Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of October 7, 2013

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Linear Time

(Time and the Timeless: Part 1)

Our life moves inexorably forward in time. At some moments we orient toward the past, in remembering, in appreciating what we value there, forgetting what matters little to us, and ruminating on the rest. Certainly our personal past affects us by the skills we acquired, the knowledge we attained, the wisdom we continue to distill from experience, and the unconscious tendencies that drive us to be the way we are and act the way we do.

The future is very different, as the domain of events that are almost certain to occur, events that are probable, and events that are possible. The march of time inevitably carries the force of disorder and decay, the law of entropy. Yet despite the certainty of our eventual death, and perhaps because of it, despite the uncertainty of its timing, and despite our fear of death, it is our life’s work and our fate as living beings to go against entropy, to create order, to create beauty, in the face of this absolute but unknown limit on our personal time. The fact that we will die, coupled with the fact that this world and other people will live on, pushes us toward concern with our legacy, with whether we will leave this world a better place by our having lived in it. In this way, the limit on our time brings out the best in us.

Indeed, much of what we do now is for the future, both near and far. The act of cooking always looks forward to the meal to be eaten. Washing the dishes prepares them for the next meal. We start our journeys to reach our destination. We work for the paycheck to come. We save for our future. We acquire an education in part to open new possibilities for our future. Shopping serves the future in which we will use what we buy. We take good care of our children so they may have a promising future. We try to live well, in part because what we do ripples out into our society and across time. We care for our descendants by caring for our planet, so future generations of humans, animals, and plants may thrive.

Every act of service serves the future. Because of its openness, its undetermined nature, we are able to make the future, for better or for worse. Living consciously, we create our future intentionally by what we do now; we make decisions and schedules, set goals and deadlines, we prepare. We organize our present to create our future. Our positive actions feed back to us as our future unfolds. But in living by habit, living unconsciously, we abdicate our role in time, our role in crafting our future, and allow our future to be made for us by chance and by unintentional reaction and repetition. This tends not to turn out as we might have wished.

Much of our emotional life revolves around the past or the future. For the past, we have anger, regret, resentment, disappointment, sorrow, grief, satisfaction, pride and appreciation. For the future, we have fear and hope, hurry, worry and anxiety, anticipation and expectation.

Yet all our necessary orientation toward the future and all remembering of the past impoverishes the fleeting now, this singular moment in time. Our present shrinks to a small bubble through which the future streams into the past. Our spiritual inner work, the work of presence, is all about expanding that bubble. Presence brings the timeless into time and changes our perception of time thereby. No longer does time seem to rush by or push us along. We stand agile and adaptable in the midst of the stream of time, anchored in our self. We experience time not as some implacable force, but as a series of events on various scales, as the domain of actualizing possibilities, the domain of our embodied life. The deeper our presence, the larger our present moment and the larger the scale of events we can notice and take part in. Here again service enters, since the quality of our presence affects the scale of the future we can serve.

For this week, notice some of the endless ways that time affects you. Notice also how your perception of time changes in moments of intentional presence.


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