- Henry David Thoreau
Nature is perfect example of the art of waiting. It takes the evolutionary impulse of Nature several thousand years to perfect the shape of a single flower. When we look at natural process, we realize that there is certain wisdom implicit in the paradox: faster is slower. How often do we act against the laws of Nature only to realize that we have to make a much greater effort to clean up our mess? In many cultures, patience is misunderstood as plain laziness. However, there is a conscious energy found in patience that provides an impulse towards right action at the right time. Nature demonstrates this day after day.
Only human beings seem to have problems in managing time. No other species on earth apparently suffers from this problem, which is peculiar to our industrial civilization. The problem of time seems to have emerged with the invention of the clock. The clock is the ancestor of chronologic time. Although it serves a very useful purpose in standardizing time around the world, the clock creates a fictitious notion of time as an irreversible, uniform, and linear movement of energy.
In Nature, time is never linear; it is cyclical. The laws of Nature clearly tell us that time is not irreversible. We see the reversal of time in our psychological universe in the form of the memory of past events. From the memory of physical Nature, seasons come back year after year, crops grow, the sun rises and sets and the planets go round and round in their orbits.
All ancient civilizations considered time not as an impersonal chronologic mechanism measured by a clock, but rather as a living entity that is born, lives, and dies like a human being. In India, the word for time is kala, which also means death. In the ancient civilization of South America, there is evidence of the worship of time as a living force. There was a good time and a bad time, an auspicious time and an inauspicious time. The people lived in time as they lived in space, avoiding the pitfalls and setting foot on the right time as if it were firm ground.
We had laughed away the superstitious beliefs of the ancients until Albert Einstein proved that time, like space, is a relative phenomenon. Because of Einstein, we have come to realize that time is not merely determined by the clock but is also manufactured by the consciousness. Einstein said, “Sit with your hand on a hot stove for a minute. It would seem like an hour”. This renewal of the perception of time as a relative phenomenon has taken us back to the wisdom of the ancients, who perceived time as a relative quality rather than an absolute quantity.
In defiance of the modern perception of time as a chronologic journey, it may be said that time is not a one-way public route; it is also a private apartment. I am talking here about personal time. In the context of space, what we see depends on where we sit. In the context of time, our perspective on time influences how we process time in our consciousness. When our awareness has a chance to expand in time, as when we are in love, time moves at a dizzying speed. When our awareness is compressed in a certain time, as when we are doing an unpleasant task, time seems to stand still, like a burden on our backs.
Apart from chronologic time, which is unidirectional, there is also biologic and psychological time, which in non-linear and multidimensional. Chronologic time emerged from the fragmentation of time into the past, the present, and the future. In this kind of time, the present is always referred to in terms of the past or the future. It is as if the present is non-existent. A look at the movement of the hands of a mechanical clock reveals that this movement is not smooth but jerky. The hands jump from the past to the future, bypassing the moment. This linear movement of chronologic time in fits and starts speeds up our psychological clock. As a result, we are never present in the moment, and are forever present in the fictitious past or in the imaginary future.
This inability to live in the moment, in the here and now, divorces us from reality. We live in the conceptual time of the clock rather than in the real time in our biological and psychological universe. The stress syndrome that diffuses modern organizations stems from the fact that in response to external time pressures, our internal clocks run counter to our natural rhythms. The rhythms of our heartbeat, respiration, and hormonal secretions are upset by the mechanical rhythms of machines and work schedules. The relentless hands of the clock and the sense of vanishing time grip our awareness as we move towards our self-created deadlines.
Living in chronologic time alone limits us to a closed system in which we conceptualize the irreversible flow of life along with the passage of time. This perception of scanning of the self along with time eats up our energy and produces in us a fear of time going by. This fear is not only unnerving but it also leads to a great leaking of psychological energy. The only way to reverse this tide of time is to live in the present, in the here and now.
Nature teaches us to live in the here and now. The butterfly lives from moment to moment, yet has time enough. The dew drop sits for seconds on a blade of grass, yet it does not panic. The spring flower gently opens to receive summer’s inscriptions, and they never seem to be in a hurry. The busy bee never suffers from stress. All of Nature demonstrates to us the wonderful secret of managing time without being managed by it.
Nature lives in a simultaneous world of time and timeless. All changes in the natural world belong to time. Behind the process of these changes is the principle of continuity, which is changeless and timeless. The process makes sense only in relation to the principle. The principle is the benchmark.
Great men work on time but live in the world of timeless. Their lives serve as glorious links between their predecessors and the unborn generations of tomorrow. Gandhi described the timeless aspirations of a conscious man as follows:
[While] everything around me is ever changing ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and recreates… For I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.
-Mohandas K. Gandhi