Time Deconstructed

Rules of Time

4 things that make time meaningful:

  1. Presence
  2. Context
  3. Identity
  4. Progress
  • Memories are extensions of current identity.
    • They are significant to the present time only if the context provides meaning that preserves the memories function to the current self. (i.e. 5th grade memories helped me create reference to friends and moving classes within the same school in 7th grade.)
    • Memories of old friends, like Cami, once diminished through time no longer serve the original function of preserving and referencing the friendship. Stripped of that context, it instead changes the meaning to an appreciation of the time that the memories did live in and to how it served you to get the parts of your identity that were built up because of that parallel version of yourself. Conversely, for some people it perpetuates grudges or bitterness. 
    • If you think about it as well, because of how memories are working to form identity, this is what makes it okay that when you meet new people they don’t know everything about you. They instead get to know you at the place you are at, in your most pure form. This also includes all the snippets of past components of you that are most vital. They then get to experience the past parts of you that matter, that bring context to who you are. This is also what is so vital in marriages or lasting relationships. So often in movies, someone will accuse their partner that they aren’t the same person that they married. This makes no sense because they shouldn’t be the same person and you shouldn’t want them to be. Obviously it’s hard if the merits of the relationship have changed and if the person has changed for the worse. Otherwise, there should be an understanding that different times and contexts of experiences will adapt both a person and their relationships. 
    • Another example is grandparents’ relationships with their grandkids. Society is set up in which the young adults and teenagers are deemed relevant, they are who set the patterns of the time period. They are the lens through which we examine different periods of history (soldiers in WW2, young parents in the baby boom of the 50s, young parents and unemployed adults in the great depression). When these young parents became grandparents, they lived through their identifying time. Their children knew them in that timeframe, so did most of their family or long term friends. However, there is such a time gap between grandparents and their grandkids that the kids only grow up knowing their grandparents in the context of their empty nest and often retired lives. They see them in their aged form, removed from their identifying time entirely. They are essentially meeting a different, more simplified form of their grandparents than their grandparents would even consider their identity. But the kids see the most pure and present form. When you then learn more of their identifiers and significant memories, you piece together more identity that helps strengthen the relationship and adds meaning. 
  • Time outside the physical present is relatively invalid or irrelevant (the validity includes extensions that provide context and meaning to the present). 
    • This is what makes eternity fathomable and speaks to the idea that time is non-linear. It’s not that time “keeps going”, it’s that it exists in a space that creates separate realms which you can sense and tangibly feel. 
    • This adds to the golden truth of mine that essentially once you don’t care about something, it doesn’t matter. It’s existence is reduced to an abstract idea. Strip a memory of it’s context or emotions and you strip it of its meaning. 
    • This means it is entirely possible to miss chunks of time without living them. Obsessing over the past ties you to a different time frame that removes you from the present and holds you back from progress that the current timeline promises you in the form of the “future”. Similar things can be said about obsessively planning for a future that you in turn, never reach. (exp- think about the scene in Disney’s Soul where people become “lost souls” through obsessions, disconnected from reality) 
    • The fact that you only exist in a present time frame should create depth to how you live, view shifting relationships, prioritize tasks, and take care of yourself. 
    • Understanding the context principle of time helps explain consequences of action and how the significance of agency plays into the progress principle of time. 
  • Emotions are created through reactivity of memories, future anxiety, and present discomfort (unbalance in the physical or mental plane). The motto “time heals all wounds” bears truth because it creates distance from emotional reactivity and has the potential to heal trauma which sticks to the context of memories and bears weight on the present in the form of “baggage” extensions. 
    • Anxieties of the future work themselves out as they pass. That is, if obsessing doesn’t take over the present in constant consumption. “The mind in its anxiety for us tries to make plans for a huge number of futures. most of which will never arrive. This constant leapfrogging into the future is a waste of our mental and emotional energy” (How to Train an Elephant: & Other Adventures in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays)
    • Understanding time can help aid in understanding emotions and practicing healing.
    • You also can’t control the timeline of reactivity fading. We don’t set the distance. You can let emotions be and exist in their own plane. It’s okay to sit in them. Reminders like “it’ll be okay, it won’t last forever, pain is temporary” aren’t the best to hear when you are hurting and aren’t necessarily supportive or activity listening phrases to tell someone who is depressed, anxious, or grieving, but they do have merit to them and can be good reminders to tell yourself.
      • Part of a reason why people cut is that it pulls them out of a removed time construct where they are living in past pain or removed from present feeling. The physical pain ties them to present discomfort, pulling them back to the current time frame where they want to feel alive, or feel something, even at the cost of this new pain. 
  • The nonlinear state of time creates different parallels of self.
    • This adds to the idea that time doesn’t matter outside of present constructs. It is a different version of you living in different constructs. The idea of alternate realities can be applied to the past and future as we know them. Past parallels of self only matter because they are a part of a current composite. However, their context has adapted, therefore altering the inherent function. The future parallel selves only matter because they provide potential and purpose.
    • Time therefore works in “pieces of self” or “extensions of memory” rather than how we view a “timeline”. 
  • You can use time to serve you, rather than how we are taught to cater to time. 
    • Using time in its pure and natural form of the current state (and altering ideas of the self and emotions to it) perpetuates space for living as well as speeds or enhances healing. 
    • One way I do this is whenever I get stressed about the future or intrusive thoughts about the past, I observe my physical state that I take up, I tell myself that I am safe and that I don’t exist outside of the presence I am in now. This works when falling asleep as well, instead of thinking about how many hours I have until I have to wake up and how much time I have to get ready, I lay there thinking about how grateful I am that I made it to that spot where I finished the day and am resting. I think about how no matter when I wake up or what tomorrow is, I am in that space now, and I still have sleep ahead. 
  • Eternity is relative.
    • The idea of eternity is slightly arbitrary because we will not be living in “an eternity”. We instead will always be living out a current state of time. Maybe the concept of eternity is so incomprehensible because we are trying to take in the sheer vastness of it, when that is not how it is intended to be viewed, because that isn’t how it’s lived. 
  • You can change how you move through time. 
    • I used to think that time moves faster as you get older because that is what it felt like comparing elementary school to high school. Instead, I now believe that children have a better practice of mental stillness or mindfulness that alters how time feels. This may seem contradictory because children are hardly physical still and jump topics fast. However, when a child is absorbed in an interest, that focus is much better preserved than the tendencies to mentally multitask or overthink that adults/young adults become privy to. Children are also unlikely to experience decision fatigue compared to the frequency in which adults do. When a child believes something, it is with much more conviction, even with the possibility of being wrong. 

Takeaways: 

  1. “Time is irrelevant”
  2. Time needs context to provide meaning 
  3. Memories create extensions in time that form identity 
  4. The nonlinear state of time creates different parallels of self 
  5. Emotions are side effects of either current state imbalance or reactivity of separate timelines 
  6. You can train yourself to perceive and use time differently 

For additional context of this document- what made me come up with these concepts was reflecting on the idea of memory. We aren’t in control of what memories we keep. Often people lose memories through trauma as the brain protects itself. We know how inaccurate memory is and how unreliable of a source it can be, even with firsthand witnesses. We also know that people who entirely lose memory lose their connection to the world, their identity, and their ability to function. Knowing then, the importance of memory yet how sparse and malleable it is- how do we make sense of the memories we have? How do we interpret the pieces of time we do get to keep for reference? And what significance does time bear then if it gets to be the holder of such delicate and personal pieces of information? 

I also thought, why should we want to remember everything from this life when we get to the next? People theorize about their life flashing back or regaining all of their lost memories, but is that really necessary- does that bear any weight on our eternal progress from that point on? Some people work hard to forget certain events or redeem themselves by moving on from past mistakes or nativity. Why would time suffer that we should undo such progress? The truth is, we aren’t aware of how time functions in an eternal capacity, nor are we able to accurately guess the purpose and breadth of memory in another lifetime. I do suppose that time is a matter of God. I believe it is a gift that in this life, we can best utilize by learning about the significance of presence. 

Lastly, how we are taught about time in this life greatly explains societal behaviors. Tendencies to avoid the present often take over people’s lives. Addictions, escapism, blaming, any number of unhealthy coping mechanisms can be tied to an unhealthy relationship with the self and the present. This isn’t actually escaping the present as it appears to be. We live in the present- of which there is no escaping, only missing or masking. But we are here. Instead, what these coping mechanisms do is avoid the attachments of the past or future that one has which makes their present feel unbearable. Once these are identified, it is that much easier to shed yourself of pain and work to be healthy or happy. Then you aren’t working for a past self, past relationship, or idealized future self or future relationships, you are working for yourself. The you that lives in the present is the only living, valid, and real consciousness of you. 

It is learning these things that bring us to comprehend what meditation actually does for us. And why multiple buddha’s/monks throughout history have claimed that suffering is a self-constructed state that we can learn to live beyond. 

Here is a quote I got from my meditation class that touches on this: “What makes a thought feel real is the attention we bring to it. We make a thought into a solid object by focusing on it and relating to it as if it is an event happening in the world somewhere. Usually in the world of the person or thing that we are thinking about. We link the two—the thought and the object that the thought is about—when in fact, the two are not actually connected. Our thought does not affect the object of that thought unless we believe it does. How freeing it is to know that if we do not attend to a thought, answer it, change it, identify with it and all the rest, it literally ceases to exist. If we let a thought be nothing, then that’s what it will be … nothing (Nancy Collier)”.