“There seems to be plenty of it,” was all I would answer, when the investigator asked me to say what I felt about time.
Take a breath. Experience the sense of I am here in its inhalation. Maintain that sense during the peak of saturation. Exhale consciously. Then maintain the sense of I am here during the interval after the exhalation. Your consciousness has just spanned your psychological moment. This short duration of five seconds on average is the lifetime of your ‘I’s. Every breath brings a new thought to your mind, or a new turn of repetition to an old thought. A day of 17 active hours (meaning, hours spent out of bed) contains 1,020 active minutes and 12,240 active breaths. A week contains 85,680 active breaths. A month contains 342,720. We will have taken 4,467,600 breaths from the beginning of the year 2016 to its conclusion in a few days’ time — and this is just one of several years that will have comprised our lives. When it comes to time, as measured by our breaths, we’re all multi-millionaires.
“There seems to be plenty of it,” was Aldous Huxley’s answer when asked about ‘time’ under the supervised influence of mescaline. “Plenty of it,” said Huxley, “but exactly how much was entirely irrelevant. I could, of course, have looked at my watch; but my watch, I knew, was in another universe. My actual experience was… of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.”
Huxley had been given the active principle of the sacred cactus known to Mesoamerican shamans as peyote. George Gurdjieff affirmed that the higher mental center could manifest through the use of such narcotics, and that there had been schools that had used narcotics to achieve this effect. “People in these schools take them for self-study; in order to take a look ahead, to know their possibilities better,” said Gurdjieff. “But to do this, a great knowledge of the human machine and of this special chemistry is necessary.” Leaving aside the lure of taking narcotics to experience higher states effortlessly, we can nevertheless use Huxley’s experience to underscore what is verifiable also without their influence: time is experienced differently by different parts of our being.
During the past week, we focused on the habit of unnecessary haste (see tutorial and comments on “Difficult Groups of ‘I’s”). Haste is rooted in an attitude that I don’t have enough time. It’s a curiously prevalent temptation. Even as I sit at my desk and type these words, a lineup of sticky notes with to-do items beckon me, urging me to hurry. “Get on with it, finish up, we don’t have all day”— they seem to say. My shoulders tense, my fingers strike the keyboard more firmly and quickly. I am drawn to forsake the privilege to Be for the temptation to do.
That ‘other universe’ that Huxley reports of — the presumed location of his ‘watch’ — is the realm of doing. In that realm, time is linear, and there never seems to be enough of it. Those of us who, within the context of last week’s exercise, managed to curb haste at certain moments of our day and go through our to-do lists gracefully, witnessed how new items were promptly added to them. We verified that the part of our being identified with doing isn’t laboring under the hopes of an eventual conclusion. It desires to desire, which means that while we’re locked to the realm of doing, we’re not only multi-millionaires, but the kind that never feels they have enough, that hoards and guards their wealth out of perpetual fear of bankruptcy.
Popping a mescaline pill into our mouth each time we’re lured by haste would hardly be practical. We’d promptly die of overdose. Instead, we can take this present breath, experience the sense of I am here in its inhalation, maintain that sense during the peak of saturation, exhale consciously, and then maintain the sense of I am here during the ensuing interval. If we haven’t just experienced a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse, then we haven’t fully transitioned from the realm of doing into the realm of being.
No need to hurry; you have plenty of breaths left. Try again.