My most vivid impression of the Grand Canyon did not come from visiting this geological wonder but from seeing it on an IMAX screen in nearby Grand Canyon Village. The canyon itself is breathtaking. But there is nothing quite like sitting before a three-story movie screen as the camera takes you over the rim and swoops down into the canyon. The sensation is so compelling that your entire body is drawn into the experience, a scary proposition for a borderline acrophobic like me. You feel yourself hurtling through space at high speed, even as you sit motionless in your seat; in fact, those prone to motion sickness are advised to close their eyes if they start to feel queasy. Now here's my question: If an IMAX show can bodily propel me into the Grand Canyon without me leaving my seat, how do I know my normal movement through time and space isn't some still more elaborate illusion?
Nearly 2,500 years ago, a young Greek philosopher named Zeno put forward a series of paradoxes designed to prove that the world and everything in it was part of an indivisible whole, and therefore all appearance of movement, multiplicity and duration was illusory. He argued, for example, that an arrow in flight cannot really move, because at each instant the arrow hangs motionless in the air. Since an arrow can never be in two places at once, motion as such is impossible. A young physicist named Peter Lynd has picked up where Zeno left off, arguing that time has no duration and therefore cannot be sliced into instants.
Philosophers and physicists are notorious for spinning arguments out of thin air, and I doubt even they would care to test such theories by stepping in front of a truck that appeared to be moving toward them at high speed. Whether or not time and motion are real, my body is caught up in the action and will suffer the consequences if I do not get out of the way. According to Hindu belief, however, all of life is a grand illusion that encompasses birth and death. In reality, the essential part of ourselves is never born and therefore does not die.
There is a stillness at the heart of our being that can never be found by entering into the slipstream of time and circumstance. The world is too much with us, Wordsworth complained. Our mistake is in looking for a way out rather than a way in. The place we're looking for is closer than our own thoughts, closer than our breathing. It is not the object of our awareness but its source. We must lash ourselves to the mast when we hear the world's siren call. Easier said then done, of course. But even for a borderline acrophobic who finds himself hurtling over the rim of the world's deepest canyon, the trick always is to remain calmly seated.