Life in 3
Human existence is sandwiched between two states of matter, solid and gaseous, literally and figuratively. Externally we are wedged between the earth and its vast canopy of air, one for support and the other for infusing life into the body. Internally, our subjective self encompasses both the relatively solid bodily frame and the vaporous mind. The past and the future may be compared to matter in the solid and gaseous states respectively. The past has already crystallized and will remain as a solid experience in our memory. Just as we can rest our weight against a solid structure, we frequently lean on the past. The future is not visible and we cannot hold onto it just as we cannot grab air with our fingers, but positive thoughts of the future can give us life-sustaining hope. However, just as air cannot hold our weight, we cannot solely lean on thoughts of the future and expect them to support the present.
The past is a dead end like a solid wall at the end of a long hallway. When turning our attention to memories, the closer we get to some of them, greater is the chance that they will create obstacles for us. Just as the ground does not move under our feet, the past does not move either towards us or away from us unless we choose to do so. It remains locked in place linked to experiences of prior events. In the conscious mind, we cannot carry every event from the past, just as we cannot bring a mountain wherever we go. We can, however, carry small pebbles from a mountain, and we often do so by carrying remnants of a heavy past in each thought. Certain key moments when encapsulated into “small pebbles”, can be used as seeds to recreate imaginary mountains, thereby clouding the vision of the present.
The future is wide open like a large empty field. The future is as transparent as air, and just as air does not prevent us from walking in any direction we choose, the future is not an obstruction. Unlike the past, the future is not rigid, whatever direction our lives take, the future “gives in”. When the future appears rigid and predestined, it is likely the result of the past being projected forwards. There is nothing stopping us from attempting to alter the course of our lives. Our future will not change, as long as we continue to wait for an opportune moment to do so. The opportunity is there in every second, and with the death of each second is the loss of a potential opportunity.
The present is fluid and flowing like water, it is neither stuck in one place like a rock nor is it like air which we cannot hold onto. The present moves at the same pace for everyone, just as the flow of a river is the same for all bystanders on its bank. Just as water can be made to flow in a particular direction by digging a canal, for example, we dig grooves in the mind through which the experience of the present flows. The depth, direction, and extent of these mental grooves are unique for each individual, therefore everyone’s interpretation of the experience of the present is different.
Like a river that flows in one general direction, time flows from the past to the future. Relative to time, the potential in the body and the mind are high at birth and this potential gradually diminishes. A river can change course more easily early in its journey to the sea but the closer it gets to the sea, the more defined its path becomes. Similarly, early in the course of our lives, it is easier to mold and change the direction the mind takes. Therefore it is important to set the course for the mind early on, and time adds a finite dimension to our lives.
Life emerges from tiny seeds and ends in the mysterious expanse of death, just like a river that emerges from drops of water percolating in between rocks on a remote mountaintop, and then turning into an expansive flow that empties into the sea. Every life form before us has disappeared into that void, of which we know nothing. Death becomes a very feared prospect when the focus is on an imagined scenario of the finals second of life. It is ironic that there is no fear of billions of moments that have manifested and died before our eyes. By the 32nd birthday, one would have experienced over a billion seconds. Disregarding all these precious moments, we tend to fear the final second after which life flies away from the body, forgetting that we are swimming in the same ocean of death which consumes every second that goes by.
If we become conscious of the death of each second, it creates familiarity with the concept of death and fear will eventually disappear. As long as our attention is on an imaginary future, the fear of death will always be there in the background. During daylight, it is easy to swim in an ocean as we can see the shoreline and the surroundings. But on a moonless night, the same waters can instill fear. Similarly, being in the daylight of the present helps us swim through life and death without fear.
What is alive and real is the present, which cannot be contained just as a flowing river cannot be held back by our hands, the force of the body of water will push right through and around our fingers. No two handfuls of water that cascade down a river rapid are the same, although water may look the same in each handful, similarly no two moments are the same even though there may not be any perceptible difference. Only when we understand the present can we understand the big picture of life. The answers are not in the past or the future just as a river’s waters can only be tasted at the spot on the bank where we may be standing. We cannot, with our bare hands, taste the freshness of the river’s water high up on a mountain or its briny quality as it reaches the sea if we are not physically present at those spots.
There are two ways to approach the present. One is standing by and watching the river of time flow, and the other is getting into that stream and allowing the current to carry us forward. Each approach has its own merits. We deprive ourselves the enjoyment of the present by having “one foot on the bank and the other in the river”. By doing so, we can neither go effortlessly with the flow nor can we sit back comfortably and watch. Although a river may have an origin and an end, in the big picture, it can be thought of as an endless loop. When a river joins the sea, those same waters may evaporate and rain down on mountaintops from where rivers originate. Similarly, time has no beginning or end. Only from the perspective of our physical body, do we see a beginning and an end. The beginning of one day is the end of the previous day and the end of each day is the beginning of another and so on. When we are at the beginning of life, it may be the end for someone else and vice versa.
Some choose to watch, and others may opt for the experience of floating down the river of time. Either way, the river of time does not stop and wait. When we are sitting on the bank of a river, the movement of water can only be felt in the mind, whereas when we are floating down a river, it can be physically experienced. Similarly, we can choose to mark the passage of time by moving with the world through our actions or we can sit back and be still and witness the movement of thought through the mind. From our subjective state of being, we are able to observe both the movement of the world around us as well as that of our thoughts.
In the mind, rather than keeping our subjective self stationary, we often choose to move at the speed of our thoughts. This internal movement contaminates the purity of our external actions. If we are able to maintain our subjective state of being stationary in relation to our thoughts, it will become easier to move with the world and our actions will likely be smooth and fluid like the gentle flow of the river. We will not be held back by the rigid structure of the past or fail due to lack of support from the future, which is thinner than air.