MAN'S PRIMARY EXPERIENCE OF EXISTENCE AND TIME
The philosophical world-view on which this book is based is holistic; that is to say, it is founded upon the realization that what we call existence is a process operating everywhere in terms of wholes constantly in a state of motion and activity. Modern physics has revealed to us that even an apparently solid and inert chunk of matter actually is a world of whirling molecules, atoms, particles, moving at incredible speeds. Modern astronomy speaks of billions of stars and galaxies also moving at enormous speeds. But whether we deal with atoms, molecules, living bodies, planets or galaxies, we are dealing with existential wholes each of which has a more or less complex structure and acts as a whole of activity. They constitute fields of energies; they radiate or release energies of various kinds. They are interrelated, and they interact.
All these wholes, as far as we are able to experience them, have a beginning and an end. They also constitute limited fields of activity. Their component energies are integrated by some kind of 'binding force' or holistic power; they operate in time and in space or, in other words, they have a finite span of existence, and they also have a certain spatial 'form.' One can speak of their cycle of existence — a cycle lasting perhaps a millionth part of one of our seconds, or billions of our years. We can also refer to them either as macrocosms or microcosms — i.e., large or small fields of interrelated activities, galaxies or atoms.
The fact that existence is apprehended by us in terms of wholes of interrelated activity limited in time and space does not imply, however, that, conceived in the most general sense Existence has a beginning and an end. There is no reason to believe that there is only one universe which began at a certain moment and will end in some final state. We can — and I personally do — postulate an infinity of existential cycles and an infinite possibility of space-fields defining the boundaries of existential wholes. However while time-cycles and space-fields have a finite character, it seems necessary metaphysically speaking, and perhaps psychologically as well — to imagine 'beyond' them a state or condition which transcends existence. Philosophers have often spoken of that condition as non-existence because no existential concepts or images can describe it; yet we should imagine, inherent in it, the capacity to 'produce' space-fields and time-cycles defining forever new universal wholes.
Brahman in India refers to both the state of existence and that of non-existence. It includes not only the possibility, but also the actualization, through cyclic processes operating within finite cosmic fields, of an infinite variety of modes and forms of existence; and I shall attempt in later chapters to define in more modern terms a similar picture of ultimate 'reality.'
However, the main purpose of this book is not the development of a detailed and rigorously constructed type of metaphysics. What is intended here is to present only those aspects or elements of such an all-inclusive world-view required to provide a significant and adequate foundation for a creative and future-oriented understanding of the basic problems now confronting mankind.
These problems cannot be adequately faced only in terms of an extrapolation of present technological trends into the future. They have to be solved essentially at the level of a basic change in human consciousness. A holistic philosophy is needed as a frame of reference for the new global activity of mankind, for without such a philosophy the expected world-society of tomorrow will most likely develop along lines representing a betrayal of man's noblest ideals.
Terms such as philosophy, existence and holistic should not be misunderstood. They are not used in the intellectualistic spirit which prevails today in most academic circles in America. I have already defined philosophy as an enquiry into the basic character and the implications of human existence. As to the term, existence, it is in this book free from any close association with one or the other of the recent schools of thought and feelings covered by the general term, Existentialism. Basically existence is a state of unceasing dynamic adjustment and transformation in which activities of various types are interrelated and more or less permanently integrated within a field of forces, structured by some kind of cohesive power effective within more or less specific limits in space and time. This structuring power operates at various levels and in a variety of ways. Its operation is holistic (from the Greek olos, meaning "whole.") Without it there could be no existential wholes but only an undefinable chaos of random motions.
A basic fact of human experience is, that while the state of existence implies unceasing changes and adjustments to some kind of environment, it also reveals indisputable manifestations of order. The awareness of change and the realization that this change is pervaded by structuring factors implying some kind of over-all order and purposefulness constitute the two fundamental facts of human existence. As man seeks to understand the basic character of his existence and to orient his consciousness toward the possibility of increasing his well-being, he has to take into consideration these two aspects of existence: change and order. Everything changes and events follow one another in a perhaps bewildering sequence suggesting pure randomness and meaninglessness; yet man can also discover that underneath this superficial play of unpredictable events and internal transformations a principle of order — a holistic, structuring power — is at work. As human beings develop their ability to perceive this principle of order in its multifarious manifestations they gain the capacity to use the knowledge thus obtained and transmitted from generation to generation in order to control their environment and have a more secure and more fulfulling existence.
The preceding statements are not the result of merely intellectual speculation; nor are they derived from any Eastern or Western religious systems. They are based simply and directly on the most primary facts of human experience. They refer to a direct existential or phenomenological approach to what every infant experiences after he is born out of the protective envelope of his mother's womb, and as his consciousness of existence gradually develops and takes a specific form. Such a type of direct, existential approach is necessary today, for we find ourselves at this crucial time of man's evolution in a condition where we are challenged to consider afresh and to carefully and creatively re-think so much of what we have been taking for granted during the now closing Christian era. We need therefore a fresh start. We need to question the very first moments of any existential cycle. We should attempt to grasp what is most primary in human experience; and this means trying to look at existence through the eyes of the newborn child.
The Experiences of Change and Periodicity
In his most primary awareness of existence the human infant is the passive recipient of a continuous sequence of impacts affecting his senses, and of pressures altering whatever feeling he may have of inner organic processes and needs. Sensations and feelings pass by as it were; nothing seems to remain the same. Shocks, sensations, feelings of pain or well-being follow one another. Whatever awareness there is must be diffused through a nervous system and a brain which simply registers and reacts according to primordial reflexes. There is sentiency as in every living organism and probably in the most rudimentary way in every form of existence. But what we call consciousness in a human sense — what Teilhard de Chardin calls "reflective consciousness" — will only develop progressively, though at a really amazing rate considering all that is involved in the process. In this sense of the term, consciousness, every cycle of individualized existence begins in a state of at least relative unconsciousness. Still it is evident that every particular cycle of existence is related to the past, whether in an individual "karmic" sense or in terms of heredity. Past cycles bequeathed certain tendencies to the new "existent" and these act as innate structuring factors in the new organism.
The primary fact of existence is an organic field of activity. The organism-as-a-whole reacts to sensations and to the interior needs of its various functions; but at first, these reactions are not referred to an even relatively permanent structure or center of awareness. The newborn does not know himself as existing separate from an outer world. He does not differentiate between inner and outer. His nervous system only registers happenings which follow one another as a series of organic states, movements and reactions. If reactions are different in every infant it is simply because every human organism differs in some respect from other human organisms, both in substance and in field-structure.
There comes a moment when something in this organism becomes aware that certain shocks, impressions and feelings which cause him to vibrate and react have already been felt. The reactions following these feeling-sensations also have the character of having been previously experienced. This awareness of the 'already felt' and the 'already reacted to' must at first be vague; but it quickly gains greater precision. Very soon, it seems, the nervous system of the infant organism registers the fact of repetition.
This feeling of repetition is the very foundation of organic consciousness. It gradually transforms the passive awareness of a constantly changing sequence of sensations and feelings succeeding each other without noticeable relation the one to the other into the consciousness of recognizable patterns. Certain sequences of actions and reactions become isolated, acquiring a recognizable form and a definite purpose at the level of organic needs. As the sequence of day and night, light and shadow, hunger and satisfaction, unpleasant wetness and pleasurable dryness are understood to repeat themselves — as the child's brain registers that the release of painful tension in a cry is followed repeatedly by the comforting actions of the mother — a primitive feeling of order emerges out of the original chaos of ever-changing sequences of happenings.
If repetition is assured, foresight is possible. The most primitive awareness of the repetition of daily events gradually becomes a definite expectation of what one has foreseen. Predictability and the order found to be inherent in nature therefore constitutes a second element which enters into human experience. There is constant change; but there is also order, regularity, periodicity and rhythm of existence. These two elements of existential experience are fundamental. All that is human is based on them; and the great problem for the individual, as for society, is to determine the respective values of these two elements in our experience.
One of the main concerns of human society, whether ancient or modern, is to expand, by incessant collective effort, the field in which existential facts present themselves to the mind as ordered and predictable elements in human experience, and by so doing to reduce as much as possible the realm in which chance, unpredictability, the irrational and the traumatic take place. This collective effort is at the base of all that we call culture, religion, science, civilization. Where the sense of order is satisfied and the principle of predictability is given the consistent and dependable form of natural laws and of aesthetic as well as scientific formulas, security reigns.
This feeling of security is as necessary in the psychological sphere as in the physical and social life of man. Man has an essential need to feel himself acting in an environment where he meets more or less constant evidence of a fundamental and reliable order. He also needs to feel sure of his own reactions and of his responses to interior changes which gradually transform, develop or age him. The ego-sense as we shall presently see, is a manifestation of the feeling of that inner order which rules the reactions and the conflicts of individual existence.
Conceived in its most ideal and universal state, this sense of order is what we call reason. But each person can also have 'his reasons,' that is, his own intellectual and psychic order. If that state of inner order is threatened, insecurity arises. This insecurity can become a sort of cancer turning the vital forces of the organism into energies of destruction; it can also produce fantasies and illusions which seek to build a fictitious order substituting itself for the disorder of a psychic life deviated or frustrated by situations, unpredictable events or unconscious reactions which were unexpected and shock-producing.
Yet this need for order can become a tyrant. It often gives to the intellect and to the rigid forms of rational thought a power which can destroy the capacity to feel directly and to experience spontaneously, freely, the quickening flow of events, feelings and relationships constituting the primary substance of human experience. An exaggerated need for the exterior order which a culture and a collective tradition satisfy, and for an inner order manifesting in the exclusions, the refusals and the fears of an ego more or less rigid and proud of its own structures, can warp, destroy or hinder all interpersonal relations likely to transform the established order. An existence frozen in a traditional order which leaves no place for any possibility of radical change becomes a parody of existence, because existence is fundamentally movement, flow, spontaneity and creativity.
Above all, existence is relationship. No existent is born isolated. He is born into a vast field of activities which demand his participation. His consciousness is formed through the exercise of his capacity to enter into relationship with others — and especially, with companions whose individual rhythms can unite with his, and thus strengthen, extend and refine this rhythm. Only relationship can actually transform the pattern of an individual existence. And to enter into relationship is not only to react to something or someone who touches you; it is, for the truly conscious human being, to 'meet.' Consciousness affirms itself and is enlarged by the mysterious grace released by 'meetings,' total and spontaneous. Such a meeting becomes most difficult, if not impossible, whenever those who meet have been conditioned to depend on some narrow and rigid form of order imposed by their society.
Thus a human being needs to experience deeply within himself a state of order and security which permits him to meet, consciously and in a condition of positive strength, the ceaseless unfolding of events and the varied encounters with other living beings. Without this profound feeling and a knowledge of the order which these events reveal to the mind contemplating them, objectively, the individual person can indeed become confused, shocked or bewildered. On the other hand, if this sense of order and structure governs his existence in a rigid fashion and jealously controls his responses to all that he encounters in the field of his activity, this field inevitably grows narrower; it loses its dynamism and becomes ankylosed in formalism and sterile egocentricity. Such a situation can easily lead to an ambivalent attitude toward all that derives from the need for order in any mode of existence, particularly in social or cultural activity. Thus one of the greatest problems confronting a man or a society is: How much order or patterned behavior is required for optimum human development? Moreover, what is most important usually is not the 'quantity,' but the 'quality' of the order and security; thus whether the order is truly constructive and essentially fruitful.
Unfortunately the concept of order and security has been presented by hundreds of philosophers and theologians in a manner which, idealistic as it may have seemed, has resulted in a false sense of existential realities. It gave rise to tendencies which very often have destroyed or perverted the deeper sense of integral existence in man. Too often, alas, these official leaders of society and religion have conceived the dynamism of the process of change and the principle of structural order as absolute and irreconcilable opposites. What is more, they have presented this principle of order as being external to existence and indeed pre-existent; and this has led to tragic results, socially and psychologically.
Man assuredly experiences existence under a double aspect; but the principle of perpetual change and the principle of cosmic order are not opposed to each other. They interpenetrate everywhere and at every moment. Order is inherent in existential change. One should not picture, as so many religious thinkers have done, a world of order (a rational one) utterly distinct from the world of existence in a state of perpetual change (a world of passions and suffering.) Existence is one; and existence is rhythm and melody combined, for him who can accept it in its totality. The rhythm establishes the type of order of the existential movement; the melody is the substance of the flow of events and inner feelings or images. This flow proceeds in a constant state of improvisation, yet it also develops the fundamental themes which limit the emergence of existential possibilities without restraining the character and the quality of the relationships between all that takes form within this vast and wonder-full 'river of life.' Order is not superimposed upon existence by an outside power; it is the very rhythm of the process of existence. And this rhythm, considered as a cosmic principle, is what we call time.
From an existential or phenomenological point of view time is simply an abstraction of the awareness of ceaseless change. Change implies successive modifications of the contents of the feeling-experience of existence. Every human being — and in a probably far more imprecise manner every organized whole of activity — has a "sense of time," for the simple reason that his organismic feelings and the impressions which assail him change constantly. This change may seem more or less rapid, or even appear almost to stop if the attention of the organism (and later of the conscious ego) clings for a while to what is happening at that moment; nevertheless the basic fact of human experience is the awareness of a continuous succession of feeling-sensations merging into each other. Existence is a continuum of ever-changing modifications of the contents of the 'field of existence'; and the primary sense of time is the awareness of this fact.
Such an awareness has at first a purely passive character. The nascent consciousness of primitive men and infants floats, as it were, on the stream of existence. Life 'passes by'; but, at such a stage of awareness man actually does not feel himself separated from this stream. He is identified with it. He reacts to it in an organic (or organismic) manner; indeed in a passive manner. This means that the primordial experience of change is not a feeling of succession of separate and identifiable 'events' but rather the sense of a continuous flow. Existence flows not only by the newborn, but all through him.
As time is at first not separated from the experience of change, the most primitive awareness of time can be called the experience of a continuous 'passing.' In such an experience there can be no differentiated perception of successive 'moments,' such a differentiation comes at a second stage of the development of the time-sense. It arises in the nascent consciousness when the infant organism begins to cling to a particularly pleasant feeling and strives to retain it; or else has been so shocked by a painful sensation that the consciousness retains a persisting awareness of the happening. As a result, this particular feeling acquires a special character of distinctness, and the nascent time-sense crystallizes, as it were, around this feeling. The impressive 'event' is felt to have occurred at a particular 'moment.'
The French word for "now" is maintenant; and this word comes from the verb maintenir — to maintain. The concept of now arises out of the fact that the infant seeks to maintain or, as this may not be possible, to remember what occurred at a distinctive moment. When he makes such an effort the baby's passivity toward existence and time begins to be transformed; he ceases to identify himself (unconsciously) with the very process of organic living and of continuous changes in his existential state. He has created a 'tension toward' some event which brought him a particular sensation or state of organic well-being — a state which gave him pleasure or awakened an instinctive sense of danger. He has begun to learn to concentrate and to fix his attention.
The psychological phenomenon of attention actually is the very foundation of what, existentially speaking, develops as the individualized aspect of consciousness. When the human organism fixes its attention upon a particular phase of the continuous "passing" of the stream of sensations and feelings, what was passing has at once become past. When moreover the nascent consciousness realizes that certain feeling-sensations have already occurred and that the organism reacted in the same manner to the repeated experience, a category of experiences acquires a specific character, i.e., they belong to 'the past.' Inevitably the experience of repetition and of past events leads to the development of a symmetrical feeling of 'the future' based on the expectation of the return of the pleasurable or painful change of organic state. What has 'already' happened several times could occur 'again.' One awaits the new event 'in the future.' It is only when the attention ceases to identify itself with the 'passing' and directs itself alternately toward the past and toward the future that the realization of the 'present moment' — the now — develops in the already somewhat objectivized consciousness of the very young child.
This process of development of the time-sense and of the change from the feeling of the 'passing' to the awareness of past-present-future is one which has not been well understood. Yet such an understanding is most essential if we want to evaluate adequately many of the ideas which have been advanced concerning the nature of time, and particularly the glorification of the 'now' — i.e., of "living in the present," and of an "eternal Now." I believe that much confusion has arisen from the failure to realize the character of the most primary feeling of time — that of the passing.
To live with a consciousness of this passing which does not differentiate between past, present and future is not to live in the Now. The very young child does not live in the present. His consciousness floats on the stream of the passing, constantly buffeted by the moving panorama of sensations and the inner alternation of organic states. It is only as the ego-consciousness and the religious and intellectual development of the mind freeze the primary experience of existence and time into set categories — the past, the present, the future — that the sense of time becomes strictly objectified and rigidly defined, then measured by collective means, like the bells of medieval churches, and later by individual time-pieces or clocks. Soon all kinds of problems arise which are referred to what is called time; such as "Being on time," "There is no time," "Time is money," "Bondage to time," etc.
The sophisticated concept of the Now arises as the result of the refusal to worry about the past and to build conscious expectations of the future. Feeling himself limited by time and frightened by what seems to him, as far as his body and his personal life are concerned, the end of time, man begins to dream of and aspire toward a state of existence in which time will no longer pose limits to his activity thus to a state of immortality. Philosophers translate the dream into the concept of a timeless condition of Being endowed with a consciousness transcending all existential changes. To such a consciousness all forms of existence are integrated or harmonized into an Eternal Now.
To speak of an Eternal Now is to postulate a completely static condition of Being beyond all changes. Such a transcendent condition of all-encompassing, static Being is postulated in contrast to the dynamic ever-changing state of universal existence woven on the warp of time; yet the two states are said by most religious thinkers not to be mutually exclusive; "Reality" includes both. It is said, moreover, that man in his ideal and perfect condition can come to experience in consciousness the transcendent timeless state even while, as a physical organism, he operates in the existential condition of unceasing change and under the control of time's ineluctable rhythms.
There is, however, an aspect of time which has not been accepted, probably because it has not been understood by the great majority of the thinkers of the Western world. I am referring to the cyclic concept of time, a concept which, had it been accepted by the Christian-European society, would have made impossible the emergence of the most undesirable, and indeed tragic features of our Western civilization. The concept of universal cycles was of course well-known in India as well as in China. The early leaders of Christianity, particularly at the Council of Constantinople, denied the validity of this concept on which an entire world-view can be based. And this denial, related to the eagerness to present Christ as the "one and only" Son of God and to consider a human life and personality as the "one and only" existential manifestation of a transcendent Soul created by God, has had extraordinarily wide and long-range results which have now reached a critical state.
Holistic Time and Dimensional Time
When one speaks of cycle to most Western intellectuals one finds that they relate this term either to the empirical study of some natural or social phenomena — for instance, cycles in the rate of multiplication of certain animal species, and cycles of economic productivity, of the rise and decline of the stock-market — or else they think at once of Nietzsche's concept of the "Eternal Return." The concept of cycle presented here refers to something very different, that is, to what I call a "cyclo-cosmic" concept of existence which applies to every form of organized whole of activity.
The basic premise in such a holistic world-view is that existence manifests at all levels in terms of wholes, that is, of organized fields of interdependent activities made possible by energies of various types. These fields have more or less clearly defined boundaries in space. They begin with a limited release of energy and a definable (however complex it may be) set of potentialities. These potentialities become more or less successfully actualized during the period of effective operation of these fields; and this operation comes to an end after having produced characteristic results, some positive, others negative. That is to say, existential wholes have a limited span of existence during which a process of actualization of potentialities released at the beginning of the existence of this whole operates.
This process contains a series of phases — a series having a definite structure. It is a whole in time, or better, a time-whole, i.e., a cycle; and it operates within the finite boundaries of a space-field.
What I call cycle is a time-whole; what I call field is a space-whole. Every existential whole has therefore to be considered a cyclocosm, vast or small as it may be with reference to man's position in the scale of sizes in our universe. Whether it be macrocosm or microcosm, galaxy or atom, it is an existential whole and it displays the essential characteristics of wholeness, i.e., extension, duration and structure or form.
Time and space, thus considered, are basic factors of existence; they can be regarded as universal principles. Time refers to the fact that a particular creative impulse releases into existence a certain quantum, of energy needed to actualize a definite set of potentialities; and that fundamentally the existential process of actualization of these potentialities must end when the energy is exhausted. But time also refers to the fact that throughout the span of existence of the whole a structural power operates which has inertia, that is, which makes sure that the process-as-a-whole operates, phase after phase, toward the omega-end inherent in the alpha-beginning; and this in spite of an opposite factor which tends to alter the structural purity of the process.
This other factor is space. While time is essentially a unitarian principle controlling in its general outlines the process of existence which began in 'unity' as one original creative impulse — space refers essentially to the principle of relatedness. It refers to the fact that no existential whole exists alone. It is constantly in relation to other wholes; and relationship creates motion and spatial extension. The energies of the space-fields are not only in a state of mutual interrelationship, but their interplay generates some surplus of energy which the field cannot contain and which therefore, normally at least, radiates into an environment filled with other wholes. Every whole is related, directly or indirectly, to all the other wholes 'in its neighborhood'; and the term neighborhood should be extended to include wholes in the at least recent past and in the more or less near future, for space and time are related, but not in the sense in which modern physics speaks of space-time. They are related somewhat as Yin and Yang are related in the Chinese symbol, Tai Chi.
In this holistic conception of time as a universal principle, time is an objective element of existence. It is a cyclic factor, not in the sense that a series of events in time will repeat themselves serially in a succession of wholes — be they galactic wholes or individual persons — but in the sense that the process of existence passes through a series of phases, a series which defines the time-structure of the process of development of this whole from beginning to end. What time defines is not the existential events themselves but the structure of the process of which these events constitute the contents. It represents, in religious terms, the Will of the Creator — a Will which can probably best be understood in terms of inertia, i.e., of resistance to developments which would alter basically, though not in existential details, the course of the existential process and impair its end-results, its 'seed-fulfillment.'
Again we find here the contrast between the experience of change and that of order, or structure. The experience of change is always based upon the factor of relationship. If the infant experiences pain when he is hungry, this organic feeling of hunger refers to a metabolic and chemical change in the relationship between the various cells and organs of his body; if he falls out of his crib and hurts his head, this means a change in the external relationship between his body and surrounding objects. Time, on the other hand, refers to the internal process of development of his consciousness of being an existential whole, an organism, and later on an individual person. This process has a definite rhythm — a particular speed of unfoldment — and it may be unwise to accelerate it by providing the child with an overdose of external relationships that bring in problems with which his organism-as-a-whole may not be able successfully to cope with.
Time is also the rhythm of unfoldment of the whole planetary environment in which man is immersed, as an embryo within the mother's womb. In this aspect we find time expressed as the alternation of day and night and of seasons, an alternation whose beats define the natural tempo of man's growth and eventually of his disintegration. Time also is expressed in the structuring power which the entire solar system and its energies have over the planet, Earth, and especially over the biosphere in which man lives, moves and has his being.
Every whole is part of a greater whole, as well as the container of lesser wholes over whose activities it exercises a structural, rhythmic control.
This statement is basic in the holistic philosophy of existence which this book presents. It expresses an incontrovertible fact of human experience — not a theory. The human body as a whole contains billions of cells which, in turn, contain a myriad of atoms within which sub-atomic particles or waves of energy whirl at fantastic speeds. At the same time a human organism is contained within the planetary field of the Earth, within which as we shall see later on mankind-as-a-whole performs a definite quasi-organic function. And the Earth is a whole of organized and interdependent activities within the greater whole constituted by the solar system, which is one of billions of stellar fields of organization within the galaxy.
Can we speak further of metagalaxies or finite universes? Is there no end to the relation of lesser wholes to greater wholes? This is not the place to discuss this metaphysical problem except to state again that there seems no logical reason why we should stop anywhere and at any size of wholes, though the fact that the size of the human body appears to be just about mid-way between the smallest and the largest existential unit known to us may indicate that this entire picture of the scale of sizes of existential wholes is anthropocentric. Even if it is, the fact remains that we are participating in the activities of greater wholes, just as lesser wholes are participating in the activities of our total human organism — a participation which may produce well-being or illness.
Scientific Time — Measurement of Motion and Displacement
In Bergson's philosophy (cf. Creative Evolution) a sharp distinction is made between what the French philosopher calls la duree (duration) and the kind of time which enters into the equations of modern physics or of science in general. "Duration" refers to the continuum of events experienced by living organisms and by the consciousness inherent in them. This continuum has a definite direction and an irreversible movement. Thus the Bergsonian concept of duration is quite similar to that of time experienced by an existential whole as 'the passing,' that is, before the concept of separate moments — or we might say, of time-units — dominates the intellectualized consciousness of the human being.
As soon as one speaks of time-units and of moments having a separate and recallable character, the factor of discontinuity enters the stage of consciousness; and discontinuity permits measurement. A certain number of time-units are seen to occur between the beginning and the end of an existential process. The process therefore acquires a measurable length — a length of time — and 'dimensional time' becomes substituted for the Bergsonian "duration" — at least in some instances, the number of which is ever-increasing.
What does the concept of measurement imply? It implies a transformation of the primary and subjective (or organismic) awareness of change into an objective sense of something in motion. The concept of motion implies time — time based on the succession of identifiable states from which a center-of-consciousness is detached enough to observe them and to measure their progress and speed. Whatever can be observed objectively and measured has 'dimension.' Objects have spatial dimensions — length, breadth, height. When they are seen moving, their motion also acquires a particular kind of dimension which is dimensional time. Modern science speaks of it as a fourth dimension.
Scientific time is the substratum of all the operations which refer to the measuring displacement of objects in space. As the measuring implies a measurer, the inevitable conclusion is that the results of any kind of measurement must be referred to whatever does the measuring. Thus the values belonging to the realm of dimensional time exist only when considered in terms of a frame of reference, that is, in relation to the observer as an at least potential measurer. From this results the Einsteinian concept of the relativity of all motion, and the establishment of a space-time frame of reference for all scientific measurements.
At first it seemed obvious that in terms of dimensional time any motion could as well go 'backward' as 'forward' in the time-dimension; that is, past and future appeared to be as interchangeable as right and left, eastward and westward, upward and downward. Thus the fantasy of 'traveling in time' became a boon to the imaginative minds of science-fiction writers. However some recent observations and experiments have suggested that motion in dimensional time is not reversible, and that at least biological processes move in a definite direction and cannot be reversed.
The entire picture created by the concept of a purely dimensional time is indeed awkward and confusing, besides contradicting the basic experience and common sense of man. A four-dimensional space-time continuum is not, indeed cannot really be a 'continuum,' because continuity eludes measurement. One can only measure the discontinuous; and the act of measurement, whether by yardstick or clock, is an intellectual operation. There is however far more to man and man's consciousness than the intellect, its exclusivistic categories and its irrevocable wedlock with quantity and measurements.
However, this is not to belittle the most significant place which the intellect (and the ego, closely associated with it) occupies at a definite stage in the evolution of consciousness. The act of measuring is indispensable considering the practical necessities of our modern society and the demands implied in the development and fulfillment of the ego-consciousness of man. But, as we shall see in greater detail in the following chapters, the ego is not the total man, and the intellectual mind is only one particular form which consciousness assumes at a particular stage of human evolution. We are now confronted with the possibility — nay, the necessity — of letting a new type of mind develop within us; and this means of discovering a new frame of reference for our capacity for objective measurements. This frame of reference, which is not exactly new, yet which needs to be formulated in a relatively new way, is the cycle — the eon — and the true sense of 'eternity' which man can reach at a certain stage in the evolution of his consciousness.
Eternity and Timelessness
One of the most unfortunate events in the history of human thinking may have been the misinterpretation by early Christian thinkers of the term which we now translate as eternity. The meaning of this word was inevitably altered as a result of the already mentioned insistence of the Christian Fathers on the essentially unique character of God's incarnation into the 'Christed' man, Jesus. That event having been endowed with an absolute character, and the individual human person having also been given such a character, the pre-Christian realization of existence as a cyclic process became unacceptable. According to the Christian tradition there is only one God, one universe, one history, one God-man and one arduous rise of man from a sinful state to a glorious condition of heavenly bliss and, in the mystic's view, of union with God; or else a totally negative fall into an absolute hell from which there can be no return. The Gnostic schools of the first centuries A.D. sought to reinterpret the concept of the cyclicity of all existence in more or less Christian terms; they referred constantly to Eons, that is, to the divine state of unity of cosmic cycles of existence, a state in which the wholeness of the cycle is, as it were, condensed into a divine consciousness — a cosmic Being. But the Gnostics were condemned and their communities eventually died out or were destroyed, though some of the Gnostic traditions and beliefs persisted in various heretic movements throughout the Christian era, and have been revived in various ways during the last hundred years.
Eternity has been, in the official thinking of the European and American cultures, opposed to time and conceived as a 'timeless' state. The idea of the Eternal Now has influenced the dreams, the aspirations and the philosophical statements of many mystically inclined people, especially in recent years. Such an interpretation of the word, eternity, indicates of course a perfectly valid yearning in human beings to transcend their condition of bondage to particular circumstances which often appear unbearable; but it has the same character as all negative concepts; and today the minds of so many forward-thinking and inwardly rebelling individuals are filled with such negative concepts. These are concepts referring to things which are not what they seem to be, and which operate in ways utterly different from the behavior of our consciously known physical or intellectual environment; thus they rouse in us extraordinary feeling-reactions.
The majority of human beings when confronted with such events or such subjective inner experiences are made most uncomfortable. They react in fear or with a supercilious sense of superiority. They simply dismiss what does not fit, either into their normal everyday frame of reference or into their intellectual categories. Yet there is in man a basically ineradicable longing to be more than he is or he knows himself to be. He deeply feels his inferiority face to face with the powerful energies of the biosphere and of the cosmos; and this feeling impels and often compels him to believe in the reality of a transcendent state and a transcendent Being that possess, as essential characteristics, all the powers and qualities which man seems incapable of manifesting. Because man's consciousness operates in a realm of finite magnitudes and is constantly frustrated in its aspirations and its will to achievement and mastery by this "human condition" which Existentialist thinkers have pictured as being basically somber, tragic, desperate and absurd, this human consciousness has poignantly sought to believe in a 'Reality' which is not any of the things man lacks, despises or fears.
Thus, because our conscious being is filled with problems and so often faces inner situations, outward impulses, moods and cravings which seem alien to our normal consciousness and desire-nature, the concept of the "Unconscious" has arisen and has of late gained enormous prominence; and because in our modern life we seem never "to have any time" to do what we want to achieve, the concept of a 'timeless' Reality (or state of consciousness) has fascinated people's minds. God, or Reality, is conceived as possessing all the attributes that man does not, yet would so much like to possess.
As there is a widespread revulsion today against the traditional beliefs of the European-American past, the search for that which is not what our forefathers believed to be reality, truth, wisdom, is reaching epidemic proportions. But the great mystics, the seers, the "inspired" leaders of thought of nearly all periods of history have always been fascinated by such a search; they had experiences so unusual and super-normal — we now speak of "peak experiences" in a somewhat more common sense — that they could not formulate and thus communicate them, through words, to other people. Poets used symbols to suggest the nature of such experiences; but when all symbols failed they were faced with the need to state simply that what they experienced was not anything anyone knew or could know with normal senses or in a normal state of awareness. Thus books of mysticism and metaphysics are filled with terms implying negation — indeed, often total, absolute negation of all existential facts — non-existence, timelessness, spacelessness, the Void, etc.
In the fourth chapter of his book, Creative Evolution, Bergson made a very fascinating study of the idea of nothingness, Le Neant. What he tried to convey by means of logical arguments is that one cannot actually conceive 'nothingness.' What this negation of all existence really means is that our mind, having exhausted all possibilities of different forms of existence, covers up its defeat under a convenient mantleword. Thus the term; non-existence, does not actually mean what it seems to say — i.e., the absolute denial of existence in any possible form or condition. It simply means that there is a state of reality which transcends any conceivable human idea of order and reality.
The great Hindu philosophers — for instance, Sri Aurobindo, whose work and spiritual influence extend around the globe — knew well that Brahman did not mean non-existence but rather an inconceivable state in which both non-existence and existence were included, much as Yin and Yang are the two poles of That which encompasses them both, TAO. Similarly some of our freest philosophical spirits, including many great scientists, are beginning to realize that order and chance (or randomness) are the two aspects of the all inclusive fact of existence; so also are negentropy and entropy.
What this means, with reference to our discussion of time, is that time and timelessness are no more real opposites than, in philosophical Buddhism, samsara and nirvana are absolute opposites. What we call the timeless state is not a state in which time does not operate, but a state in which another order of time is experienced. Nirvana is not really the denial of existence and change, but a condition in which existence and change take on a new character and meaning. Nirvana can be experienced in samsara. They are two aspects of existence.
The 'timeless experience' arises in a consciousness which reaches it from the condition of existential time, and which will return to this condition. It is an experience which 'lightens up' time-conditioned human existence somewhat as, symbolically speaking, the leaven lightens up the substance of the bread. The holes in the bread are not bread; yet they are in the bread. They contribute to its character and quality. It is in this sense that Jesus compared his disciples, and in a broader sense the Kingdom of Heaven, to the leaven. All true mystics are in this sense 'holes' in the bread of mankind. The mystic experience is a state of 'fermentation'; therefore the Sufis wrote wondrous poems to wine and the intoxication it produced, and Genesis refers to Noah's "vineyards" which, in mystical parlance, symbolize Schools of Initiation into the Mysteries — Mysteries referring to the primordial Edenic state of mankind, the Golden Age when Man and God were one.
The state of spontaneous, child-like unity symbolizes the beginnings of existence. In this primordial state, there is identification between the experiencing total organism and the continuous flow of existence. Time is apprehended as 'the passing.' Existence, in the condition which we call 'life' flows in and through the existent. There is no separation. Neither is 'the passing' separated into time-units, i.e., into moments; but neither is there what we normally call, at least in the Western world, consciousness. In the river of life, the newborn is not conscious that there are himself and the river. He simply is — as a throbbing overtone within the great melody of human existence.
But the newborn grows up; and his adult mind, molded by his particular culture and environment, is trained to establish differences in terms of relationship to other living entities, or even objects, and to realize the need for patterns of order to control the interplay of interpersonal, social relationships. He becomes conditioned by this principle of order and structure which we call time; and he begins to feel that "there is no time." As a result he may dream of being in a 'timeless' condition of existence. However if he has been conditioned, by his culture and the philosophy of life he has adopted, not to follow such a form of 'escape' — escape from time into timelessness — he may instead strive earnestly to fulfill time.
This idea of fulfilling time implies a cyclic conception of time — a holistic approach to time and human existence. It implies the realization that existential time begins and ends, just as any process of existence — any life-span, be it of an atom, a man or a galaxy begins and ends. It means that the very nature of time is cyclic. As I previously stated, there are time-wholes (cycles) as there are spatial fields within which a myriad of energies interact within finite boundaries. Every existent is a cyclocosm; and the aim of existence for every cyclocosm is to fulfill time in its omega condition, just as it is to fulfill space through the full, wholesome and (ideally) 'holy' development of all the internal relationships and powers which operate within the individual person's field of existence.
In this state of fulfillment, man's consciousness apprehends time in a new way, i.e., as eternity in the true sense of this word. Existential consciousness reaches the state of eonic consciousness; which does not mean 'unconsciousness' but, instead a kind of consciousness able to encompass as a whole the entire cycle of existence of the individual person to whom it refers. In this state of eonic consciousness the conscious "I" has become free from the conditioning pressures of local environment, family, race and culture which moulded the ego.
In a sense, man then finds himself identified with the cyclic flow of existence; but this identification is no longer unconscious. Indeed it is not really identification; it is a state of resonance, of fulfillment in a totally and perfectly formed vibratory response to the fundamental Tone that sustains the total individual organism — the individual field of existence — from birth to death, from the alpha to the omega of its existential cycle.
So it is to live in the condition of eternity — not an escape into timelessness, but fulfillment in the wholeness of cyclic being, in the Eon. It is not merely living from moment to moment in a condition of open receptivity to changing influences and of availability in terms of ever-changing relationships, but rather living every moment consciously as well as openly as a particular phase of the process of existence, in as full an awareness as is possible of the function, meaning and purpose of that phase with reference to the whole cycle.
What such living implies is a fundamental change of existential frame of reference, and an essentially different approach to time and existence. Individual consciousness becomes established in the entire existential cycle experienced or felt, as a whole. This represents a great expansion of consciousness; but the expansion of a formed consciousness, whereas what so many people today seek and understand as expansion of consciousness refers to a kind of self-loss in an unformed and ecstatic feeling-experience of unity with all there is. This can be a wondrous feeling-experience no doubt, but an experience from which one must inevitably return to the everyday world of differences, categories and conflicts.
The character and quality of this return often leaves much to be desired; whereas the man who grows, unspectacularly and simply, into a realization of his 'eternity' does not have to return from anywhere. He is always present. His feet touch the ground of everyday experience, while his head encompasses and accepts, with the serenity of the Sage, the wholeness of his existence from alpha to omega; and his will is attuned to the constant and fundamental rhythm of the self within.
What this self actually is, as the basic sustaining power of the whole field of existence, and its relation to the ego, will now be discussed.
The Planetarization of Consciousness