Two views of time (April 26, 2012)

Today I am doing the practice of the holy instant, according to instructions in “The Two Uses of Time” (T-15.I), the very first section that discusses the holy instant. This is the practice given us in that section:

Take this this very instant, now, and think of it as all there is of time.

Nothing can reach you here out of the past,

And it is here that you are completely absolved, completely free, and wholly without condemnation. (T-15.I.9:5-6)

The more I do this practice, the more I get a sense of two very different views of time. In the first view, each moment is almost like a living thing, one that has an extremely brief life. It arises, last a second, and then passes away. The “body” of this living thing is composed of all the unique conditions contained in that moment. And as the moment itself passes away, so do those conditions within it. They change, and in changing, they “die,” never to be repeated again.

In the second view, there is only one present moment. It never changes. It never passes away. Rather, through it passes an endless succession of events. The events arise and pass away, true, but the moment in which they occur is ever the same.

The present moment, then, is like the light of a movie projector. The light itself never changes. It is constant. What changes are the frames that pass in front of it. Because the pictures in those frames are what we see, we have the impression that the light itself is always changing, but of course it is not. Only the film in front of the light is moving.

There are two places we can see ourselves as being. One is in the normal place, in the theater, where we don’t really see the light of the projector, only the projected images from the film. The other place is in that small gap in between the projector light and the film. There, we are more in touch with the constant light than with the changing film. There, we can abide in that unchanging light even while the endless parade of frames passes by.

So now I am repeating those lines above with this image in mind:

I take this instant, now, and think of it as all there is of time. (I imagine myself facing the light of the projector, with the film behind me.)

Nothing can reach me here out of the past. (I imagine all the dark frames of the film being far away, where they cannot touch me, here in the light.)

And it is here that I am completely absolved, completely free, and wholly without condemnation. (The frames in which I “sinned” are both far away and are not part of the changeless light that I am facing, and only that light is real. So—thank God—I can feel truly absolved.)

I feel that doing this practice is at least moving me closer to that second place, to that second view of time. It’s a feeling of this moment expanding, rather than the weight of all my past regrets swamping it, burying it under a pile of imperfect memories. It’s feeling very freeing, and I hope that feeling continues and grows.

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