Einstein showed that we live in spacetime, a continuum comprised of the familiar three dimensions of space and the much more mysterious dimension of time.
Nobody knows what time is really all about. Not scientists, not philosophers, not mystics. And certainly not theologians.
We have a sense of it passing. But the theory of relativity proves that this sense differs for people in different circumstances.
Two events, simultaneous for some observer, may not be simultaneous for another observer if the observers are in relative motion. Moving clocks are measured to tick more slowly than an observer's "stationary" clock.
Astronomers look up into the sky and observe stars in distant galaxies. Their vision is of a natural time machine, because the light from those stars can take from minutes (our Sun) to billions of years (the edge of the universe) to reach us.
So they are looking back in time. It takes about eight and a half minutes for light to reach Earth from the sun. Thus if the Sun disappeared, it would be take that long before we knew about it.
What has already happened at one place in space hasn't yet occurred at another place. Scientists say "a supernovae just took place in galaxy X." But that could have been billions of years ago.
Now is relative. The "power of now" is a popular notion (and a best-selling book). However, there's more to time -- and reality -- than our now.
All those galaxies millions and billions of light years away have their own nows, as do all of the inanimate and (likely) animate entities elsewhere in the universe. We can grasp this intellectually, with difficulty, but it's very difficult to actually experience time markedly differently than we do now.
Sure, time slows down and speeds up for us -- a subject that has been of more than a little interest for me as I grow older and a week rushes by in just a few days.
I've learned some tips to make life seem to last longer. However, seemingly the best thing would be to view time in a completely fresh fashion. After all, most -- if not all -- of our problems arise because of time.
No time (as we know it), no arising. Or setting.
I'm clueless about what would replace our normal sense of time. But I've been reading a book, "The Tao of Meditation," that has given me a new perspective on what enlightenment might be all about.
A different view of time, the fourth dimension.
Man is the ruler in three dimensions, but he is the pawn of time. He has no control over it and no ordinary means of comprehending it as a dimension. Man is born and dies in time, and in between he only perceives the now-present, now-present, now-present of it.
When he is twenty he can't see himself at sixty. When he is sixty, the young man of twenty is gone. He admonishes, "Know thyself," and forgets himself from minute to minute, unable to see the ends of his words or actions, or the beginning of the chain in which he is linked.
Appealingly, the book doesn't offer up much of an explanation of what a more enlightened perspective would be like.
What would be the fourth dimensional view of time? We can't talk about that because we have no way of knowing about it. It is beyond all three dimensional knowledge; it is a part of the Tao. Whatever we might say would be pure superstition or fiction.
The purpose of T'ai Chi Chuan is to seek stillness in motion. The aim of meditation is to seek action in inaction. This is experienced from the sense of their opposites within motion and within tranquility.
It is possible with patience and persistence to feel, as if intuitively, very subtly, very delicately, the nature of time. By following this feeling we may move close enough to the border of the fourth dimensional world to get a glimpse of that reality. This is the first stage of enlightenment.
Well, as I so often say: maybe.
What I like about this notion of enlightenment is that it doesn't involve any supernatural journeying -- no soul traveling, no grand mystic ascent, no exploring of any spatial realm other than where we are right now.
Perhaps it's time that is the dimension to be more fully understood, not so much space, whether physical or metaphysical.
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest ... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.