Forwards To The Beginning: Being In the Source Of Time

Forwards To The Beginning: Being In the Source Of Time

Time is fickle as well as inexorable. Describing it can never capture how it is truly experienced – because those moments relived are held in memory.

However time’s passing is measured – as lines etched on my face, the quicksand of seconds, minutes and hours, as a gift of a day in this one-in-four leap year – my experience of its passing can be slow, fast or non existent.

In rare and precious moments, time stops. Sports-people call this ‘flow.’ Psychedelics, meditation, breathing techniques, have helped me play with time, opening gateways of perception until I too seem to shape-shift. For the rest of the time I experience time as linear. Behind me is somewhere called ‘past.’ I am in the ‘present’ and in front of me is a horizon called ‘future’ – when the storylines of my identity entwine as projected destiny.

Time sloooows in the hell of pain and fear. It can slip by unnoticed when I’m joyful, ecstatic, engrossed. Time stretches when I’m accessing another dimension of being – when I’m no longer bound by its linearity.

An intensely vivid ‘timeless’ state is when I am out-of-my-mind. No mind means no time. It is presence. I liken it to a state of grace, when all longings, dreams and regressions collapse – and I’m no longer experiencing myself as separate from everything else, in another time and place. That separation is remembered into life later, when a contrast can be slapped upon the past from the vantage of my present state.

As storyteller making sense of life, I am a time traveller. When thought stops, travel stops. No thought means no mind. It is when time stops – even if my watch tells me otherwise. My experience has no sense of boundary – not right-then-right-there, or more accurately, right here, right now. That comes later when I relive it.

Thought and word fashion our collective world. We co-create time with our diaries, forecasts, plans and arrangements, our history books and records, photos and memories. We agree time into being. Mental commentary as well as dialogue not only locate our place in time, they create time. It is most accurate to say thought projects an experience of time – which is the only way true meaning can be claimed in our dimension called “space-time.” At least that’s what Einstein’s theory of relativity means to me.

My most vivid encounter of timelessness – presence – stands out as a Big Bang moment. It was when my awareness as formlessness birthed. It happened during a sleep-deprived arduous trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We set off to the summit at midnight – a trail of phosphorescent headlights bobbing as we lurched upwards into star-filled skies.

Something in me dislodged. The pant and struggle upwards in the thin cold air became a different state. My body continued to labour on but it didn’t feel like effort any more. The scree causing me to slide downwards was no longer a handicap. I simply sprung forwards with all my weight and for every slip and loss of height, so I jumped.

Looking back, I felt as a terrestrial bird. At the time I was just…being, sprinting uphill, as my limbs moved and propelled me upwards. I was being lived. The moving was happening through me not because of me. There were no thoughts of breaking away from my party, or conserving energy – the wise approach at altitude. Nothing was happening other than my undiluted, boundless joy in mindless physicality.

I’ve experienced ‘presence’, ‘no mind’, ‘no time’ in countless other ways. Grief has brought me into a surprising intimacy with the present. My heart at breaking point, my social guard has dropped – and for a looooong moment, I experience strange liberation in being truly myself – my naked self: here I am, broken, miserable – and this is real.

As I allow myself to be seen, so I see. I am bold in my vulnerability. In this moment, I am my authentic self.

Climbing brought me into-the-here-and-now like nothing before and since. The concentration required, the commitment to this moment as my body is willed to move and cling in ways that defy gravity.

Time begins in thought. As I experience time as thought, I can see time as a construction of mind. This opens up a new relationship with time. Here I can glimmer an opening. Only in this realization can I choose to give up being enslaved to time. I can loosen its grip as I hurtle about, ticking off lists, panicky at running late. Everything that is outside of this moment now is story. My memory and my imagination. My diary is a colluding tool that helps keep up the illusion of another time and place but this one. There, we agree to meet.

At the weekend, I watched for the second time “The Encounter.” It is a Theatre de Complicite production at the Barbican – a sonic feast of parallel times and Amazon otherworld epically crafted as a one-man play. It’s inspired by the true story of Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer who joined up with the semi-nomadic Mayoruna, or “cat people”, who tattooed their faces and stuck spines in their cheeks to resemble their claimed jaguar ancestors. He becomes lost and has no choice but to follow them deeper into the jungle. He takes part in a ritual to experience “the beginning.” The intent is for the tribe to return to the beginning of time – to refuge – a world away from modern encroachers.

In the build up to this ritual, they burn possessions and dismantle their shelter to restore the jungle to its pristine state. This made so much sense to me: possessions carry a density of emotional cargo. Attachments – emotional and physical – bind me to place.

My resistances to life’s unfolding are also attachments. Whenever I judge or rail against someone or something – that is placing myself in a wrestling match with time, as this moment now.

Nature’s clock never makes me impatient in this way. Even a long wet Winter feels good to grumble about. The blossoming of life – child, animal, plant or tree, bud – is like a precious reveal. It is Mother Nature’s gentle answer to clock time. There’s no audible alarm clock, waking up a bud to “bloom!” Everything has its time. All is in place. And when I forget this, time drags. When I remember, life – as every person, place or situation – is unfolding perfectly in its apparent passage through time.