- At the Desert Retreat House -
Our youngest son celebrates a birthday today. He is now a grown man, a research scientist working on an advanced degree in neuroscience; and yet I can’t help but flash back to the time when he was a child. I think about that little red-headed boy with his impish antics who always brought a smile to our faces.
When our kids were young, I used to think that time moved very slowly. I was always trying to push time forward, on to the next things in life- the schools our children might attend, looking for a new family home, my future career paths. But, on a day like today when I celebrate the birthday of an adult son, time suddenly seems to be moving very, very quickly - I just can’t imagine that so many years have past. Now, I want to slow it all down.
I think maybe there is a lesson in all this for me - I am learning something about the very nature of what “time” is all about. Today causes me to reflect on the speed of time and what all this may mean for any of us on a spiritual journey.
In some ways even the very idea of “time” as we traditionally understand it doesn’t even exist. Time is not some “quantity” given to us for our use, to be spent properly or wasted away. In science fiction you can travel back in history or move ahead to a future time but this doesn’t actually happen for us in our everyday routine lives. When a birthday comes along we may be able to revisit happy memories of bygone days or we may spend our time imagining or planning for some future event, but the past is only a memory and the future never happens except in our minds and our imaginations.
Time is a flow that we do not control but rather a dimension in which we all participate in every single moment - to put it another way, the speed at which time moves is now.
I am reminded of something Eckhart Tolle once said about “time,” it makes a whole lot of sense to me:
Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion.
What you perceive as precious is not time but one point that is out of time:
The ‘Now’ is precious indeed.
The more you are focused on time - past and future -
The more you miss the Now,
The most precious thing there is.
Most of us are never fully present in the now because unconsciously
we are either living in the past, or thinking about the future,
believing that the next moment must be more important than this one.
But then you miss your whole life
which is never ‘not-now.’
Today I can “best” celebrate my adult son’s birthday, not by spending the day nostalgically reliving my memories of a happy past nor by shaking my head at how fast time seems to be moving, and certainly not by wondering what the future may yet bring. The very best way I can celebrate this day is how I want to celebrate every day, by focusing on this moment, this precious time – it’s the only thing that’s real and I don’t want to miss any of it.
As I often do, this morning I greeted the rising son waking up in the desert skies and I remembered a beautiful mantra from Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh:
Waking up this morning
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.
Walking on earth is a miracle.