Wholeness and the Experience of Periodic Change - 2
The experience of time
Because the experience of time undertones all other experiences in which change is involved, I shall at once pay special attention to what is in fact implied, though largely not understood, in it The experience should be differentiated from that of the continuum of change, because while "change" should not be considered as raving any beginning or end, "time" as an experience always has a beginning, and it must also end. Between the beginning which was in "the past" and the end which will occur in "the future," a "period of time" extends. The sense of time is not only related to the extension of such a period, but to a subjective personal factor, the desire for some kind of change to occur during that period of time. The speed at which time is "passing" while the satisfaction of the desire for a particular (or generalized and imprecise) change has to be waited for, gives this time-flow a specific character. The waiting for the end of the period may be relaxed or tense; time may seem to pass slowly or quickly.
A peasant who has sown seeds must wait, perhaps while hungry, for the new harvest; the individual student also waits for the results of a test which may determine his entire career. This waiting — a so often repeated human experience — constitutes the experience of time. When referring to it, the psychologist or philosopher speaks of "subjective" time. "Objective" time, on the other hand, deals with periods whose beginning and end are established by external events which a collectivity of human beings can observe and use to define and measure set periods of activity or rest — for instance sunrise and sunset, the full moon, the rise of vegetation in the Spring.
There is actually nothing mysterious about time, except the strange ways in which this basic, common experience of perpetual change has been interpreted. The many interpretations that have been presented by religions and philosophies simply reveal how difficult, if not incomprehensible, it has always been for human beings to have to wait
for the satisfaction of their desires. The near-impossibility of an "instant fulfillment" of one's desires (the passionate ideal of the hippie generation!) has been translated into the binding power of time; and the fateful nature of this power has been feared, especially with the realization that death ends the period when even the anxiety or anguish (angst
in German) of waiting no longer exists. Making a god of "Time" and trying to identify one's consciousness with his subliminal nature does not help the situation. Neither does modern science's attempt to divorce time from actual human experience and make it a dimension of the hybrid intellectual frame of reference, space-time. Nor does the philosopher's interpretation of time as an innate category of the human mind make individuals feel better as they wait for the distant fulfillment of their expectations. The division of time into past, present, and future, and especially into "moments," the length of which can be measured according to the collectively accepted schedule of activity of a particular community or nation, is also an ineffectual solution to what should simply be considered and accepted as the basic fact of existence: the succession of ever-changing situations which any organized whole has to meet.
The fact of change implies the experience of succession, or sequence. One sensation "follows" another, even if the first merges unnoticeably into the second. There is continuity when no mental activity has yet differentiated any one experience by relating it to a possible recurrence and a desire for or fear of that recurrence. If two experiences follow each other, one must come after
the other. This is what is meant by sequence. A series of changes constitutes an ordered or structured sequence of experiences. It is only when these are entitized by the mind as events, having an assumed objective existence external
to the experiencer, that the modern intellectual finds it possible to juggle pictures or abstract symbols to which a "time position" is attributed. Such a "position" can only have meaning if a starting point for the measurement of objective units has first been established, and the concept of periods of time has developed in the interpretative mind.
The beginning and end of a period are established by what I have called "markers of time." These are normally provided by common human experiences, such as sunrise and sunset, or the appearance of new vegetable growth in the Spring; but every society makes its own markers of time in order to differentiate periods of activity from those of rest If no period of time — no interval between beginning and end — is considered, only a continuum of changes is experienced. This continuum is, strictly speaking, "time-less"; it does not involve time. Nevertheless it implies the sequentiality
of experienced changes. It is interpreted by the mind as a succession of events and a series of situations, many of which recur periodically.
Markers of time are special moments. They are the alpha and omega of a series of events or, in the absence of consciously noticeable changes during the in-between "passing of time," of non-events. Moments are changes upon which a subject, waiting or deliberately preparing for the experience of desire-fulfillment, focuses his or her attention. Some of the energy of the whole organism is "tensed toward" what is happening. We can measure the interval between such occurrences, as well as the speed at which they pass and attract the consciousness of the subject during a period of waiting.
A period of waiting may refer to a complex and difficult process of preparation for some final fulfillment. It may be a "test" which must be undergone, a surgical operation to be performed, or a decisive meeting with a would-be lover or adversary. Such a period may seem too brief to the experiencing person, who may then complain of having "so little time." On the contrary, the feeling may be that "too much time" may still elapse before a desired or feared event can occur — so much more waiting has to be endured! If we say that the event occurred "in time," we mean that we had accurately evaluated the interval between that event and the beginning of the process leading to it. We had estimated the value of the interval according to a standard of measurement defined by two markers of time. Our measuring was accurate; but on what basis was the measuring done?
Originally, as far as human beings are concerned, time measurements have always been made on the basis of the experienceability and repetitiveness of situations referring to the dynamic structure of some "greater whole" within whose field of activity the human experiencer operated. That structure provided him or her with standardized markers of time; and by so doing it made possible the measurement of repetitive periods of time having easily definable and commonly acceptable beginnings and ends. The selected greater whole usually was our planet; its daily rotation and its yearly revolution around the sun evidenced a definite rhythm. Other kinds of greater wholes have been used: a religion featuring a series of feast days and centennial periods, the nation whose laws establish periodical recurrences (such as the date of paying income tax), or the schedule followed by a business firm for which a person works. In all cases, by establishing such markers of time in the common experience of a social community, the structure of the greater whole definitely affects the sense of time of the people of the community. It affects their general feeling of having enough or too little time, and of the speed at which this commodity is being spent.
In our Western civilization time is considered an objective commodity of which a small or large amount is available in the interval between two markers of time. We possess such a commodity; it is a kind of wealth or power. The amount which is ours to use can be measured, apportioned, and spent wisely or carelessly according to the vast number of biological needs, socio-cultural requirements and personal ego-wants seeking satisfaction. These wants may appear to be very personal In fact, they follow a scale of values definitely conditioned and often rigidly determined by a collective culture and religion, and by the example of parents and friends.
The main events most people use for determining the amount of time available to them as particular persons are quite obviously the birth And death of their physical organism, without which no experience would be possible, at least at the present level of human activity and consciousness. Each person's life-span is the period during which the possibility of fulfilling a more or less lengthy series of desires exists. This possibility sets limits to the person's situation, first as a living organism in the biosphere, then as a participant in a sociocultural complex of activities and a partially integrated field of "psychism" (collective consciouness and mass emotions), and finally as an autonomous and self-determined individual-in-the-making in whom a conscious subjective realization of relatively unique and independent identity is developing more or less effectively. The entire life-process experienceable by such a person may lead to the at least partial fulfillment of what was possible when birth (or it may be claimed, the impregnation of an ovum by a spermatazoid) marked the beginning of time
for that particular human situation. Time ends when the marker called death occurs; and as it ends, there is "no more time" in the experienceable sense of the word. One may nevertheless assume that a new situation has emerged from the old. Such a post mortem situation can be imagined in many ways, and religious and occult revelations have provided a great variety of descriptions.
The great majority of human beings, even if followers of a religion teaching the immortality of the Soul, are never too sure whether what the teaching calls "Soul" actually refers to the gut-feeling of being-l. Peter or Jane; and it is to such a feeling that they cling, terrified of feeling it vanish. The average person all over the world fears death, because he or she is not fully open to the emergence of a new situation in which an as-yet-unknown type of relationship between the familiar factors in their experiences would operate. The unknown is frightening, and entire cultures may be polarized by such a fear. They seek ways of escape, or of prolonging the existence of objective forms in which they tried to condense (as a plant does in a seed) the essential quality of their contribution to the evolution of mankind. Perhaps the most basic desire of individuals or societies is to endure — to deny the inevitability of an end to what, as time, had a beginning.
To refuse to accept this inevitability of death is not, however, to experience timelessness. What is timeless has neither beginning nor end. Change is timeless, just as Wholeness is unlimited by the particularity and dimensionality of any whole. Cyclicity, as we shall see, remains invariant whether cycles are of short or cosmic duration. Death is not the great enemy. The enemy is our binding desire to control and perpetuate ourselves.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1986 by Leyla Rudhyar Hill
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