Things happen too fast and too intensely in dreams to dwell upon: everything is just too vivid and too now.

When we are awake and confronted by a life-threatening situation, e.g. while we are having an automobile accident or during a big earthquake, time slows way down. We can see everything that is happening with great clarity, in great detail, as if it were unfolding in slow-motion. This slow-motion perception of time is closer to the truth.

Slow-motion perception is more like how infants and ancient humans perceived time. It is more like dream-time perception and less like our modern, everyday, gloss-over-things-quickly-and-superficially-in-a-big-hurry perception of time.

Buddhists aver that experienced meditators are capable of slowing time down enough to be able to discern and distinguish individual thought forms (sankhara), desires (vedana), and moods (sanna) at the instant they arise.

However, it is impossible to act in the normal way in this slow-motion perception of time because we can’t think. If we are going to act or react in this frame of mind, we can only do so on intent, on our gut-level instinct, not on thought. Therefore the slow-motion perception is not as useful in performing all the humdrum tasks of modern, everyday life as is normal time perception; but it is the more useful form of perception in the practice of magic (as it was in hunting), where decisions have to be made faster than normal thinking allows.

When time slows down enough we lose our sense of separated selfhood altogether and move into altered states of consciousness. Indeed, we can define “altered state” as the feeling of timelessness. This can happen due to shock, psychedelic drugs, or even spirits. Some spirits have the power to temporarily erase our importance (self-pity) so that we experience a state of selfless grace.

Enlightenment is such a state – people who are enlightened can move into and out of timelessness and selflessness at will, by focusing their attention one way or the other. But even enlightened people don’t exist in a state of nirvana all day long. They have normal lives to lead too, and altered states are not particularly functional in everyday society.

That’s why our modern time sense evolved: it is more functional for agriculturalists than the NOW time sense of hunting-gathering.

Altered states can be inspiring, can give us a glimpse of the goal we are shooting for, but they are always temporary. Normal, everyday life is the battleground, the place where the real work has to be done, the place where it all begins and ends.

The goal of magical training is to bring an awareness of timelessness and selflessness (which are the same thing) into the routines of our everyday lives. We do this by detaching from the hurried me-me-me with its endless fluster of self-pitying moods from the past and concerns for the future.

Linear time is the matrix of our separated, lower self. Self and time arise together and fall together (dissolve into selflessness and timelessness). Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, like infants, didn’t have anywhere near as much sense of a separated self as we moderns do. They were not as individuated as we are today. They paid more attention to their feelings, their intuition, than to their thinking.

Ancient humans lived in a more timeless frame of mind, a sense of belonging to the universe. Their mental processing wasn’t a matter of constant thinking, but rather of direct knowing what their ancestors, spirits, and the earth were telling them. They felt themselves to be part of an ongoing, natural process in the same way that we feel ourselves to be part of our society. Because they were not as separated as we are today, they felt less Angst than we do, because they had no future to worry about.

If the future didn’t exist, would we care about it? If we stop thinking so much about the past and future, then the past and future lose much of their meaning. They are just not as important, so they are not as “there”, just as they aren’t as “there” for infants or ancient humans as they are for us. Infant and ancient human consciousness isn’t a matter of the constant dissatisfaction and relentless striving, which enables modern humans to focus enough attention to think.

When humans were still hunters, they did not draw as sharp a distinction between being awake and being asleep as we do today, since they slept in snatches when they felt like it instead of in long stretches during the night. Similarly, they didn’t draw as sharp a distinction between past and future as we do now because they didn’t need to – they were more centered in the now moment, hence they experienced their past and future in a more immediate fashion than we do today. They didn’t define themselves as much in terms of personal history (moods) and future aspirations (concerns).

We say, “I am no longer who I was back then” – separating who we are now from who we were at an earlier age. We say, “Someday I will be or do such-and-such” – separating who we are now from who we fantasize we will become.

But our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have that much of a sense of separateness – things that happened to them a long time ago, or that would happen to them some future day (what we would call prescience or sense of destiny), were more a part of who they conceived themselves to be now than they are for us. They were in closer touch with their intent – the feeling of their past and future; they didn’t have as many thought forms interposing a linear order upon their consciousness, imposing some ponderous past and inexorable future upon their present.

It’s precisely us moderns’ caring and worrying about the future that conjures up its existence. We care about the future, it’s important to us, because we believe there’s glory for us somewhere in our future – that we’re going to win the lottery, or find true love, or become famous, or go to heaven, or some other such fantasy.

What impels each of us individuals forward through time is the mirage of instant relief from our sufferings and release from our bondage – that miraculous change of luck that we imagine is just over the next hill.

The other side of that coin is our past, the things that we are ashamed of and would never reveal to anyone (and are trying to forget about ourselves).

The carrot and stick of striving towards a glorified future and slinking away from a shameful past is what creates the illusion that there is such a thing as a future and a past. When striving ends, so too does linear time. Without these constant, driving concerns we enter into a state of timelessness. This is what we experience in altered states of awareness.

In altered states we just don’t give a damn about the past or future – we’re too centered and joyous and at one with things in the present.

Feeling is spatial; that is, what we call space is merely our sense of having feelings and what we call time is our sense of having thoughts – hence everyone’s need for their own personal space or right to their own feelings, and their own time to make up their minds. Physical, three-dimensional space is a symbol for feelings, just as time is a symbol for thoughts; hence space still exists in the dream state, but time doesn’t – at least not in the same sense in which it exists in the waking state.

Our sense of personal continuity in the dream state is not based upon a linear, sequential, unfolding of events, as it is in waking. Things jump around too much in dreams for us to be able to operate on the assumption of personal continuity such as we make in our everyday lives in waking consciousness. Rather, our sense of selfhood in dreaming is based upon an awareness of self as experiencer (i.e., of death).

That vibrant, alive quality which characterizes dreaming is actually awareness of death. In dreams we are aware of death every second, willy-nilly, because there’s nothing solid in dreams to cling to: there’s no way of toning down the intensity of what we are experiencing. We’re face-to-face with death every second.

That’s why we feel more alive in dreams than we do in wakefulness – because we are seeing with the eyes of death. In our dreams, much more than in our normal waking experience, we are aware that death is watching us; that we are death; that all we really are is something watching itself.

The point is that what we call time is a falsehood. To us moderns space and time are real, and feelings and thoughts are symbols for space and time; but in fact, exactly the reverse is true. Linear time is an illusion similar to the illusion of motion produced by the series of still pictures which make up a movie.

Babies (and even young children, who sometimes talk about memories from other lifetimes) are not as centered in a one-track existence as adults are. Babies and young children are consciously impinged upon by influences (feelings) from other lives and probable realities which most adults have learned to ignore.

The same socialization process which props up a baby’s sense of being a unitary, abiding, separated individual also imprisons that individual in a furrow of inexorable linear temporality.

In other words, the illusion that time is linear – that there is a sensible progression from one moment to the next – is merely an agreement that human beings make. Just as during courtship people focus entirely on the positive aspects of their relationship and ignore the negative ones; and later when the marriage falls apart all they focus on are the negatives and ignore the positives; in the same way people focus all their moment-to-moment attention on that which seems to be familiar and persistent.

But the truth is that each passing moment is an entirely new ballgame with completely different rules: nothing persists, and everything is ineffable. Familiarity is a lie people tell themselves and each other to keep from losing their marbles: “Oh no, I’m not completely disoriented here, everything’s just fine and dandy!” It’s this lie that makes society (waking consciousness) possible.

Crazy people, retarded people, and master magicians can’t buy into this lie (that the universe isn’t as chaotic, ineffable and out-of-control as dreaming). They can’t (nor do they necessarily want to) assemble waking consciousness as effectively as “normal” people do. Nor do they experience time in the same fashion.

Time isn’t a line. It’s more like a plane, an infinite-ring circus, an eternal NOW moment, in which everything that has ever happened and ever will happen, in all lifetimes and realities, is happening all at once.

But each individual thought form involved thinks that it is a real, separated being with individual self-existence and a personal history and future. Each of the infinite thought forms which make up “us” – all of the things we have ever experienced or ever will experience; all of the monads of every instant of awareness in all our probable realities from this life and all our past and future lives – thinks that it is the real “us”, centered in a universe in which things make sense.

Each individual thought form (since they are indeed discrete) thinks it’s the top dog (most important). And from any given thought form we can move to an infinite number of possible futures or remember an infinite number of possible pasts.

And once that decision is made – the decision to move from the standpoint of any given thought form now moment to any other given thought form future moment or remembered past moment – mind will stamp upon that decision the notation: MAKES SENSE! (Is “real”).

That’s the only reason why things make sense (seem real) to us: because we are constantly telling ourselves the lie that things make sense. We tell ourselves the same lie when we are dreaming (that what we are experiencing makes sense, is “real”).

Admittedly, some probable futures or pasts are more likely than others; it’s more likely that your next thought form will be moving a bit further along reading this sentence rather than suddenly appearing on a Caribbean beach sipping a piòa colada. That’s the sort of thing that happens in dream consciousness – the jump from thought form to thought form tends to be a lot more haphazard than in waking consciousness. But it’s nonetheless a random process, shaped by tendencies from human and individual memory, whose only claim to fame is that it makes sense – there’s no doubt about it!

Mind is what makes sense out of this selection. This is easier to see in dream consciousness where even the most bizarre and improbable (from the point of view of wakefulness) thought forms can pop up and yet make perfect sense at the time we are dreaming them. Similarly, our waking consciousness (experience of everyday life) also only makes sense because we have decided to let it make sense. That assumption is what traps us in our furrows.

To lose our sense of linear time implies living moment-to-moment with all of our memories – at least the feeling of them if not the actual thought forms. Only by recapitulating all of our memories are we in possession of all the memories (feelings) of all our past and probable lives, as well as this one. At that point we’re not really centered in any given one of them anymore.

The waking state is controllable only as long as it seems familiar and important – i.e., centered in a past and future. The trick, then, is to be quite comfortable with everything out of control, as it were. To just stop floundering around and float with the current.

When we stop trying to control things, then we are dreaming. The more out of control we let our daily lives be, the more we are actually dreaming rather than being awake, and the closer we are to our intent – to being able to act on our true feelings rather than our social conditioning.

This is what the practice of magic is all about.

from Magical Almanac,

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Copyright: Copyright © 2007 by Bob Makransky. All rights reserved.


Bob Makransky

Location: Coban, Guatemala


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