Stand Out of Time
This week, while preparing to teach over the weekend, I was reading T.S. Eliot poetry. I first read T.S. Eliot when I was 15, over 40 years ago, as a teenager, exiled to the halls of high school. I was captivated by his poetry, I felt sure he was on to something. T.S. Eliot knew something that I think, even then, I understood was essential to a meaningful life. One thing he knew was that time did not exist in the way we think it does.
Time, in some ways, doesn’t exist at all. It appears to, but simultaneously, disappears when we look forwards or back. What has happened or what we think will happen seems to be happening now. Yet, in some ways, what we “know” only exists in the present, in what is happening now. In Chinese medical terms, when we think about the past, we create dampness, a way to buffer, soften the impact of what is happening inside us. When we think about the future, we create heat, a way of trying to get on top of, ahead of what is happening inside us. These "pasts" and "futures" are happening inside us, in our minds. Our bodies remain in the present, subject to our minds, but still fully present despite our mind state.
If we can synchronize our minds and bodies (and YES, this is an advertisement for meditation practice), we can come fully into the present. When we come fully into the present, it is possible to heal both the past and the future, freeing not only ourselves but all those with whom we share experience. One of the most amazing things about human consciousness is the capacity to use a present experience to enter deep into our psyche, deep into our own essence to retrieve our finest and most healing substance, our own presence.
In a way, when we come into our own presence, we stand out of time. Fully present, we stand without ambition, without agenda, bearing witness to what is true for us in a given moment. Our “reality” is that which is true, that which is known to us at a given time. It might include our knowing about our past or even our intimation of a possible future. Presence vanquishes the need to belabor the past, or to control the future. Presence allows us the freedom to be fresh, new to our own experience. And one of the most common side effects of being fresh with ourselves is compassion, seeing and feeling exactly how things are.
Here is a bit of what I was reading from Burnt Norton:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable...
...Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
We can, in the end, stand out time, yet stand in relationship to that which it true. No past, no future, just your world and you.