Journeying Beyond Thought and Time
Journeying Beyond Thought and Time
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With exquisite grace, a dozen Canadian geese glide silently to a soft landing on the calm Michigan bay. In the last seconds of their flight, during which their wings are held in curved motionlessness, time itself seems to stand still.
Other than the occasional rustling of the yellow leaves in front, the morning is completely quiet. I can barely hear the water 50 meters away as it ever so lightly laps the sandy shore.
The small, golden-yellow leaves rain down in droves now from the oaks. After the rain yesterday, the sky is almost painfully blue. The geese gather on a sandbar about a quarter mile out. Sometimes they begin their characteristic honking in unison, especially when their friends are incoming, but mostly they sit silently, passing the shortening autumn days.
Without contacting mystery and feeling reverence each day, one has sleepwalked through the day. One can always find 15-30 minutes of space even on the busiest days to sit quietly and still, without occupation or preoccupation, and simply observe without and within. Of course if the object is to be as busy as one can to avoid the emptiness within, as the vast majority of Americans do, then this would seem a strange suggestion indeed.
To love humanity and really contribute to it, one must let go of the world for a while every day. Initiating the movement of negation in passive observation ends the concerns of striving and surviving, at least for a regenerative moment.
To feel the mystery of life, one has to effortlessly step out of the stream of psychological time. There is no time in actuality, only movement--sometimes circular, sometimes linear, and sometimes multi-linear. Time to the human mind however means becoming, and becoming means the drive to arrive, rather than being fully present in the present.
Our pre-industrial and pre-agricultural ancestors had a certain wisdom, but we cannot return to those times. Besides, all peoples were once indigenous, and this world evolved and devolved from them and their world. Blaming this or that human development or dysfunction (such as industrialization or colonialism) only begs the question: How did humankind come to this pass? Serious people are led back to the central psychological issues that have plagued humankind since man began marking time.
It may seem obvious, but there is no time without thought, and there is no thought without time. The dictum “I think, therefore I am” was, as most philosophers now recognize, a fundamental mistake. If Descartes had said, ‘I think, therefore I am not present,’ he might have truly contributed to the advancement of humanity.
It would be absurd however for a philosopher to argue that thinking does not have its place. The problem is not thinking per se, but that thought is continually given priority, consciously or sub-consciously.
The evolution of ‘higher thought’ allowed humans to remove ‘things’ from the environment and use them according to our will and whim. Thought is inherently a symbolic mechanism of separation and recombination. The mental chatter we experience is a kind of background radiation of thought; to end it, one has to deeply attend to the movement of thought without trying to do anything about it.
It can be disquieting to feel the essential non-continuity of life. But ending thought and time is the door to insight, renewal, and illumination. Even so, if the continuity of thought is an illusion, then how can there be physical continuity?
After all, there are California Redwoods that are older than Christianity. Some turtles live for 150 years. All forms of life obviously have some degree of continuity, or they could not exist and procreate.
The problem is that thought takes this temporary continuity within the stream of life and extends it beyond the reach of death. It avoids the impermanence of everything, and projects a permanence that does not exist. At the same time, thought, seeking to escape the trap of time it has set for itself, seeks something beyond itself.
The paradox is that by ending the continuity of thought and time one enters, briefly or irrevocably, into a dimension of being beyond life and death. And in the complete negation and silence of thought, one comes upon that quality or essence that people have sought for millennia. Call it what you like—the sacred, God, timelessness, etc. Whatever one calls it, it has nothing to do with one’s beliefs, which are merely more fabrications of thought.
No one can take the journey within for another, or guide one through it. Leaving the deadening dimension of thought and time means entering uncharted territory for every individual. Another person can perhaps point the way and share the journey for a bit, but ultimately, each one of us walks alone.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.