Westerners spend a lot of time and energy trying to get a grip on reality. We cram as much as we possibly can into every day. We constantly push against deadlines and struggle to get ‘caught up.’ What most of us would really like is a little more peace in our lives. Instead of feeling compressed, we’d like more spaciousness. 

Our day-to-day reality is based on a cultural construct where every event is framed by time. Stop for a moment and consider what the world would be like with no clocks. Or calendars. These are mechanisms which we have created. They only apply to human functioning. 

When we attempt to force all of reality to fit these constructs, our view of the true nature of the universe is limited. As Larry Dossey, MD explains in Space. Time, and Medicine: “…it is not the external events themselves but their sense impressions that provide us with our conscious thoughts of how events are arranged in time. It takes time for light to travel from an external event to our eyes, so that it is impossible for us to perceive the instantaneous or exact moment anything happens in the universe. Relativity reminds us that we do not know things as they are; we must settle for our sensory impressions for our construction of “reality.”
…Through a distorted view of time we have patched together a mangled view of the universe. We fail to see that an external reality does not exist as a given, that it is not “out there” conveniently waiting for us to sense it. The modern picture of reality is more like a tapestry in which sense impressions, consciousness, time, space, and light are the threads, combining in a delicately entangled way to form what we perceive as an “event.”*

In other words, we can never experience the ‘present’ of any other person/object/event. The time it takes for sensory waves to reach us means that their present is already over by the time it gets to us and we process it. This is obvious when we consider something like the light coming from a distant galaxy, but it is also true of the light coming from a flower in the garden or the voice of another person. 

I was thinking of this while I was canoeing with a friend. We were slowly noodling around the shoreline of a small lake, admiring all of its interwoven microcosms. Nature is not just sitting there waiting for me to observe/catalogue/experience it—it exists on it’s own. It’s already there and would be whether I came along or not. There was no need for me to act or react to it.

The stress, the hurry-up, the go-go-go of Western living is all created by me, by my participation in it. If you can choose that, you can also choose to let go of it.

And if you can’t let go? At least loosen your grip.

* Shambhala 1982, p. 31.