The January focus of the month is time. It's a subject that philosophers and physicists alike have long discussed but not necessarily agreed on. In the essay written by my teacher David Life, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, he cited two theories explaining the nature of time. The first theory states that time is linear, that past goes on to present and goes on to the future. The second theory claims that the concepts of past, present, and future are mere illusions.
The second theory is certainly difficult to grasp. How can it be, we may ask ourselves, when we obviously cannot go back to yesterday nor take a leap into the future, at least as far as we know right now? Our doubt comes from being attached to our sensory perceptions. We can only understand what we are capable of experiencing ourselves. And yet, "to see is to believe" is not completely accurate. Consider, for example, that when we see the sun rise, it is a mere illusion. And in fact, the sun that we see is the sun as it was eight minutes ago. And at night when we look at stars, we are looking merely at the ghosts of these stars. These stars have already died, and we see the light only after it has traveled some distance and some time.
What does it mean for us yogis to explore the nature of time, of space, of our existence? When we realize how much of the unexplored is out there, we are able to learn not to be so attached to our perceptions, to even what we consider knowledge, because that too is limited only to what is available to us right now. Embracing the vastness of the unexplored- including our questions about the nature of time- helps us embrace our humility. We are not the center of the universe. Astronomy can confirm that there is no such thing. What then, is the point of pretending that our worries and woes are what the universe revolves around? Perhaps a more meaningful way to find ourselves is not to put ourselves at the center but to consider that all of us who live and breathe and ask the same questions are in this together, in this vast expansive space and time.
If time were linear like the first theory states, then we can see this is a clear sign to be compassionate towards ourselves, in that time is continuously flowing, and we are merely following a certain breadth in timing. We do not need to compare where we are with where others are. We merely have to accept that the way we move is different, no better nor worse, than others. If the very concept of time were a mere illusion, then could it mean that all of the versions of who we are exist all at the same time? If so, then there is no separation between the I who fails and the I who succeeds, the I who has virtues and the I who has vices; furthermore all versions of I existing at the same time means there is no separation between I and others.
What is time? What is space? Where am I? Who am I? Treading on the path of yoga may not guarantee us the precise answers to difficult questions. But in the asking of these questions, we strip away illusions, we let go of selfish tendencies, we dismantle the ego, and we shift our perspective. And in that, we may find humility in that it is in our connectedness that we find we are bigger than those questions.
This is the clip I played in Savasana when I taught this class: Pale Blue Dot- Carl Sagan.