“Time is the fire in which we burn.” – Bad guy, Star Trek Generations
“It’s linear!” -Captain Sisko, Star Trek DS9
“It’s not linear.” – Captain Sisko, Star Trek DS9
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” – The Doctor, Doctor Who
“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” – Slaughterhouse Five.
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” -Ford Prefect, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
For something so ephemeral, time occupies an awful lot of our collective minds. We can’t see, taste, touch, smell or hear it, but we constantly stress about it. There’s never enough of it, or there’s too much. We fill it to bursting, we kill it. We try to control it, but we inevitably succumb.
Time ticks on independent of us, in ways microscopic and macroscopic. Inside of us our hearts beat out the steady rhythm of our lives, our bodies a delicate balance of functions happening at the right moment. Outside in space, time bends in ways our greatest minds can only just start to contemplate.
And so we try to make sense of it all, using art like science fiction to grapple with it all. Insights come and go, contradicting each other. Then you bring in space and energy and how’s it all related in one big crazy continuum, and perhaps you are left feeling a bit like Captain Janeway in Star Trek Voyager:
“Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.”
But in the end, we all must with time and the consequences of its progression – hopefully retaining our spirit and optimism along the way. Rather than deny it, engaging in meaningless distraction, we should probably look on the bright side and follow the advice of Captain Picard (which, incidentally, is just about always the right thing to do):
“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.”
My favorite positive interpretation of time’s progression comes from “Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis, in which a human encounters an alien species which interprets memory differently than we do. This species doesn’t agonize longing for past pleasures because the memory itself is part of the pleasure – it’s all part of the natural process.
“A pleasure is only full grown when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing… the poem is a good example. For the most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean in a good poem.” – Hyoi, Out of the Silent Planet
Conceiving of time in this manner does not come easily for us here on Earth, but yoga is one way to help yourself get there. One reason is that yoga is a very different way to pass time than we usually do. Yoga is slow, it is intentional, it is deliberate and precise. You feel the passing of the moment and you can focus in on the few things that moment holds: breathing, moving, thinking, listening.
Progress in poses also both embeds and frees you from linear time. You feel embedded when through persistent practice, you can inch towards your goals in achieving a headstand or handstand – or my goal of wheel pose. But it can’t be rushed. You’ll just hurt yourself if you do too much too fast.
At the same time, you are freed from linear time when you are told by your teacher, again and again, that being a yogi is not about achieving that pose. It’s about the present moment of the pose as it is right now. You can almost see it stretching out towards the horizon in all directions. One day you might stretch farther, the next maybe not – it all depends on many factors. But you can sit in that moment nevertheless without judgement – yoga is not a zero sum game.
And so my pose for remembering my conception of time is wheel pose – or at least, my partial wheel pose. I lie on my back and put my hands by my ears, pushing upwards. Right now I can’t get my head off the ground, but perhaps one day I will. For now, I will make the most of my time in practice and inhabit the pose as it is.
It’s about time, after all, to make the most of your time, since time both flies and is wibbly wobbly, linear and not linear.
Or as Counselor Troi put it so eloquently while drunk in Star Trek Generations: “Time line?! This is no time to argue about time! We don’t have the time.”