Past, Present, Future (written 2006)
From “The Flower Ornament Sutra”, a central Zen text:
“The worlds of past, present and future have no distinction in the succession of instants....”
This moment then and the moment my father died and the moment I first held my first born son, and the moment my first marriage ended, and the moment I chose to leave Calgary, and the moment in the future when I will die, all these in the instant. No distinction. Or am I reading into this because I have this fascination with the idea of the end of time? Of time as a human construct. Once I read something, an explanation of omniscience in Christian theology and it was the first explanation that made sense to me. Not God as some gypsy seer who foretells the future, God inside time. But God outside time. In the grandstand, so to speak, and the whole of time spread out on the playing field so that his gaze merely swings from here to there. Having an interest in physics, I've also read of “nows” as a grid-work in which consciousness moves. Consciousness, the stuff of the universe, of all universes. And we lowly creatures are only capable of seeing the bit we take part in so that we make up a linear story of past, present and future because that's what we see and know. Tiny bits of time. The way I can't imagine how the world looks to an eagle. Or a fly. Or a jelly fish. We're stuck inside this perception and that gives us the parameters for our explanations. Sometime ago in an article in Discover magazine, I came across a discussion of parallel universes, a metaphor of sheets on a line moving in the wind. Separate but so close and touching now and then. I struggled to explain this theory to R., to make sense of parallel worlds in The Golden Compass, the fantasy novel we're reading together. Time again as a human construct, its existence in our imaginations. The author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I'm reading this now) would say it all is. All laws of nature.
We make up a linear story of past, present and future and in so doing we make up cause and effect too. I look back and ask “how'd I get here?” and identify certain junctures and certain decisions or accidents. I see the turning points. I think of how now, at 51, I feel such complete disassociation from former selves. I tried to explain the sometimes bizarre actions of adolescent girls to my confused older son the other day. He feels carried along on the current of his girlfriend's changing moods. And she says to him she can't explain it herself. But being his mother, and once an adolescent girl myself, I see I behaved in remarkably similar ways. So I try to explain. But even as I did I felt like some kind of interloper. Who was I to say I had been there? Because I feel no more identification with that young girl I was then than I do with the young girl I'm trying to explain to him. Me and she, both “I”, seem so far apart. Indeed, are. 35 years or more. And a gazillion decisions and incidents later.
So, I've been thinking, how can a writer write anything but autobiography? At 30, how to write about 50, at 50, about 70? Or across gender or culture? Yet they do. Good writers. Because there is a human unity underlying it all. We are not just this single puzzle piece. We are in the big picture too. Can we soar above, outside, to view it all? Is that what we do, what we're striving for, in meditation? To move out of our place in the picture...the edges, the story, the context that make the I, and gain a broader perspective? Or to delve into what underlies it all? Do the directional metaphors of diving in or soaring above even make sense here?
When I follow the breath and release the past and the future, even this present I. When “I” dissolves in the sensation, the experience, there is something that also dissolves the questions. A sweet relief from theory, analysis, intellectual understanding. The felt sense of “just this” that has no perspective at all.