Dharma Topic: Does Time March On or Stew?

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, February 24, during our program we will practice the Three Touchings of the Earth, a powerful guided movement meditation that helps us touch deeply our ancestors, our descendents, our contemporaries, and the present moment. [A copy of the Three Touchings is available on our website under resources/ Still Water Mindfulness Ceremonies.]

Central to the Three Touchings is our notion of time.

Recently the discussion we have been having in our Walking with the Feet of the Buddha Workshop have brought into focus an image of timeI’ve held for many decades.

I call my old image the spatial view of time. Time is something that strides forward. In school I was taught to draw many time-lines of human history and American history. I remember my most significant fourth-grade project was drawing a time-line of inventions.

Implicit for me in this spatial view of time was the notion that each of the marks on my time line was a discrete world. That’s the way it was back then, but then time moved on, and the way it was back then was no more.We have moved into a new time, a new era. We have left behind the old times, of horse-drawn carriages, and moved on to the time of automobiles. There are many futures ahead, many discrete points, with new possibilities, new beginnings.

This “spatial” view of time makes time travel seem almost reasonable. Why can’t we ‘travel’ to the past, to points on the left hand side of the time line, or to the future, to points on the right hand side of the time line.

This spatial view of time also gives us the illusion that we can make clean breaks from the past. As individuals we can walk away from unsatisfying families or relationships. As a company we can walk away from the health or ecological damages we may have caused. As a country we can walk away from the injustices we have created and benefited from. Today is a new day, anew mark on the time line.

Contrast that view of time with what I call the Stew Pot image. All we have is this stew pot. It is a huge stew pot, rich and full, and changing, moment by moment. The potatoes are cooking. The flavors are mixing. We are off on one edge living our lives, crafting our world out of what is at hand.Others are living their lives out in their little spaces. But we are all in the same stew. Our parents were also in the same stew pot. Much of what we work with is what they worked with. At some point, our time will be done and it will be our children’s stew pot. But we don’t think about the past and the future as something separate from us. All that was past is here in the stew pot with us, though it has been cooked a lot since then. All that will be in the future can only be made out of what is in the stew pot with us now.

This stew pot image helps me understand the Three Touchings of the Earth and much of what Thich Nhat says about the present moment, such as the 47th verse of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fifty Verses on the Nature ofConsciousness:

The present moment
Contains past and future.
The secret of transformation
Is in the way we handle this very moment.

Do you have an implicit image of time in your head? Does it affect how you live your day and plan your life?

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation period, our program, and our discussion.

The best times to join us on Thursdays evenings is just before 7:00, at the beginning of the first sitting meditation, at 7:25 at the beginning of walking meditation; or at 7:35, at the beginning of our second sitting meditation.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher