Few of us would be surprised to learn that clocks and calendars were among the earliest human inventions.  Nature itself has given us day and night, seasonal changes and the heavens as markers, but we’ve always been driven to find ways to mark time that are more precise.  Currently, that would be the atomic clock maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, which is precise to one second in 3.7 billion years.

Most of us have become slaves of time, constantly gearing our activities according to a clock or calendar. We take it for granted that time is a force of the universe that steadily marches forward and sweeps us along with it. But is that assumption accurate? Is time something that can’t be avoided, like gravity? Does time exist; is it real? We may feel that the answer to those questions is a solid YES, but many quantum physicists are seriously questioning the existence of time.  

No doubt you’ve heard some version of the ‘twin paradox’ explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity. In a nutshell, one 25 year old twin stays on earth and the other blasts off into space at 90% of the speed of light. The space twin makes a round trip that lasts 20 years and returns at the age of 45, but the twin who stayed on earth is now 71. This happens, in part, because gravity warps both time and space. The closer we are to a gravitational pull the faster time is, the further away we get, the slower it is. The key point is that absolute time does not exist. And no matter how accurate our clocks are, there is nothing tangible ‘out there’ that keeps universal time.

This may be fascinating information, but since you’re probably not going to be taking any trips in outer space anytime soon, it’s not very relevant to your personal relationship with the clock. However, scientists are discovering that even when we’re all safely on earth, each of us experiences time differently.  One of the factors that determine our experience of time is the methods we use to mark it:

Chaotic time perceives the world in terms of major events. These events could be global or personal, extremely negative or very positive, but their common thread would be the deep effect they had on you either mentally, emotionally or physically.  Since chaotic time is made up of a random, disjointed group of events, it often feels uncontrollable and beyond comprehension. In chaotic time past, present and future seem disjointed and unreal. Time is often scrambled and reset whenever another important event takes place leading to greater discontinuity.  This is a child’s first experience with time, but many adults, especially those who have been through horrific events, continue thinking in terms of chaotic time.

Cyclical time is obviously linked to the seasonal cycles of nature or any other repetitive experiences. Cycles often focus on ritual, community and connection, which offer a feeling of security within constant change.  Although cyclical time works more like a spiral than a line, it offers hope of renewal and change.  Cycles of any length can be created and used to measure any set of repetitive events, giving a strong sense of fluidity between past, present and future.

Linear time assumes that time is a viable force in the universe that is constant and real. In this context, time is a stream, a progression that we expect will be accompanied by continued, linear improvement.  Time is also considered a commodity that can be traded and used. This view leads to goal setting and a strong desire for achievement that can be measured ‘over time.’  However, linear time lends itself to as many dire predictions as it does positive.  In linear time it appears to be impossible for time to stand still, so it’s erroneously assumed that world conditions can’t remain stagnant either. The concept leads us to believe that world conditions must either continually improve or disintegrate. Linear time lends itself to a strong sense of history and predictions for the future based on past events.

Of course each of us probably uses a mixture of each of these methods to mark time, which means that we keep experiencing time differently. Why? Researchers tell us that time is actually a construct of the brain, a system of relationships that help us navigate the material world. We mark time based on the rate our brain takes in, filters and files information. When the brain has decided the information that’s it’s receiving is unimportant, it has little work to do and time seems to go very fast. Many older people complain that time seems to be speeding by, but the real problem may be that they’re not taking in enough stimulating information to keep the brain busy and engaged.  And conversely, children believe time drags by very slowly because a young brain is constantly interested in something new, and the brain must integrate the dense inflow.  This phenomenon also explains why a terrifying experience like a car wreck, earthquake or tornado feels like it’s taking place in slow motion.   

Crazy as it seems, when we talk to someone on the phone at 5 o’ clock and agree to meet them for dinner at six, we each experience the ‘hour’ between the call and the meeting in a different way. And after dinner, if we go to a movie that one of us enjoys and the other doesn’t, time will be different for each of us. The only thing about time that was stable was the way we agreed to mark it out with our calendar, clock or watch. Since time is so plastic, how can we begin to create a new understanding of it?

Around the 5th century BC the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, proposed that motion is an illusion. Now many physicists not only agree that Zeno’s theory about motion was correct, but they believe time may also be an illusion. Their theory proposes that instead of time, we experience ‘instants,’ that are very similar to a snapshot or one frame of movie film.  Each instant is equally real, but the instant is not in time; instead, time is in the instant. Rather than time passing, consciousness strings these instants together like a series of still frames.  The result?  Consciousness experiences a constant flow of virtual ‘now instants’ that appear just as seamless as the separate frames of a movie.

Once again, science is pointing to a Reality that goes beyond the material realm. Of course when we consider the idea that we’re ‘watching’ time rather than participating in it, we must conclude that we’re not part of the material world. Instead, the holographic model of the universe tells us we’re pure consciousness both participating in, and watching the movie. It’s no wonder that Jesus promised, “I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human mind.” (Gospel of Thomas) We can continue to live as slaves of time, but it’s a slavery of our own making:

Periods of months and years and time in general are ideas of men, who calculate by number; but the true name of eternity is Today—Philo

The human mind…is forced to impose the framework of space and time on raw sensory data in order to make any sense of it at all—Immanuel Kant

The One is neither a thing, nor a quality nor a quantity. It is not moving or standing still It is not a place or time—Plotinus

What is ordinarily called God’s foreknowledge is in reality a timeless now-knowledge—Aldous Huxley

Your essential nature is not at all in time or place, but is purely and simply in eternity—Meister Eckhart

Lee and Steven Hager are the authors of several books featuring the synergy of science, spirituality and gnosis.

Visit The Beginning of Fearlessness Website and blog: http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com