What Time Is It?

Ray Douglas

Subjectively at least, time is longer, more protracted, when you take it in, and shorter, more abbreviated, when you push it out. You may be one of those psychological types who take all their experiences quite deeply into themselves, the type we call an introvert. Or you may be one of those who tend to project all their experiences outwards and don't care to hang on to them or call them their own, the type we call an extrovert. Time is an experience—or a steady stream of linked experiences. So introverts take time into themselves and dwell on it, along with the experiences it carries with it . In their case "time" seems longer or slower than a clock might insist it really is. Extroverts on the other hand project time out of themselves and disown it without making it a part of their own contents. To them, time truly flies and seems far shorter than the clock might show. Suppose you are unfortunate enough to find yourself involved in something like a motor accident on an icy road. As you hurtle unstoppably towards disaster, if you are an introvert, the process will seem to take ages as you take it all inwards and ponder it; and if you are lucky enough to survive the crash you will recall every tiny detail. if you are an extrovert and are lucky enough to survive the trauma, you are likely to recall only that it all happened in a flash; because you have projected it outside of yourself and disowned it, none of the details will stick. These are two quite extreme and yet entirely commonplace variations in the personal experience of time. And if one's perception of time depends to such a degree on one's personal tendency to take in or give out, are we saying that the speed of time has no reality outside of one's personal awareness?

Everyone fits in somewhere between these two somewhat hypothetical extreme perceptions of the passage of time. Those for whom the concepts past, present, and future seem concrete, demonstrable, simple and irrefutable will in any event be unlikely to be reading this—or so it seems to me at this moment in time. Or, should I say, so it seemed to me at that particular moment now irretrievably gone. To the ancient Romans, who practically invented the concept of 'time flies', the extroverted view took precedence, in the spirit of tempus irreparabile fugit. But to the ancient Greeks who took things more to heart and loved philosophising about time, temporal things were never quite what they seemed. Even today, if you ask a Greek person the time, the chances are that, even as he looks at his watch, he will complicate the issue by asking: "Now?" At all events, you could say that to the Greeks, both ancient and modern, time is never quite so cut-and-dried as it tends to appear, shall we say, to the average American.

Time gathers importance with increasing sophistication. To the little child, as to the primitive adult, time scarcely comes to awareness. Consciousness of time keeps pace with mental (and not spiritual) development. Time, we might think, belongs foursquare to the Earth, and not to eternity. But the Buddhist view may reach a different conclusion. In ancient Buddhist meditation space occupied the centre of awareness and time was scarcely acknowledged, save as an illustration of the illusory nature of samsara. Buddhism, however, grows and develops along with its practitioners, and in later times the 'harmony of spheres' took on greater and greater importance until at length Buddhist meditation concluded that space itself is a product of time, to be seen perhaps as a vast mandala in which all is centred upon itself in one vast harmonic curve. Time in the Buddhist view cannot proceed in a straight line, because it recoils upon itself. Those who live their lives in harmony with their innermost rhythm, say the Buddhists, are themselves timeless in the sense that they do not experience the passing of time as others do. They are one with the cosmic world system; one with time.


The question Westerners might want to ask is: does time travel towards its future, or towards its past? And if the future depends in some measure upon the past, then in equal measure the future must already be known and knowable. On a human scale we can catch glimpses of the future, for example, by way of three subjects that I have written about—each, in their own way, exploring the human psyche from the basis of their own standpoint: the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual. The physical method of these three is palmistry, by which, in studying indications of the individual past and the individual present can foretell broad features of the individual future. The emotional method entails the remembering and recording of dreams which (particularly after the inner feelings have been brought to awareness) fairly frequently portray future events, either in precisely practical or in allegorical terms. And the intellectual method (which term is not meant to imply any scientific basis for what is essentially an art) of astrology, the study of which encourages us to think in terms of time-cycles. The last method in particular portrays the progress of life not as a straight-forward journey from birth to death, but as a cyclic event involving a return to the source—to the point from which we started our life's adventures, an unseen point somewhere immediately prior to our birth. A study of astrology enables reasonably accurate predictions of the future to be made, chiefly on the basis of planetary synchronicity.

So whether you are basically a physical, an emotional, or an intellectual type of person, any one of these three methods can constitute something of an adventure involving time-experience, by using the subtle part of your own understanding and thus avoid becoming bogged down by science. The scientific approach can indeed prove to be a limiting factor in terms of understanding the passage of time in relation to our own inner self, our own coming-to-awareness, because science is necessarily limited to material objectivity, and dislikes the subjective view. Science, however, is moving away from the objective but unimaginative popular view of time as an ever-rolling stream proceeding in a straight line through space. Unsophisticated people who live close to nature tend to see time in terms of yearly or seasonal cycles, and perhaps their viewpoint is more useful for our own purpose. Their concept of time, though lacking as it well may do any precise system of measurement, probably conforms more closely to the ordinary timetable-ruled lives of sophisticated people. Living on the same Earth, both are equally bound by time, but on differing scales.

As soon as you start thinking in subjective terms about the nature of time, you find it is no longer neatly cut-and-dried. The passing moment can never be captured and identified as such, because as soon as your attention is drawn towards it you find it has long gone. Or has it? As you watch time passing, things happening, events unfolding, could it be that the moment is in fact static, as the centre of the screen, rather than fleeting? Could it be that the moment stands forever still whilst events themselves roll past at varying speeds, a continuous stream of events, impressions and images rather than a constant succession of moments. The more deeply you try to observe the nature of time, the less insistent becomes the difference between past and future, whilst the 'now' grows in strength and clarity. Or, as Saint Augustine put it: All time that is past has been forced to move on by the incoming future. Rather than the future following on from the past by way of the present, the future can be seen to follow from the past, and every phenomenon to be recalled from the past or speculated about for the future is created by and issues forth from that which is forever in the present.


Most people, of course, take the ordinary objective view and look at the world and the progress of time in the traditional manner, with clearly defined past, present and future. But this everyday view merges into the subjective experience by which time may fly or dawdle depending on the mood of the 'observer'. Many people have sought a deeper reality, hoping to attain some transcendental viewpoint from which to see through the apparent reality of the material world and its flow of time—with varying degrees of success. The philosophers among us may try to bypass what they see as the hampering restrictions of preconception, and actively seek to develop an insight into the nature of phenomena that the rest of the world takes for granted. But as they battle with temporal experience they must know that when their brilliant minds have ceased to function time will still roll on as before, largely unheeded.

However phrased—Solar Time, Mean Local Time, Greenwich Mean Time, Mathematical Time, Universal Time, Sidereal Time, Atomic Time—the only truly observable time by which nature (including all the life forms of the Earth) can function, is Apparent Solar Time, or Sundial Time. This is the time by which the biology of our world operates. It is the time by which our bodies function when they are at ease; and indeed there is no better way to observe each passing moment within the ever-turning cycle of time than to actually own a sundial. Essentially, sundials are expressive of the Earth and the consciousness of life. They underpin the transitory nature of past, present and future far more efficiently than any digital, quartz or atomic-regulated timepiece. They express the past, because they have been in use for thousands of years. They express the present because, in whichever way you think of time, their gnomon shadow seems to stand still. They express the future because they work, and always will work not through the mechanics of science, but directly by way of the Solar System itself. A sundial will always show the CORRECT time, as far as our own selves—both outward and inward— are concerned, as long as the Earth spins in its orbit around the Sun.


Copyright© 2006, Ray Douglas

Also by Ray Douglas

Astrology and the Inner Self
The Essence of the Upanishads
The Waters of Babylon
Beelzebub's Kingdom

Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press