The idea and essence of time is something that has bothered those of the thinking persuasion. For thousands of years thinkers have pondered over its meaning and essence, and to this day we have no clear understanding of what it is, where it is, and if it even exists.

The great Christian saint St. Augustine once spoke about time in a strange and mystical way. He said that there were three ways of looking at time. The first was the past. The second was the present. The third is the future. But since the past has already occurred, it isn’t there. The present is ever-fleeting, and you are never truly in the present. And the future has not even occurred yet, so it is also non-existant.

What Augustine was getting at was trying to explain to us that time, the movement of things, such as language, spacial cognition, and other elements of existence, are in fact non-existent. Of course he was speaking about this with the goal of attaining a closeness with God, and in truth to Augustine time was a painful and distressful thing.

Whatever the motivations behind Augustine’s writings, and whatever inner demons he battled, there is many glimmers of truth to his very informative statement, which was written over some one thousand years ago.

Augustine was grasping onto an ageless wisdom, which comes not from learned books, nor even gospels, but the thing that comes naturally out of the analysis of the soul. The soul plays a very significant role in relation to time.

There is the memory aspect, which can inflict both pain and joy. There is also the knowledge of time passing, of the body aging, of loved ones passing.

These are things that bother the soul, in relation to time. They make one question the permanence of existence, the search for freedom, and the wish and desire to understand this phenomenon. It starts asking questions like, “Why do I have to age?” “Why do my parents have to die?” “Why can’t I go back and fix what I’ve done.”

Of course to these things are no answers, and though the mystics and the religious figures will claim that such knowledge does exist out there, for the past 2,000 no substantive answers have come forth, and still the soul of mankind is in a restless state of discontent.

Time also has a strange way of manifesting itself to the mind. The soul and the mind are two very different things in this relation.

At times it can seem that you are in fact time travelling. I notice these things often. For example, when I am at work and doing something that I do not like, do not have a passion for, then time appears slow and ageless. Five minutes can seem like five lifetimes, and everything freezes, and I am frozen as well. However, when I am having a great time, out with friends, enjoying life, then time flies.

Though this is an ancient observation, it could help understand what we mean when we speak of time not in relation to measurement, but to the physical and mental experience of time.

It is by no surprise that the Sophists of Ancient Greece regarded time is an non-existent. “Time is not reality but a concept or a measure,” wrote the Sophist Antiphon. In the same respect as an “inch” is not reality but only a unit of measure, existing for our mind to have the ability to understand objects in relation to other objects; and in the same way that the rotation of the Earth around the Sun is not a year really, but only a unit of measurement for humans to measure time, which does not exist.

Buddhism addresses the illusion of time in its teachings. Buddhism teaches its followers that time is not real. At the same time, no pun intended, Buddhism preaches to live in the present, which in many respects does not exist, as it is always fleeting and there truly is no way to “be” in the present.

The Argentinian writer Borges wrote of time:

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.

We are neither experiencing time, nor are we time ourselves. It is a non-existence that we are living in, as much as the dreams that consume us in our ever-fleeting years. They are all but things that do not come to be, and are as fleeting as the impermanence of the soul.


~ by alexmalina on February 9, 2009.

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