„Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time: and not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but temporal affections, not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time.“ – Meister Eckhart
Our daily life is full of time. We are surrounded by time from getting up in the morning until checking the alarm clock in the evening. At work there are appointments and pressing deadlines. The news come at every full hour. By splitting our mental attention in such a way there is always the possiblity to get stuck in time. Then we take our attention away from the present moment and we lose ourselves by thinking in time.
But being fully in the present moment (or as Eckhart Tolle calls it The Now) is the key to spiritual awakening, or to say the least, to live a happier and more liberated life. So how can we balance the fact that we have to use time so often and also stay more present?
The Use of Clock Time
Any use of clock time for practical and useful purposes is absolutely necessary and helpful. This includes nearly all activities that need time as appointments, schedules etc. Even goals with a deadline are in the area of clock time. If we look at it closely, if we want to create something to until certain date, we set a deadline so that everything we do will be ready then. We create a plan to meet the deadline and then execute it. Maybe we have to rearrange the deadline, but the use of time here is no problem. This means, we can be fully present – have our attention in the present moment – by doing this.
As I wrote in the previous post, ultimately time is only an illusion and it’s only use is for practical matters.
What is Psychological Time?
On the contrary psychological time is something very different. It always occurs if we dwell on a situation mentally, then we drop out of the present moment. If we set a goal, using clock time as described above, we can work towards it in the present moment and be present while doing so. But when we start projecting ourselves constantly into the future (or past) and live there in the mind, we become unsatisfied with what is and dismiss the present moment. It becomes a means to the end and we want to be at the end.
This happened to me when I started my company in great length. I was constantly frustrated and unhappy with what I had, since I always projected myself into my own vision and I wanted to be there. But exactly this is a huge mistake if we want to live fully. If we have a goal and we see a vision of something we want to improve, that is wonderful. And this is a source for personal growth. But it is even more important to stay present and say „Yes“ to the present moment and don’t get so dissatisfied with it, that we deny it and say „No“ to it.
I now do it differently: yes, I want to create a different situation in the future and this vision is what drives me. But as soon as I have declared the goal and set a deadline, my awareness is in the present moment working towards the goal and being happy with what is. The whole perception of what is changes without losing the ability to create what I want.
What happens if we are in Psychological Time
If we create this psychological time, we get trapped in our mind. It happens that we create a problem out of a situation and the mind won’t let go of it. This is really not a small thing, it happens constantly. For instance if you watch the news and you see something terrible, did it happen to you that you could not let go of it for several minutes or even hours? It burdens you, although there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Funny enough there are a lot of very pleasant things going on right now, but the news showed exactly the very bad thing and the mind could get trapped in it.
Now this scenario may not happen to you if you have a certain control over your mind, but let’s shift to a more personal situation, maybe you could lose money, your job or even a person. Now it is much harder to stay present and not to lose yourself in the „problem“ and thinking constantly over it.
This is the real source if we suffer over a „problem“, not the situation itself, but the interpretation and then thinking over and over it. If we can do something about it then fine, we do it now. If we can’t, then we leave the situation or we accept it. There is never a reason to dwell on the situation and by that create a problem in our mind.
Psychological time is the reason that we lose the present moment and get trapped in the „problem“. Often there is really nothing to do at this very moment, so it is not useful to even think about the „problem“. Of course I’m not talking about ignoring a situation or not thinking to find a solution to a challenge. I’m talking about the unnecessary time we spend thinking a situation over and over and can’t let go of it. The first is in the realm of clock time, the later in the realm of psychological time.
The key is to use Clock Time AND to stay present
If we become able to see a situation not as a problem but as something that comes to the present moment and will be handled (only) then, we also become able to stay present. By setting goals and fulfilling own visions we still are able to create the environment we desire. But even then there is no reason to leave the present moment with our mind. The key here is to see our vision in the present moment.
The future always depends on the quality of our present moment. The present moment is of quality if we are fully present.
So from my point of view it is totally achievable and advisable to reduce the amount of such psychological time, where we are in the memories of past or in the projection of the future, to a minimum. It takes some practice and the willingness to stay in the present moment, but it enables us to dissolve a lot of so-called problems that only become such if we dwell on them.
Interesting essay. Nothing really new. It’s not either-or. It is both-and. Attach new terms to old themes can help us cope and understand the subject. It is helpful if we can distinguish between the two, note how both effects the other, learn and move on.
Superb post Myrko thanks a lot ,this post makes me think of raising a child when we bring up a child we take care of every step of growing up and we do our best and enjoy every moment of it and we do not think of what would happen in the future for him we get throgh step by step
Myrko, thanks I agree!
@David, I know that but it’s futile. It’s a way of self-torturing really. The question is what you have learned and will use when a similar situation arises. Other than that, replaying this is not helpful. How to get out? I think best is to focus on the present and find meaningful tasks there. Or clear the mind of it completely, if it works out for you!
@Komodo Dragon: Komodo, I do the same, replaying past moments that I could have handled better, resulting in different outcomes. This is wistful thinking that brings a certain level of comfort, but then I find emotional pain comes abruptly afterwards knowing I can’t change it. It is how it played out. But, the only thing real, really, is the present moment now.
I find that I’m a different person in the present. I tend to react differently and Iam more focused on my outside environment. Maybe you can elaborate more with your findings.
It’s a very valid point that a lot of us dwell on in psychological time. I even find myself living out my past in different ways inside my mind, doing things differently and seeing how it would play out. I also do the same with the future, with some thoughts being about ulterior goals and some others just hypothetical.
Saw a few documentaries by Michio Kaku, that talked about this exact topic! Quite fantastic actually I’d recommend it to anyone to check out his work.
I really appreciate when you say: „If we set a goal, using clock time as described above, we can work towards it in the present moment and be present while doing so. But when we start projecting ourselves constantly into the future (or past) and live there in the mind, we become unsatisfied with what is and dismiss the present moment. It becomes a means to the end and we want to be at the end.“
My own compulsions towards accomplishing ideals has been reason why I get lost in psychological time. When I read what you wrote, I instantly rediscovered the important of concrete, clock-oriented goals. And then, letting the bird go, and if it’s meant to be…
Really great story you got here. It’d be just great to read a bit more concerning such theme. Thanks for posting that information.
Recognizing the two separate times is the first step in training our minds to function efficiently as you describe. The psychological wasted time typically stems from what I refer to as „time vampires.“ Sometimes it is just a matter of eliminating certain things, thoughts and even people from becoming time vampires! Great insight!
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Glen, I experience it differently from time to time, it changes with the level of consciousness. The more conscious I am, the more I am able to stay present and out of psychological time. This means I don’t get lost in thoughts.
Now this is pretty doable if all goes fine regarding the life-situation. However, if there are typical stress factors arising with demands on mind-activities, i.e. open loops with unfinishes tasks and pressing deadlines – my favorite things in my job. This is what has a good change to get me caught and get me creating psychological time. But we are learning, aren’t we? :)
I’ve been reading about this recently on my second re-run of TPON, It’s certainly interesting although I can’t say I’m seperating it in my life very well.
How about you?
Glen Allsopp’s last blog post: The Art of Authenticity
katinka, you just seem to be tired :)
Interesting that you mention focus in connection with being present. There seems to be a direct connection to me.
I do find it’s darn hard to stay awake (not the same as focused) while working at the computer. That thing just works like a stimulant – it keeps going. But in the mean time – only as I write this do I notice the strain in my back after having been behind this screen for hours now. (it’s evening in The Netherlands).
katinka – spirituality’s last blog post: Elementals & Elementaries: various types of spirits
Yes, this is possible. It happened to me that I got so frustrated with the situation that was there in the present, just because I wanted to have the situation of my goal. If the goal is there, the next one comes. Now this is ok. But it is not ok for me to get lost in it and lose the here and now.
Aha I catched myself in your news-example with the bad news where there is nothing we can do about it. I also like the statement of goals and working on them in the present.