There is something spiritual — or at least… weird — about time.
Meditation and mindfulness practices teach us to cultivate presence: the act of putting our full energy and awareness into what is happening here and now. Right now — in full presence — everything is in harmony. Without past and future, what is the cause of our suffering? Are we suffering? Trauma and injury live in the past, and fear lives in the future. It’s as though pain and disharmony come from time itself.
(If you’d like to understand this idea better, I recommend reading or listening to Eckhart Tolle. He can explain this much more eloquently and deeply than I can.)
History or Destiny?
We look to the past for causes. We assume something that happened before caused what’s happening now. It’s so obvious to us all, we don’t even think about it: the past caused the present. What’s happening now is a response to what happened before.
But have you ever had the feeling — perhaps when going through something profound or transformative — that the past was somehow preparing you for this moment? As if so many random things you never could have predicted lined up to bring you where you are now, and that there was something almost… deliberate in that process?
This is where we get the idea of destiny or fate from. Destiny or fate are simply the the notion that the future, not the past, was the cause of your actions all along. I’d guess many of you have felt this — at least in a moment — when looking back at the incomprehensible, random splattering of events in your lives. There was no possible way to predict all of that statistical noise would lead you here, to what’s happening now, but in this moment it feels like there was some plan at work about which you had no awareness.
It’s as though what you are experiencing now caused the past, just as much as the past caused this.
Now and Then?
Likewise, many of us believe or suspect that the way we experience time isn’t the full truth of time, just as the way we experience a situation isn’t the only perspective from which that situation can be viewed.
If time isn’t linear, then cause and effect aren’t points on that line, and maybe causality doesn’t work the way we think it does.
Perhaps the only times are Now and Then, whether Then is ahead of us or behind us. Everything that isn’t Now caused everything that is Now, just like everything that isn’t you created everything that is you. Everything that is Now causes everything that isn’t Now, just like you help to create everything that isn’t you.
Cause and Effect
You are a direct result of your biology, genetics, conditioning, experiences, and circumstances. You could not be you without them. Even what you ate for dinner last night is a part of you, helped to cause you, and you would not be you without it. You would not be you without your parents, your upbringing, your culture, and so on.
Likewise, you contribute to creating everything that isn’t you. You influence everything around you constantly, usually in ways you don’t realize at all.
So too, perhaps, with time. What if all of your past and all of your future are what’s causing the present? What if the present is causing both the past and future?
Cause and effect are far less simplistic than we usually think of them. This, I think, we can all agree on.
If you’re in a bad mood today, it’s likely not just because your boss said something mean. It could be because your boss said something mean, and your head hurts due to dehydration, and someone cut you off on the way to the office, and your roommate forgot to take the trash out for the 45th time. And even if it were — what caused your boss to say something mean? Maybe it’s not even about you, you just irritated your boss a little bit at the wrong time, and she snapped because her husband is divorcing her and she’s proverbially dying inside. And what’s causing their divorce?
Not so simple, is it?
Likewise, maybe, your terrible mood today is also happening because in about an hour, it’s going to lead you to snap at the Starbucks barista, which will be the final straw for him to quit his day job and pursue his real dream of becoming a figure skater who will go on to win the Olympic gold.
Though this story is a bit absurd, things like this happen all the time. And when you get to the utmost simple, causality flows from the past and the future. How? Like this:
Something causes us to feel what we feel. That something is an unmet need. The need may have been satisfied in the past, and we need now because our need is no longer met. Our present feeling is caused by not having our needs met. Our needs are caused by our present feelings.
Needs themselves are only ever feelings — emotions, physical sensations or states of being. What we need is to feel differently. To be experiencing a different emotion, physical sensation or state of being. There are multiple strategies to get there. There are multiple actions to take. There are multiple actions taken that got us here. It all flows both directions.
Here and There
I think time isn’t linear, but we experience it mostly linearly. Time, if you could see it, looks more like an infinite vacuum of space than a line. You, here, now, is a point within it. Spacetime.
You, here, is a point within an infinity of space. Space flows out in every direction from you and towards you. Perhaps you, now, is a point within an infinity of time. Time flows out every direction from you and towards you.
Everything other than you, this, now, here is what caused, will cause, is causing you, this, here, now.
It’s all just This, and Not This.