A few days ago, I already talked about how quickly time seems to pass. How it seems to be racing. In that blog, I probably used the same general terminology and spoke of time racing, of it running away. That, apparently, it is moving. Forward, never backward. Never at rest, always continuous. That’s just the general terminology, that’s just how people talk about time. And I keep catching myself talking about time in this way too.
Talking, not thinking.
Because time doesn’t pass, it doesn’t race. Time does not move at all.
Apart from the fact that time is only a human term for ever ongoing processes in the world around us, time is something static. Where do I come up with such nonsense? Let me start with the train station and the train. Perhaps you know the scene from the film in which it was not the train that departed but the station? Exactly: it’s all a question of perspective. If you are standing on the platform, it is clearly the train that is moving. If you’re sitting on the train, it’s the station that’s moving. I think it’s the same with time: it’s a question of perspective whether time is moving or whether it’s us who are actually moving. Just because we have no influence on all the processes around us and within us, but these processes, including ageing, inevitably progress, does not mean that it is time that inevitably progresses. Yes, well, we humans may have decided at some point, because of the fact that we cannot stop the processes, that we cannot stop the progress of things in the world, that it is time that progresses and moves. But that, I think, is not so. Yes, clearly there is a relation between us and time. Like between the platform and the train. One of the two is moving. Clearly. And inevitably. But no: I don’t think it is time. Rather, it is we who are moving through time. Time is a constant. It has always been (even before the Big Bang there must have been a time, otherwise the ‘moment’ of the Big Bang would never have ‘come’). And time will always exist, even if our universe should no longer exist. And if time has always existed and will always exist: where should it move to? Is there any room at all for a movement, for a progression of time? If, on the other hand, I change perspective and look not at the train as the departing element, but at the platform, a different perspective emerges. So if we are the ones moving through time.
It is we who move through time. And since it is we who move through time, an important relation is added here: us. Our life. Time does not exist for us outside of our life. At least we know nothing about it while we live here. This relation is very important because it gives meaning to the whole construct of time. But more about that in a moment.
Time, to use an image here, is something like a vessel. A vessel filled with – almost – an infinite number of moments. In the form of little balls, if you like. And it is a vessel that is not infinitely high. Or at least consists of finitely high sections. When we are born, we move through this vessel from above. We move through the multitude of moments. Continuously. We move past most of the moments without looking at them closely, even more: we don’t even pay attention to most of the moments we move past. Only once in a while, now and then, do we dive into one of these globules. Immerse ourselves in a moment. For us, time suddenly seems to stand still. And yet we continue to move. Only in this bead. We continue to leave all the other moments around us behind, just as we did before. Only this one moment, the one in which we are immersed, the one to which we give all our attention, seems to stay with us forever. At least until we leave it too and realise again that we are still moving through time and that our course of life has not been stopped. Even if it seemed so to us. At that moment. And with each moment, with these almost infinite moments that we pass, we approach the bottom of the vessel. Or the bottom of the section we are in. It’s just a matter of personal perspective. Whether this vessel has only one bottom or whether it has several sections is a matter of faith. I do believe that there will be another section after the one I am currently moving through. But that is another subject.
So we move through these countless moments towards one ground. The end of our life. The point where there are no more moments that pass us by. That we experience. The special thing is the paradox of temporal sensation. Or rather the paradox of how we feel time. When we dive into the vessel at the top, with our birth, our young years, we don’t know how deep this vessel is. How many moments it will hold for us. How many opportunities to dive into individual moments. When we will reach the bottom and the moments will be instantly gone. The older we get, the closer we get to the ground, the more aware we seem to become that the ground is getting closer and closer. And the more conscious we seem to be of trying to hold on to individual moments. To immerse ourselves in them. To become completely absorbed in them.
And the further down we move in the vessel of time, the faster we seem to move through time. Just as if the density were decreasing further down in the vessel.
Science has a term or two for dwelling in a single moment. ‘Flow’ is probably the best known. If an artist, to make the connection to art, is inspired, is in ‘flow’, is completely absorbed in his art, mediates between the worlds, makes the invisible visible to other people – then he is completely immersed in a moment. He is completely absorbed in it. This immersion in the moment is a prerequisite for inspiration. Or rather, the two go hand in hand: inspiration and immersion in the moment. If an artist makes art without immersing himself in the moment, in other words, while he continues to fall through the vessel and he passes by the moments, his art will only be just that: art in passing. Fast art. Cold art. Art without passion. Without the passion of the moment in which the artist is immersed. Then the piano piece will be played and many a listener will find it beautiful. But it will lack soul. The depth. The passion. Of the moment.
Time does not pass. It does not race. We are the ones who rush through time, fall through it. And we are the ones who fall past countless moments. We are the ones who have to immerse ourselves in a moment if we want to hold on to it, at least a little. And the deeper and longer we immerse ourselves in a moment, the deeper and longer it becomes a part of our lives. The more of it remains with us. For our further journey through time, through the vessel of countless moments.