Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ask Parvati 18: To Do Or Not To Do, That Is The Question, Part 1: What Is Time?


Dear Parvati,

No matter how organized I seem to get, I just can’t get a handle on my to do list. I seem to never get my tasks done and I often feel overwhelmed. Any ideas on how to stretch time or where to find a magic wand so I could fit more hours into the day? I am tired of feeling like I just can’t get on top of my to dos.


The word “time” is part of our conversations everyday. We seem to have a common understanding of what it means, but what does it really mean? I know what it means to me, but how does the dictionary define it? So I looked it up.

The Webster’s dictionary says time is “the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues”. So time is a measuring system used to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them.

Based on time being a measuring system, it seems reasonable to believe that working within the construct of time would help us keep control of our lives. To an extent, it does. Because of time, we know when we are expected to be at work, or when to be at a coffee shop to meet a friend. We know how long it takes to do a job, and I will know what portion of my day this blog will take me to write.

If time helps us measure, why then would we need the many self-helps books on time management, if time, by definition, is something that helps us stay organized? Why do so many of us feel like we get caught up in that which was intended to help us stay in control? (If I had a personal favorite book on time management, it would be Stephen R. Covey's book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” for its principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity.)

History colours our figures of speech. We speak commonly of Father Time, a mythical figure who keeps tabs on our every action. Father Time is historically derived from Chronos, the Lord of time in Greek mythology and is usually depicted carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping devices, representing the idea that time is a constant, one-way movement.

Interestingly enough, the Greek language has two different words for time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological time. It is about quantity. Kairos, which is qualitative, divine time, literally means "the right or opportune moment. I love that the word Kairos also means weather in both ancient and modern Greek. To me this points towards the mystical power of Nature that exists both within chronological time and also expresses the eternal.

It is part of our human nature to feel safer when we think of life in absolutes. It helps us feel in control of ourselves and of our surroundings. The 17th century physicist Sir Isaac Newton believed time to be an absolute. His views of the universe dominated science for over three centuries.

Yet others believe that time is an illusion, not at all linear or absolute. Albert Einstein proved time to be relative, not absolute as Newton believed. Einstein concluded in his later years that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. He wrote in a letter to a friend: “the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one."

The idea that time is an illusion was not born through modern physics. In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosopher Antiphon believed that: "Time is not a reality, but a concept." Parmenides, also a Greek philosopher at that time, went further, maintaining that time, motion, and change were illusions.

The notion that time is an illusion existed even well before the early Greeks contemplated it. It is a common theme in ancient Buddhist and Hindu thought. Both of these religions explain that what we see as fixed and solid is only a temporal illusion, masking the underlying reality of timelessness.

I have seen repeatedly in my life that what exists as real and meaningful is not bound by time, though it may be expressed through time. Time may give us a sense of temporary structure as a common reference point on our route towards enlightenment. As we evolve, we move beyond dependence on time as solid and absolute and begin to flow within a much larger, conscious picture of reality.

As I grow, I begin to experience the space between objects as palpable and tangible, not at all empty and meaningless. I begin to sense in my whole being that what I see as solid is no more solid than the space between objects. All is pure consciousness arising. Everything is dancing and I am part of it all, no more and no less important than anything else. I am part of the whole and the whole is that which I am.

I enjoy the way the author Gevin Giorbran of “Everything Forever: Learning To See Timelessness - Seeing Beyond Time into the Realm of All Possibilities", speaks of the illusion of time:

“In my explorations of timelessness I reveal that ordinary space is not merely full of other empty spaces, but empty space is actually the whole of all physical realities; all the universes of the many worlds theory. Profound as it may be, if the theories I propose are correct, space is full, rather than empty. Material things are less than the fullness of space. In fact, it may be that space must include all possibilities in order to seem empty to us. So in summary, the universe we see is just a fragment nested in a timeless (everything) whole, rather than a single material world magically arisen above some primordial nothing. All universes exist without beginning or end in the ultimate arena of time, and each moment we experience exists forever.”

(Continues tomorrow with “The Perfect Now”)


  1. This is a very deep spiritual topic and I am not sure I can fully grasp it. I look forward to the rest of this blog and hope it will all become clear soon.

  2. I wonder if weather still means perfect time in today’s angry state of nature?