Look at time. Not in a big history of the Universe kind of thing, but how it affects me and how I affect it. In the late 90s, when hyperintelligent sharks ate everyone in the cinema masterpiece Deep Blue Sea, LL Cool J played a wise-cracking preacher turned cook. In the movie, he explained Einstein’s theory of relativity by saying, “When you grab hold of a hot pan, a second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, and an hour can seem like a second.” It shows time is always changing. Sure, you can measure it (a second is a second and an hour is an hour), but when you look hard at how we as people relate to time, you find our minds distort time depending on the situation.
The Doctor from Dr. Who famously calls time ‘a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff.’ If you haven’t heard the exact quote, go check it out. In my mind, the next logical progression would be, if time, which I have considered for so long to be a rigid thing that flows like a river from point A in the future to point B in the past like a river flowing from the past to our future, isn’t the way it initially appears… then what else isn’t as it seems?
I experience this daily within the boundaries of my zazen practice. I know good and well I set the timer for fifteen minutes, and I’m pretty confident my phone didn’t suddenly break, so why hasn’t the dang bell rung yet? I sometimes wonder if the time keeper is asleep, or the Zen teacher is attempting to teach us all a lesson in patience by not ringing the bell. From my own experience, I feel pretty confident saying time is fluid.
There’s a philosophical school of thought called Solipsism. Solipsists believe the self is the only real thing. If you find this theory amusing, it’s because it means you’re creating reality, things are the way you choose them to be. Expand the concept, you become the creator of everything around you. If you take a Zen perspective, we all become manifestations of the universe. If that’s the case then we’re all creating reality. I find it easier to think of it more as co-creation. You and I are both part of the same universe, and we’re working together whether we like it or not to make things as they are.
Memory’s role in time is another interesting thing . Lawyers say someone’s memory of an event is not exactly what happened. Additionally, Psychologists talk about suggestibility and how a person’s memory can be influenced by existing beliefs or outside forces. The past can become pliable.
Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” How we understand much of history is very possibly just the story someone perpetuated. I wonder if a rumor told often enough and believed by enough people can sometimes become fact. If it were totally untrue , does it become true over time? If it were the truth, does it gain weight over time and through the telling? Maybe the past is manipulated the same way as time.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be able to only remember what’s going on at this exact moment. I’d be forced to encounter each situation as if it had never happened before. From a Zen perspective, each moment only happens once. I’ve never written this line before, even if I’ve typed this exact sentence.
Guy Pierce plays a man with absolutely no short term memory in Memento. He tattoos important information on his body so he can reference it. It’s a phenomenal movie, and the ending always makes me wonder about the truth of things we think we really know. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you here.
The past is somewhere between totally disregarding it and hanging on to it too tightly. We are informed by our past rather than being burdened by it. Our history can help us avoid making mistakes over again, and we can make all our choices in the present moment.