Have we ever brought ourselves to tears thinking about something which never happened?
Our past experiences and things we have learnt have set up entire networks of electrons in the brain. However, when we start to speculate, or imagine something in the future, researchers are beginning to show the brain can also remember the future. Every time we visualise a future outcome the network is strengthened. The brain can dip into different networks based on past information and emotions and create a new network which forms an image. Eventually the brain is structured as if the event has already occurred, and the body receives messages from this circuitry. So thinking about and feeling what a future experience may look like will affect your personal reality now. The body is getting the signal before the event has occurred, and it does not know the difference.
Consciousness remains a mystery. Some scientists believe it is a biological phenomenon, different from mental and physical processes but somehow concurrent with life and a property of the brain. Others have suggested consciousness is a quantum phenomenon, and have compared its behaviour to that of an electron at the subatomic level.
All matter at the subatomic level exists in wave form. That matter only appears solid when the brain decodes what it perceives and gives it form. Physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
Thoughts also exist in wave form. When they behave as a wave, they may leave the brain, existing outside the human mind, which would explain OBEs and NDEs. Quantum physics therefore suggests that consciousness is similar to the awareness an electron acquires when being observed – by a human – in the double slit experiment. So if an electron changes once it has been measured, perhaps a thought which has been “measured” or focused on may also cause the brain to behave differently. If, then, our perception of reality is governed by our brain, then the thoughts-become-things theory starts to look less improbable.
If the brain is in control of how we perceive reality, and if the entire universe is made up of atoms – with electrons inside them in a wave/particle dual state – then the mind can have some effect on our physical world. If we give our attention to certain thoughts while clearing out others, the networks we create will affect what ‘happens’ in our reality.
If this is true, it’s a great way of no longer being the victim of circumstance.
Visualising health, vitality and eternal youthfulness is not a fairy tale. Atoms are 99.9999% empty space and energy. Why then are we paying so much attention to the physical? Are we forgetting something?
Many people say time speeds up as we age. The long summer holidays of childhood seemed to be endless, but as our minds filled with more and more concerns, life began to rush by. As we age we find ourselves spending less and less time in the present. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could spend our lives, from now on, without worrying, but instead truly experiencing every moment life lays before us?
Experiencing a true present is something most of us find difficult. Even when on holiday we often find miles of countryside have slipped by unseen while we focus on our inner chatter, consisting of plans and past regrets and reliving scenes of our lives, or analysing people’s motives and intentions. The overactive mind is often seen as a scourge of Western culture, but the Oriental mind is just as susceptible to overload. A Tai Chi master from a Beijing martial arts school was asked if she drifted off during her movements to think about having forgotten to pop into the bank. She replied that although she manages to be totally into her routine thanks to her training, she has noticed that since the advent of the car, people in China are also beginning to fall victim to a racing mind and an addiction to getting ahead. “It was better when we had bicycles,” she said. “People were more mindful. They would step back and let others pass. They were more aware of the day as it passed.”
An overactive mind can hinder us from getting enough sleep and in its worst forms is a symptom of hypermania. Racing thoughts can prevent us from focusing on one topic or activity; they tire us out, increase anxiety, cause stress and increase the speed at which we live – and age. Slow breathing, writing out thoughts, exercise or mindfulness meditation can all help to slow us down and bring focus. When the moment we are in is a painful one, then we can direct the mind and the body towards more peaceful thoughts, by breathing through the pain and remembering that everything must pass. The worst scenario is that we will never feel good again; now how likely is that?
It is part of the human condition to have an active mind, but it is also part of our heritage to be able to still that mind and focus on the now. Once broken, the habit of constantly worrying and projecting will soon begin to fade and it is never too late, whatever our culture and heritage. We must remember that in the spiritual life we are always at the beginning, whoever we are.
Sometimes called the cosmic or world tree, the tree of life did not originate with the authors of Genesis. The notion of a sacred tree appears in many traditions. Isis and Osiris were said to have emerged from an acacia tree, which the Egyptians considered to be the tree of life. The Mayan tree of life is a cross from which branches emerge, the centre of which symbolises the point of absolute beginning, the source of all creation. The oldest name of Babylon (Tintirki) meant the place of the tree of life. This was a tree with magical fruit which could be picked only by the gods. Sumerian art depicts it guarded by a pair of intertwined snakes (see Tantra). In the Book of Revelation the tree of life is described as having curative properties (“And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” – Revelation 22: 1-2). Consider also the Buddha who received enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
It is clear that the symbol of immortality and freedom from all disease is an archetype deeply embedded in the human consciousness. A tree has deep connections with the earth, yet its branches reach up to heaven. It symbolises a link between the material and the metaphysical world.
However as we all know, in the Garden of Eden alongside the tree of life was another tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve fell out of favour with God by eating its fruit, and were cast out of the garden, condemned to toil all their lives and to experience illness, ageing and death. In one of the scriptural writings outside the Canon (Vita Adae et Evae), as Adam lies ill and dying, his son Seth is described asking what pain is, and Adam explains it is a result of the knowledge of good and evil. He expresses feelings of guilt, and begs his son to go back into Eden to get oil from the tree of life to relieve his suffering, but to no avail. To prevent access to this tree in the future Genesis says that cherubim with flaming swords flashing back and forth were placed at the garden’s entrance to guard the way.
The theological explanation for why a loving God would allow death is that because of sin, life is filled with pain, illness and hard work, and by limiting our lifespan God spares us the misery of an endless existence full of suffering and heartache. The wages of sin, as St Paul says, is death, but God allows us to reach out to him and offers eternal life after death through Christ.
Why does the Bible call the second of these trees the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of just calling it the tree of death? It is as though knowledge of good and evil is equated with the opposite of life. This rather confusing message can be interpreted in two ways. The standard theological interpretation is that knowing good and evil meant experiencing it, and that the sin of man condemned him to suffer evil and pain, so that he might better appreciate what is good and true. It is certainly the case that for many metaphysical philosophies, one of the explanations for suffering is that it enables us to recognise its opposite, and to expand our consciousness in order to acquire greater wisdom. But if we take this analogy further, we can apply the word ‘knowledge’ to all of the information that our minds soak up from the time we are born on earth. Much of this information serves as a source of social cues, beliefs and learned thought patterns, causing us to adopt unconscious attitudes towards health and human lifespan that set our inner clock to begin to age at a given time, and leading us to associate pain and fatigue with advancing years, as well as constantly calculating how long we have left. Cognition is not a representation of the world, but an interpretation of it.
In the Kabbalah, ‘Ain Soph’ is beyond good and evil, embracing the totality of everything. It may be translated as ‘there is no end’ or ‘infinite’ and represents the divine origin of all created existence. It emanates 10 realms of existence, the lowest of which is the realm of our universe. Ain Soph has parallels in science : in the case of string theory, consistency requires space-time to have 10 dimensions.
Daring to turn our back on the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ and associating ourselves with the tree of life, clearing our minds of negative chatter and filling our lives with the positive, the uplifting, with affirming statements rather than thinking about what we don’t want, don’t have and need to resist, is a step few would call rational, but there are already many who are edging their way back into the garden through conscious living, as the flaming swords are lowered and Eden comes again into sight.
Time is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. It governs our lives but it is not what we believe. Time travel is generally thought to be impossible, but if you believe that you haven`t noticed you are doing it yourself. We are all time travellers : time’s arrow is pointing forward and we are hitching a ride, though it seems we are stuck in the present.
In the three-dimensional world the earth’s movement is used to measure time. We’ve divided this motion into hours, minutes and seconds, so most people have a simple view of time, feeling that it is identical for everyone. We all feel we know time intimately… until we have to describe it.
Newton’s vision was that it was immutable, changing always at the same pace, but although he used logic to conclude this, he was wrong. Time is not immutable, since it is affected both by movement and gravity. Time is elastic and speed affects the rate at which matter ages.
Take a slice of time. We are now reading this blog, but on the other side of the world someone is going to post a letter and at the North Pole a seal catches a fish. For the moving person holding the letter and the swimming seal time is moving more slowly than for us, sitting still. Einstein realised this by linking time to movement through space. The more you have of movement the less you have of time – which is why an intergalactic astronaut ages more slowly. At the speed of light time stops altogether.
As well as movement there is the effect of gravity : the stronger the gravity the slower time flows, as if gravity holds time back. On the top floor of a skyscraper time flows more quickly and near a black hole time slows down spectacularly.
Is it possible to stop time? Thoughts travel faster than light. If time stops at the speed of light, what happens at the speed of thought? What would happen if we repeated the thought I am growing younger for an hour during meditation? (see All the time in the world).
Before the big bang there was no time at all.
Kant wrote that since we grasp the world only through the structures of our brain we cannot truly know the world itself. Contrary to everyday experience, space is not a rigid Euclidean framework but is warped by objects, may be curved and bounded, is riddled with black holes and possibly wormholes and has 11 or more dimensions. The scientific theory of time and space is wildly out of line with the mind’s imaginings. Time is an empty, elastic form that must be filled by emotions and thoughts, and so we dictate how it flows, and each person’s time is individual.
Steven Pinker in The Stuff of Thought says it is almost impossible to eliminate time from one’s awareness, “leaving the last thought immobilized like a stuck car horn while continuing to have a mind at all”. Matter exists in space but consciousness exists in time, he says. But is it always so?
When we observe our own “present” it lasts as long as the thought, I am experiencing this moment, perhaps two or three seconds, the time it takes to hear a short melody, to recognise an image, to understand a spoken phrase. We straddle the moment with one leg in the recent past and another stepping towards the future. But there are other moments, in particular when the brain is producing alpha waves, when our experience of time is different. Experienced meditators will confirm that time seems not to pass at all when they reach stages of higher consciousness, and yet awareness is even greater than during everyday life. Transcendence of the present can also occur when athletes or artists are “in the zone”, when we contemplate nature or during sexual experiences. It is not surprising then that many religions have a spiritual view of sex.
These gateways to higher states of consciousness are usually associated with silence, stillness and profound well-bring. So consciousness does not only exist in time. It also exists outside of it. With enough practice, we can therefore stop time at will.
In states of higher consciousness aging is suspended.
Only 150 years ago almost no one owned a watch; instead people listened to their inner clock and observed the changes in their environment. You are probably wearing one now as you read this, or can see a clock on the wall. Take a look at this device. What exactly is it measuring? Can we see it, feel it, sense the substance that it records? Or is this substance just a sensation created by the brain, to order events and sensations, or to serve memory, both personal and social? Clocks and watches may measure time but we have all experienced this as illusion, since a minute can feel like an hour and a day like a single thought. Einstein showed that time is not an absolute quantity but is part of space-time within which we live our lives. So time can expand and contract like a rubber band – not only at the speed of light, but according to our perception of our inner and outer worlds.
We all have to observe social time, but learning to observe ritual time is just as important. This is the time when the mind produces alpha waves, a state of expanded consciousness during intense concentration, creativity or meditation, when time does not seem to exist at all.
Do we love ourselves enough to suspend the rat race? It is difficult to convince ourselves we deserve the time and even harder to stand the initial sense of tedium we feel when we give ourselves nothing to do. But it is worth giving boredom a chance!
Time, like success, is said to have a taste. It is possible to test this taste by stopping our thoughts while we are carrying out mundane activities. Let us then feel the floor holding us as we wash up or walk, let us ask who we are, why we are there, what we are doing, and why. Robert Lauritsch of the German Association for the Slowing Down of Time says, “The logic of progress and demands of measurability dictate that what is the highest performance today is only the average of tomorrow. No one can live an entire life pushed to the limits.” His motto is take time, give time, let time happen. Creativity and new ideas are born in the pauses, not during frenzied activity. Regeneration occurs in deep winter, when life sleeps under the frozen ground. This was the message of Christ’s birth, and that of Mithra, or Horus – it is the message of the spirit to the world.
Saved time is lost forever. And that rubber band is circular. It will not run out.