We need to break free of our misunderstanding of time as something outside of us, in which we ‘flow’ through our lives.

Objective time is the comparison of two phenomenal events that are otherwise completely disconnected from each other. This objectivity is a very limiting understanding because it requires a complete disconnection between vivisected ‘things’ and phenomenon — that is, between a fixed reference and what we are observing, such as the position of the Sun (the vivisected ‘thing’) and a sunlit field of flowers (what we are observing). This is a state of affairs that is imposed by our particular worldview, or way of understanding the world. Clearly, though, the sunlit field of flowers is not disconnected from the Sun’s appearance as a moving object in our sky which illuminates the field, and the Sun’s light is a necessary condition for the flowers to grow.

Subjective time is the label we give to our presence that we mistakingly interpret as ‘continuing through time’ — or localized time, as a physicist might say; but time is somehow an integral part of each perspective even in our current way of seeing things, so “localized” is not really correct.

For example, scientists tell us that the laws of Physics work regardless of which direction ‘in time’ a physical phenomenon unfolds. But while our focus upon that phenomenon is the same in each case, a phenomenon unfolding forward in time, and a phenomenon unfolding backward in time are not the same from our perspective. So there has to be a clearer way of understanding ‘subjective time’.

The error is that our presence isn’t “in time” because that places time outside of ourselves — and of all ‘things’ — as a container for the timeline of our experiential life. Time, on its own as a container in which things exist or endure is empty of meaning if there are no things that exist or endure. What then to make of it? Consciousness, on the other hand, without duration, is also empty of meaning. What then to make of that?

It’s not that consciousness operates “in time,” it’s that it is time — which is duration — and time/consciousness is a cognitive whole that is what holds the relational coherency of all being.

Thus, we must realize that our ‘subjective’ presence is the “time” of which we speak. Though ‘consciousness’ is cognitive, it cannot be described as in an “idealism,” because it is actual, not ideal, and real, not imaginary — and not other than our presence.

See how it is that things far away are firmly present to your mind. For however much you want to, there is no way you will manage to cut being off from clinging fast to being.⁠¹

I distinguish two modalities of experience. The first of the two I call “natural” as this is the natural manner of human experience. It involves an intentional engagement with phenomena. This engagement that I speak of is a narrow focus of attention. When we are engaged like this we may or may not notice that we are, because that requires a metacognitive recognition, thus two active levels of simultaneous cognition.

When we are immersed in an immediate experience of phenomena, we are narrowly focused on a phenomenon that catches our attention, or to which we give attention and to which we affectively respond. While our attention may flit around like a bumblebee from phenomenon to phenomenon, it is always narrowly focused on one phenomenon at any particular moment — even if we think we are ‘multitasking’.

These phenomena that I speak of are what we are conscious of, including perceptions, thoughts and emotional states, as well as our affective feelings of each.

Immersion always entails affective responses to what is experienced. These affective feelings are also phenomenal, and thus they can feed upon themselves easily — especially in the heady cocktail of perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and affective responses.

An example is: While walking down a busy street I come upon someone that I know. I become focused on this person. A memory of the last time we spoke comes to mind. A feeling of nostalgia arises, or perhaps a response of aversion. I think about whether to greet this person or not. Perhaps, I worry that she might respond awkwardly. Or perhaps much too demonstratively. Perhaps I shouldn’t hail her, etc. Or perhaps give a shout and embrace her.

Note that even though one of the phenomena was a process of thought — reasoning about whether to greet or not, I am completely immersed in the immediate experiences: of seeing the person, of remembering the person, of feeling nostalgic or aversive, of thinking about hailing her, and of affectively responding to all these phenomena singularly. Completely unnoticed is the understanding of the nature of this cinematic display that I accede to implicitly by my immersion in it.

So, implicit in these phenomena is a pre-cognitive understanding about the form of the world. Our present conventional understanding is of a world delimited by spatial dimensions, enduring in time, and filled with discrete, particular entities that interact like billiard balls and magnets, attracting and repulsing. But this is not the only possible way to understand the world. Our understanding can be different without in any way changing what is actually happening.

Note, that when I say “our present conventional understanding” I am not referring to that of “Science” which changes frequently, while ours is still mired in the limited understanding of the 17th Century — even when we are trying to talk about, or think about modern quantum physical ideas, because these too are still mired in this now overturned understanding, framed as they are, in outdated terminology and conceptual structuring.

To continue, we can understand that these phenomenal experiences are ephemeral and do not reflect ultimately reality. We can understand that our ego also does not reflect ultimate reality, nor do our thoughts. While a different pre-cognitive understanding of the world will affect the experience, it is by giving it a different ‘taste’ only. A pre-cognitive understanding still holds sway, regardless of the form it takes. This different form — from our present understanding — carries over to the other types of the natural modality of experience. Thus, I can have internalized an understanding of the absence of independence of all phenomena, including my ‘self’, and this will alter the ‘taste’ of experience, it does not necessarily change the modality of experience, although this is a good springboard to such change.

Also, having effectuated a change in this pre-cognitive understanding there can be an affective attachment to what has been developed. This can present a dangerous roadblock, because one always overestimates one’s own work, and we can become impervious to further change. I call this a ‘false halt’.

We can also be immersed in a mediated experience of phenomena. This involves reflection upon some memory of an experience or upon some imaginative construction of a possible experience that may have, or may occur. In this type of immersive experience, nothing has changed except for the particular focus of attention. This is still an immersive experience, only now it is an experience of some form of reasoning that has as its subject matter mediated or conceptualized phenomena.

Thus, I am not working with immediate experiences (imperiences in my vernacular), and by “working with” I mean reasoning about; instead I have either cutout some now discrete experience from the flux of my living experiences, or I am imagining or fantasizing about something. But note how the reasoning process is itself an immediate immersive experience. So this reflection is not very much different from the first mode, although it makes a world of difference, usually negative, that we have a vivisected ‘discrete’ experience that we are focusing upon.

We can become cognizant of our engagement with phenomena, thus we notice that we are engaging phenomena with our affective responses to them — and this changes them. I use the metaphor of being in a movie theater, engrossed in the action of the film, and then suddenly realizing that one is in a movie theater watching a film. I call this being “present to” experience, instead of being present in the experience.

In this mode I can be watchful of my experiences, like a mother watching her children playing in a park, feeling a myriad of fluctuating affective responses to what they are doing, knowing that she has to not react to those feelings so that her children can develop on their own, and over time, she becomes inured to watching them and the feelings reduce in forcefulness. I call this reduction, clarity.

I can also be analytical about my experiences, ferreting out the structure of what arises. This is where I place the philosophical idea of “phenomenological reduction.” But notice that the pre-cognitive understanding of the world is still at play here, thus this is still a natural posture and one hasn’t transcended anything. One’s analysis is completely dependent upon that pre-cognitive understanding.

There is a third form of natural posture, much less prevalent and much less of interest for me at the moment, and that is to be removed from experience. In this case there is no affective response to what is being experienced, although affective feelings still arise unconnected to what is being experienced. In the most extreme form of this mode of experience everything can be disconnected (sense, thought, and feeling). This is non-functional to varying degrees depending upon the extent of one’s removal from what is happening in one’s life.

The second of the two modalities I wish to focus on, I call “contemplative”. The preliminary qualities of this are:

Notice of the pre-cognitive understanding at play in phenomenal experience, regardless of form, leading to an attenuation of its effect. An example of this is understanding the technological process and equipment being used to create the activity being presented on the movie theatre screen that together create the film one is watching.

Non-immersion in any aspect of experience, including perception, thought, emotion, and feeling as one is present to all aspects and never immersed either immediately or mediately. This results from an ever-widening focus of attention, until the focus is suddenly absent. This modality is characterized as relaxing into presence. Pure presence, that is, encompassing ‘everything’ yet void of any particular thing whatsoever. Pure presence is completely clear of an application of a worldview onto what one is present to. It is, to say it in a different way, perception without apperception, imperience without experience. I call this modality, “Surjective.” It is a noncritical, non-discursive attendance to what is in totality.

Note carefully that the last paragraph, and particularly the last two sentences of it, is not meant as a definition.

As contemplation clarifies there is less and less to point to in order to fix a definition, and yet our contemplation is full. This last statement can be viewed as an inability of language to encompass and describe what is the case in such a profound state of contemplation, and it can also be viewed as a lack of something to describe. Ultimately, these words are only a signpost pointing in the ‘direction of’ what is full without content, as there is no entity to even name; yet this nullity — in the sense of being no thing at all — is full, pregnant, overflowing, and evidenced by the continuation of this contemplative state, which is that which is present as this fullness.

“Contemplation” does not mean “thinking about.” It means stilling the surface commotion of our mind, so that contemplation is what remains in stillness. This means that what arises is not separate from the contemplative state. It means that the duration of what arises, the continuing fullness of our contemplation, is not other than our contemplation. I call this last modality, Injective. That is immanent presenting.

These sentences themselves are intuitive thoughts that arise unbidden when needed. One can reason analytically about them later while present to them, but they are not derived from inferential reasoning about anything, nor can they be said to be the result of an empirical experience, nor are they just fantasized. Yet, what they point to is real, irrefutable, and not just theoretical. It serves as the base technique of all meditative practices to varying extents.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།


¹ Reality, by Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, 2003, page 79

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