The Concept of Time
After missing garbage day and thinking it was Friday due to having food delivered from a restaurant, I am struck by how weird time has become. And, that is even with not a HUGE change in my schedule, just the inability to go out and mark my days with a similar routine of before and after class time and activity. Also, my partner is at home, which usually only happens on the weekends. So, I went to my yoga books to do a little brush-up on what “time” means to the practice and though I realize that “living in the present moment” is a BIG DEAL, what does that actually mean? What I found cannot really be said any better than how BKS Iyengar explains it in his commentary for Yoga Sutra III.53.
“In moment, neither psychological nor chronological time is felt. Moment comes between rising impressions and their restraints and vice-versa: it is a quiet intervening state, auspicious and pure, and is to be stabilized, prolonged and expanded so that consciousness becomes absolute.
As the atom is the minutest part of matter, the moment is the minutest particle of time. The moment is singularly alone. Moments succeed one another in sequence, and these sequences put together constitute time. Thus the spokes of moments move into the wheel of time. The movement of mind in a continuum is psychological time. The movement of moments in present, past and future is chronological time.
The yogi keeps aware of the moment and thus conquers psychological and chronological time. He remains attentive to the moment, and does not allow his attention to slip into the movement of moments. He remains undisturbed, and with the loss of the time factor, his consciousness, too, loses its significance. Then, he catches sight of the soul. This is vevekaja jnana, exalted intelligence, the secret and sacred knowledge.
This sounds extremely complicated and certainly its absolute realization is unbelievably difficult, like trying to thread a needle when the thread is thicker than the needle’s eye. Yet there is a seed lesson here from which everyone can learn, and improve the quality of their lives.
Poets and wise men, since the beginning of the written word have enjoined us in all cultures to live in the present moment because it is all we really have. Have you ever wondered, while watching nature films on television in which herds of beautiful gazelles are constantly surrounded by marauding predators, why their life is not a living hell of fear and insecurity? How can they live their family lives of courtship, procreation, joy in their own physical perfection, knowing that the inevitable end will be in the lion’s maw? You cannot say it is dull fatalism, or lack of imagination. If they lacked imagination, why would they run away so fast? The answer must be that they have the capacity to live in the present moment as it is and not as it might be. Those who live in reality, which can only be the present, will assuredly die, but will have lived before they die. Many people die without having lived. This is true cellularly as well as psychologically. By perfect positioning in asana, we flood our cells with life, which is nothing but present awareness. The cells too will die – but first they will have lived.
One of the reasons why, as a teacher of asana, I am so intense, and was in the past even harsh, is that I want to give the students one and a half hours of present life in a lesson. As I shout at them to straighten their legs in Sirsasana (headstand), they cannot be wondering what is for dinner or whether they will be promoted or demoted at work. For those who habitually flee the present, one hour’s experience of ‘now’ can be daunting, even exhausting, and I wonder if the fatigue felt by some students after lessons is due more to that than to the work of performing asanas. Our perpetual mental absences are like tranquilizing drugs, and the habit dies hard. For the keen student, the effect of asana is exhilarating.
The ‘elsewhere’ or ‘otherwise’ mentality to which we are bound by psychological time, causes us to emasculate our present reality with our illusory unreality. It’s as if we are staying in a town with only one hotel, not a very nice one, and all night we are miserable because we are thinking of the lovely hotel we stayed in the night before. But as the town has only one hotel, we are destroying our night’s sleep for the sake of fantasy. Now the atom of the moment, the minutest particle of time, is like the town with only one hotel. If we can live with that, such as it is, good, bad or indifferent, without a forwards, backwards or sideways glance, then we are free. If I seem to have oversimplified the subject, it is in an effort to demystify a topic which has become plaything for intellectuals.”Light on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali pg 220-221, or commentary after the 53rd Sutra in the third Chapter, Vibhuti Pada.
There is a lot that strikes me about this commentary. One is his admittance of how difficult this idea of “living in the present” sounds and is. It is a practice just like any other and will not ALWAYS be with us. Next is his example of the experience of the gazelles. My experience of many different animals is they absolutely have awareness and consciousness. However, they DON’T live their lives in fear of the future or worry of the past as we do. Yes, they run from danger and react when needed, but they are not filled with anxiety in the meantime. Their life is experienced in “the present” which is a reason why I have always admired them.
Then, the description and consciousness of his style of teaching also always strikes me. This week I had the opportunity to take an online class with one of my favorite teachers from the Iyengar Yoga Institute in India. She has the quintessential cadence of the Indian Institute teachers and the Iyengars – quick, intense, and in a manner of speaking relentless. However, what I always experience with this style, as BKS Iyengar explains, is the effect that there is absolutely nothing else in my mind except the experience of the pose. I have no choice but to hear the instruction and to do what she is asking. In that absolute focus on action I have no worry, no anxiety, I feel myself completely and in that experience feel JOY!!!
I do believe that boredom, or even this experience of “what day is it?” comes from what BKS Iyengar explains as the “elsewhere or otherwise mentality”. It actually doesn’t ever matter what time it is or what day it is, what I could be doing as opposed to what I am doing. What matters is right in front of me at any and every moment. If I capture that experience at any time, fear of the future or missing the past will dissipate and in its place will be freedom.