It’s interesting to think of the ways people speak about time, and their relationship to it. Certainly, the subject of time has been the study of not only scientists in recent times, but even more so by mystics, sages, and saints throughout the ages. Saint Augustine, one of the early church Fathers of Christianity and a major philosopher of his day, wrestled with the question of time, saying of it, “if one asks me I know, if I try to explain it to someone, I know not…my soul is on fire to understand the great enigma”. He sensed that he would achieve a new level of spiritual development if he could penetrate the mystery of time. And he was right.
The yogis of ancient India HAD penetrated the mystery of time to it’s core. And they came to the same understanding by the power of insight that Einstein reached at the beginning of 20th century using the power of science and mathematics: simply put, time does not exist. We do not live in time, time lives in us. We create time with the mind. We might say time is the way the mind organizes experience. Whether you believe it or not, it is true. As Einstein proved, time is a relative phenomenon, and it is relative to motion. Truly understanding this, and developing the capacity to function on the basis of this understanding, (at least some of the “time”) will not only enrich your life, but is one of the vital attributes of a true artist, and necessary to the creation of true art.
There are two levels of functioning in relation to time: the mundane, and the mystical. They are both necessary, useful, and appropriate in their proper context. If a Mack truck is moving toward you at 100mph, it isn’t appropriate to remind yourself that time does not actually exist because practically speaking, it DOES exist for you in relation to the speeding truck, and it might be a good idea to respect that fact, get into mundane mode, and get some serious relative motion happening in relation to that truck!
The mundane level of time is useful for everyday functioning, it gives us power. We can measure, and we can control, as in meeting someone at 3 o’clock. It adds to our survival potential on the physical level, and that is why we have developed the tool we call time. We can make the trains run on time, and we can measure things like the amount of time we practice guitar, and how long a quarter note lasts. However, just as humans have invented language to represent Reality, and then mistake the symbols for the Reality, so it is with time. We forget that we have literally “made it up”. Early man observed the motion and cycles of nature (sun up, down, that sort of thing), and related directly to motion and change itself, without postulating the idea of a “stream of time” in which the motion took place.
Infants don’t live in time. It doesn’t exist. Their experience of time is one big “forever”, and remains so until the child begins to grow and becomes increasingly aware of the phenomenon of motion around them. All of us became aware of the repetitious nature of our experience. It’s light, it’s dark, over and over. Mommy wakes us up, mommy puts us to sleep. Movement. Repetition. Rhythm. But no matter what is happening, no matter what “time” it is, to the child it is always “NOW”. And that is why the child is capable of being intensely alive. Children have that magical ability to feel pure joy merely from the fact of existing because they float in a sea of “timelessness”. But “in time”, he or she will probably lose that ability.
The child will be made to adapt to the “real” world, the one where being alive is an experience measured by a metal bar swinging around a circle of numbers, and a bunch of little squares on a calendar, each with its own name. Little sections, some where we are free (days off) and most where our “time” is owned by someone else. We become unable to have the direct experience of our own awareness, our own consciousness, as we learn to package it into minutes, hours, days, weeks and years.
We LEARN to live in time, we LEARN the idea of past and future, and then it becomes a psychological reality. It also becomes a psychological prison. Gradually, we come to really believe that the universe runs on some gigantic clock, with numbers, dates and years written in stone. Belief in “the past” becomes an act of identification of remembered streams of events, and that becomes “who we are”, and so we cannot change. Belief in “the future” becomes worry and anxiety. Since we think we exist in time, and don’t see that time exists in us, we fear that nasty “future” as if it were out there right now, like a train station waiting for us to pull in, rather than seeing that we are creating the “future” right NOW.
And remaining in that prison through the tyranny of time, we are locked out of that one place Reality is actually to be found: NOW.
NOW is not the same thing as time. NOW cannot be measured, only experienced. And when it is fully experienced, the experiencer disappears! Time is made of minutes, which are definable. NOW is made of “moments” which are indefinable, wholly qualified only by their subjective content, not by any objective standard.
All of this conditioning must be undone and unlearned, or at least that process must begin, if we are to become artists, or even capable of practicing the guitar correctly. This is what I mean in The Principles when I say we must have Beginners Mind as a constant awareness. It is also what Jesus meant when he said of the little child on his knee, “you must become as one of these if you are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. It is also what Pepe Romero means when he says “you must practice with the mental simplicity of a child”. The corrupting influence of allowing the mind to live in time, as if time were an objective reality, deadens our ability to really be alive.
As the years go by, and the accumulation of experience mounts, the tyranny of time takes its toll. Time becomes our enemy. We need to “kill it”, we “waste it”, or find ways to “pass it”. Rather, since it is a tool man has made for his use, we should be using it, not being used by it. From the mundane point of view, the highest use of time is to SPEND it, and spend it wisely. We should spend it wisely, and make a profit for our effort. If we do, we become rich. We should be very careful to whom and to what we lend it as well.
From the beginning of playing the guitar, I jealously guarded my time, spending it like a miser, and investing it like a Wall Street tycoon, setting weekly practice goals, writing down schedules, and grading myself for how many hours I got in each week. This was the single biggest reason I got real good real fast.
After becoming wise in our use of time, after making it our friend instead of our enemy, it is time to learn the highest use of time, which is the non-use of time. Like any good friend, once in a while we need to tell it to go home, we need to be alone now. This is the mystical relationship to time, where the mind in fact stops creating what it learned to create so long ago. I call this relationship to time being “lost in time”.
This is the timeless world of the child, the mystic, and the artist. It is what made me pick up the guitar at age 14 and start practicing 3 hours a day without really noticing I was doing so. It is what any great artist does when they are playing their best, it is what any great athlete does when they are “in the zone”. The mind has stopped creating time, and the self that was experiencing becomes one with the experience. Only a witnessing awareness remains, without any center. We are “lost in time”.
To become lost in time is simply what it sounds like. We have all done it, most of us still do at some time or the other. Its when the clock stops. The clock doesn’t even stop, its just that there is no clock. There is only “what is happening”. There is no us doing something, there is only the doing. There is motion, but it is not relative to something else, so there is no time. There is no “us” there anymore, in the usual way, to be relative to what is happening. It is usually described as a “oneness”. For us guitarists it means we lose awareness of an “us” playing the guitar, there is just “playing the guitar”.
The inspiration of the artist is always NOW, as is any experience wherein we feel truly alive. We have all been in this place, but many have forgotten how to go back there. Some even believe they shouldn’t go there. They are wrong. If you wish to be a great guitarist, you must find your way back to this, your natural state. When you play your guitar, you must be able to become “lost in time”, lost in NOW. There must be no concern for a future that takes your Attention out of the NOW. I have sat and watched so many would be guitarists allow their anxiety for future attainment prevent them from seeing what needs to be seen, in order for them to really have the future they want. They are so concerned about being better than they are, their Attention is not in the NOW, and they can’t discover their own obstacles. Our power to change is in the NOW. Because they are so concerned with getting somewhere, they are not aware of where they ARE. And so, they have no ability to move anywhere else.
When you practice, and you are at the Bottom of your Practice, you should be lost in time. Your attention to NOW should be very complete and powerful. For Principled Players, No Tempo Practice (along with Posing) are the foundation of our practice approach. A tempo implies linear time. In no tempo practice, time stops, and we have all the “space” we need to direct our attention anywhere we wish, anywhere it is needed, in order to develop the primary quality of all great players: Awareness. We bring that Awareness back with us when we return to time, and play with a tempo. At first, many people are simply unable to do this. The first job of the teacher is to train them to have this ability. This is why attitudes and emotions must be dealt with sometimes by the teacher, because they will often be at the root of the inability to become lost in time.
Likewise, when you play, you should be lost in time, not moving an inch in either direction out of NOW. The “me” is lost in the music.
We all have our “Mack Truck Moments” when the tool of time must be used, and such moments are dealt with automatically, in their moment, in their NOW. Clocks, calendars and schedules are there to serve us, not rule us. In general, we must learn to float in the sea of timelessness as we did as children, especially when we practice or play the guitar.
Whenever you feel the pull of the clock, trying to make you feel like you’d better hurry up before time runs out; before you sacrifice your NOW, jump back into the sea of timelessness with this thought: You should always feel like you have all the time in the world, because, since you are creating it, you do!