– Drinking wine, watching the stars, and thinking about time –
Boy, it is still so hot! It’s already close to mid November and it still often gets into the 90s. Early in the morning, way before sunrise, if we don’t go fishing or go for a walk, we sit on the beach under the umbrella and let the spectacle of the birth of a day wash over us. It is delectably cool then, we are wet from a swim, the sunlight dances on the ocean, and the day is unfolding like a fresh flower. But then the heat builds. If there is a breeze during the day we stay under the umbrella and gradually move with the wandering shadow, talking, reading, dreaming, meditating. At noon, inside the motor home it’s actually been too hot lately – gee, I think we never had it so hot this time of the year.
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By 5 PM or so, when the sun finally disappears behind the mountains, a sigh of relief rises from the land, the mood changes in minutes. First we go for a long walk, breathing the warm air full of spicy fragrances and feeling the gentle, cool drafts coming down from the mountains. Then we sit again, enchanted by the afterglow in the sky, enjoying the coolness caressing the skin, watching the day go to rest.
Later when it’s really dark, we reach for the Chilean Merlot; at the end of a day like this it is at the absolutely perfect temperature and its scent fills the air like a melody. We clink glasses, three times, softly, as we always do, listening to the sound as it gently fades into stillness – hearing it out, as we say – an act of mindful celebration of this wonderful life, and then take pleasure in the first sip. Sometimes the huge black butterfly comes visiting again. She appears like a bat without the slightest sound, we more feel her than see her. She flutters and touches my cheek, she sits on my lips and drinks from my lips – does she kiss me? We have to hold our hands over the wine glasses so she doesn’t fall in.
Right now the moon has taken a leave of absence. Soon it will appear again in the early evening, thin and graceful, with the remaining complete form dimly illuminated. The night is dark, and down here in Baja the show of the stars is breathtaking, no matter how often you’ve seen it. First Pleiades comes up in the east this time of the year – Pleiades is Parvin in Farsi, and we greet her wherever we are. Then Orion gradually climbs out of the ocean and starts its reign. There is not a sound in the air. Any breeze has long died down and the riffles on the ocean have run out, the water is like glass.
I try to see the motion of the stars – of course I know it’s actually the motion of the earth – I try to relax and concentrate and really see the motion, no matter how slow it may be. I was always mesmerized by observing slow processes, and I was always fascinated by the concept of time. I tried to see the actual progression of time by observing the hand of a clock and really see it move. It never worked, I could never really see it, it is too slow to see it. Or – does it not exist? One time I climbed up a church tower to get a real close look at the huge clock there. When you observe those three feet long hands from close up you must see the motion, I thought. Well, they only moved in increments of time, they jumped an inch every minute, they didn’t really show time.
What is time? Einstein and other physicists have long cautioned us to not fall into the trap believing it to be an absolute dimension. The psychological experience of time is far from being reliable.
As long as I can remember I studied time, scientifically and, with even more passion, as a direct sense experience. In my years and years of meditation practice I investigated time. I never found what it is, however, as it was with so many other things, I learned a great deal about what it is not.
Time is not at all something that is progressing or flowing. Time is a concept that indeed may not exist. There are moments, but how are they connected? Are they connected at all? Isn’t a moment in its very essence timeless, without duration, without anything that lasts? Our mind connects them, connects the dots, as we say, and fabricates something we call reality. But is that really what’s happening?
In a state of deep concentration and refined, detached objectivity you can see a moment in its essentially incomprehensible richness, and then you look again and see another, a new moment. Your mind cannot help to compare it to the memory of the “previous” one; but this memory is of course a far cry from being true, it’s nothing but a flawed, subjective interpretation. In actuality there are just moments, the relationship between them is what we add ourselves. So, by constructing a story out of these autonomous moments we invent time, don’t we?
I sometimes thought our senses are just not appropriate, not sharp enough to catch the actual movement of time. This is quite possible, but then, maybe there really is no time, nothing moving. Maybe there are only moments: You look and what you see is all there is, timeless, changeless, and in a scarily profound way meaningless, you look again and what you see is brand new, unrelated, no strings attached. Imagine the whole universe lasts only one moment, the next moment an entirely new universe exists. We don’t really see this but watch our interpretations instead, watch the story we make of it.
At sunset I like to watch the very last moment when the sun finally disappears completely and sinks into the ocean.
Sometimes the famous ‘green flash‘ occurs that is sufficiently explained by physicists now but seems to have lost all its magic since then. Can you really see the motion? I think you see a moment, and then you see a next one. How can you know how many you missed in between?
People chase time, it’s the disease of our epoch. They think it’s a commodity, something you can own and accumulate. They think they can hurry in order to save time, they think it is efficient to do several things at the same time. And me, I caught myself as the ultimate fool by trying to outsmart time, by trying to catch it with patience, watching it like the cat in front of the mouse hole. What is time? Sometimes in meditation I can see with merciless clarity how this question arises out of innocent ignorance. “Catching time?” we laugh and return to the moment.
When a delicious chill has slowly penetrated into our bodies we crawl into bed. Sometimes coyotes howl outside and remind us of the grand wilderness we are in.
Klaus November 10. 2007