If I say, ‘time doesn’t really exist,’ you might think I’ve gone mad. After all, it’s very obvious that time exists. We all believe in past, present and future. We have clocks to mark the unstoppable passage of time. We watch the seasons change, watch our children grow, watch each new year arrive in a blaze of fireworks, and of course, we are painfully aware of our own inevitable march through time, slowly ageing towards death.
So it seems crazy to even suggest that time does not exist.
But, it doesn’t.
At least, not in the way we imagine.
And when we realise the truth about ‘time’, we can experience an incredible freedom, and an end to our suffering. This is something we all yearn for, and it’s as simple as realising that whilst time does exist, it only exists inside the mind. But it’s hard to grasp this simple realisation, because our ego has hijacked the idea of time, to use it for its own ends – to perpetuate our suffering, by seeking wholeness and fulfilment, somewhere in time.
If we pay close attention to our ego stories, we can notice that all those stories require time, in order for them to make any sense.
We think about the bad experiences we had in the past, reliving them over and over again, feeling anger, disappointment, frustration or regret over how things ‘should’ have been. We replay painful conversations in our heads, imagining how we could have reacted differently. Or we yearn for the past, remembering how things used to be so much better, happier or more fulfilling. Most often, if we engage with our ego stories, the past is a great source of regret and sadness, of pain and trauma, of yearning and desire.
We also project our thoughts into the future – fearfully worrying about what ‘might’ happen, or trying to plan, control and manipulate what ‘should’ happen. We fantasize about the future, in order to escape our present suffering, thinking that ‘one day’, things will be better. Even in very subtle ways, we try to escape an unpleasant present moment, by resisting it, and anticipating a more desirable future moment. Most often, the present moment is something we rush through, seeing it as a stepping stone to a better future moment – as a means to an end.
If we explore all of our ego stories, we can see how they all need the context of time in order to exist, and our suffering comprises seeking a better moment, and resistance to a past, present or future moment.
But when we truly engage with the present moment – through mindfulness, self-enquiry, or other meditative practices – we take a break from seeking and resistance – from mentally travelling forwards and backwards in time. Instead, we feel into the truth of what is happening right now, in this moment, and we see that past and future do not exist at all, except inside our heads – the past has gone, and can never be relived, except in the mind. The future has not yet arrived, and can only be imagined in the mind. When a moment in the past happened, we experienced it as a present moment of ‘now’, and when a future moment arrives, we will also experience it as a present moment of ‘now’.
In reality, if we want to see things as they really are, there is only what is happening right now.
In fact, life only ever happens in the ‘now’. Past and future are nothing more than mental concepts – remembered ghosts and imagined predictions. Even though life seems to unfold as a series of separate linear moments, moving forwards as time, in reality, life is always and only ever directly experienced as this moment – now.
So, whist time exists as a mental concept, our actual direct and intimate experience of life is only ever as a present moment. This present moment, now, is always with us, from birth until death. We are the unchanging awareness – always present, timeless – creating, witnessing and becoming each unfolding moment of now.
Time is a man-made concept, or, more specifically, a mind-made concept, and truly realising this, is the key to letting go of our ego stories and suffering. Because, we suffer when we go to war with the present moment… by resisting, pushing, clinging, seeking, rejecting, avoiding. But the present moment has already arrived. It is already happening. We can resist it and suffer. Or we can embrace and embody it.
So instead of acting and reacting with a triggered and inflamed mind and ego, with corresponding emotions such as anger, fear and frustration, we instead find ourselves able to respond and take positive action from a space of awareness, which carries the qualities of clarity, wisdom and love.
And, the less energy we spend on our internal time-travelling – on fretting over past and future, and rejecting the now – the more energy is freed up for navigating our way through life with ease, grace, balance and sustained awareness.
Because, there is a beautiful freedom and simplicity of being, when we drop all our stories about how things ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be, and instead just allow each moment to unfold, just as it already is.
And as we drop our stories – drop our resistance – give up our war with life… as we stop arguing with whatever is arising, our relentless egoic time travelling naturally ceases, and we can expand and feel our way into the timeless wholeness that we are.
It’s all here, right inside this moment, right now…
It only takes a moment to realise that all this ‘time’, we were seeking wholeness in every other moment of ‘time’… except in the ‘now’.
And ‘now’ is all there is.
‘Now’ is everything that is.