Our ordinary sense of time and space appears closely related to brain consciousness, our sense of time being different in dream or vision where we’re more separate from the physical body. Usually, what we’re conscious of in the brain is mostly confined to a narrow part of the present life with little or no vision of distant past or future. People sharply divide time into past, present, future, and often with compression into a dense material now of “eat drink and be merry.” There is usually no prophetic sense, no sense of timelessness, no consciousness of the vast sweep of evolution to disturb the illusion of the material “now.”
There is practical benefit in the sense of timelessness. For instance, the great majority of things we ordinary time-bound types get angry about are as nothing when viewed from sufficient spiritual altitude. It reminds me of the story of a great soul who repeatedly struck a match only to have it blown out by the wind. His friend noticed his extraordinary calm in the midst of this and asked:
“Don’t you ever get impatient?”
“Why should I?,” he answered, “I have eternity in front of me.”
But our sense of the infinite is often not strong enough to release us from bad habits and unhappy reactions to people and circumstances. Moreover, even our spiritual aspirations add fuel to fires of our problems. Whether from spiritual aspirations or more material motives, the relativistic part of us is imbued with a sense of urgency and dissatisfaction with things as they are. We feel “There is no time to lose.” But there is or can be, at the same time, a more serene self, undisturbed by unfolding events; it is self touched by the timeless. In one of his poems Robert Browning writes, “God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” Many mystics down the ages have voiced a similar impression. The mystic says, “Time does not exist,” and we have all the time in the world; the practical self deals with urgent issues. We have one aspect of truth in timeless terms and another aspect in the practical relativistic world of time.
Overemphasis on the relative or the timeless yields different pathologies, but health must be in balance. After repeated attempts we are impatient when the match fails to light. It is because we ourselves are not on fire with the realization of the infinite. If we live too much in the urgency of the moment we fail, yet if we are divorced from practical labor and responsibility we also fail. So it seems we must coordinate heaven and earth, the transcendental and the practical–perhaps then to strike a golden mean, to act rightly in the world while in continuity with the infinite.