Sidestepping Time

But thought's the slave of life, and life time's fool;
And time that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop.

--William Shakespeare, I Henry IV

Driving to church one morning some years ago I suddenly had a sense that I had sidestepped time.  It was as if I had been marching along in the great parade of time and then simply fell out of formation, stepped up onto the curb and became a spectator.  The parade continued on exactly as before, but I no longer marched with it.  I had somehow found the still point around which everything else moves.  Although this perception was fleeting, it produced a lasting effect.  Like a fish that breaks the surface of the water for the first time, I now understood that what I thought of as my natural element was not all there was. 

Later I came to realize that what I had sidestepped on my way to church that morning was my own thoughts.  When we have the experience of time passing, what exactly is moving?  If a motion picture camera pans across a still photograph, you get the same feeling of movement whether the camera moves or the photograph moves.  When we see things moving all around us, our thoughts are set in motion and we image that we are being propelled forward by powerful currents of time.    

We all have the subjective experience of time moving more slowly or rapidly, depending on our frame of mind.  We assume there is an objective clock-time somewhere moving at uniform speed.  But we have no way of proving that a clock moves at uniform speed, other than by the same subjective sense of time that otherwise seems to move slowly or rapidly, depending on our frame of mind. 

Unlike an object that can be viewed end to end when we measure it with a ruler, our starting point in time has disappeared into the past before we reach the other end.  No matter how accurate the clock, we are measuring nothing more tangible than memory, since the only time that actually exists is the present moment.  When our thoughts lag behind the present moment, our minds conjure up the past.  When they rush ahead, we get the future.  When the mind comes to rest at last in the present moment, time stops.  We have come upon eternity.

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