So. New Year’s Eve turned out to be fun after all.
I danced a little. I drank a bit more. I ate a bit more still.
The bells chimed as feared but my kind hosts spared me “Auld Lang Syne.” I thank them for that. And, as 2014 became 2015, and, despite my earlier post, I hugged and kissed with the best of them. Not even with a sense of ironic detachment.
But, no apologies. I maintain my position on the need to rethink our cultural conception of Time. To remove Linear Time from its pedestal and replace it with a more Cyclic perception of Time.
A number of people at the party had read my earlier post. This led to interesting discussions. Which became ever more speculative as the night progress and the wine flowed. I don’t, as a rule, spend time at parties discussing the relative merits of paradigms of Time. But, from now on, I shall endeavour to do so as I enjoyed it very much. It made me think.
One friend put forward the idea that time is best thought of as being, not a circle but a helix. A circle, she felt, meant that you were condemned to keep re-treading the same ground. Literally, walking in circles. She felt that this did not allow us the possibility of growing. Of learning from our mistakes. Or from our elders. We are not, she proposed, the same people that we were twenty years ago. Hopefully, we have grown in some way. Gained some measure of wisdom. This was a notion of Time as being basically cyclic but with growth, with direction. This notion was, she felt, best represented by a helix.
Well. The cynic in me says, “Look around. Is this really progress?” There are so many things obviously crazy about today’s world that I wonder whether collectively, as a species, we have learned very much at all.
However, on an individual level, I see what she is saying. Surely, we have to have the possibility of change, development, transformation. Otherwise, what is the point? And I agree. (See my earlier posts about transformation.) Transformation is the point.
Yet, after much thought, I prefer to stick with the circle. Because, in a sense, a deeper sense, I do believe that we are always treading the same ground. Travelling in circles. And that wisdom is not so much a case of collecting knowledge and experience. More one of casting aside veils, opening curtains. Seeing a truth that was there all along. All the Time.
If we allow the notion of direction to creep into our concept of Time, we start to create the idea that there is a way to go. A path to tread. Then people start thinking that their path is the right path. And religious fundamentalism is only a few steps away.
Even the notion of a path is dangerous. Because, it ushers in the worry that wisdom, truth, whatever you want to call it, is somewhere else. That we have to go somewhere to gain enlightenment, to get better. I don’t think it is. I think that whatever we seek is within ourselves, right here, now. Otherwise, only those that can afford to make the journey could find the truth. I cannot accept that. For me, Truth is available to anyone, anywhere, any time. You just have to see it.
The irony, of course, is that it often takes years of searching and travelling for a person to gain sufficient wisdom to understand that the thing he or she was seeking was with them all along. Buddha wandered all over before finally just sitting down under a tree – and that is where he got Enlightenment.
Personally, I like the Taoist notion of reality. First there is the Tao, the Uncarved Block. Which is everything. And it is all the same. No differentiation. And it is unchanging. But at the same time there are The Myriad Things. All the different forms we perceive as “normal” reality. All differentiation. Constantly changing.
The thing is that these two states exist at the same time. They are both “Reality.” So, in Taoist thinking, we are all the same and all different. At the same Time.
Trouble is, we get duped by The Myriad Things. They are shiny, attractive, always novel. We tend to forget about The Uncarved Block. Which is constant and unchanging. Less attractive. Like going around in circles. Without the air of possibility and novelty of the Myriad Things. But, nevertheless, part of the Truth.
Buddhists have the concept of the Buddha Nature, which is within all things. That is, all things have the capacity to become Buddha, the Enlightened One. This is the very essence of all things and it is the same in all things. Non differentiation. To Buddhists, the world of differentiation, Samsara, is just an illusion. The true nature of things is undifferentiated. As Buddha sits in meditation in order to see the true nature of things, his hands rest on his legs, the thumb and forefinger touch. Forming. A circle.
I prefer the Taoist outlook as it regards the Uncarved Block and the Myriad Things as equally real and co-existent. Differentiated and undifferentiated existing at the same Time. There is a sense of contradiction here which appeals to me. I like ideas which are difficult to grasp, fluid, apparently illogical. I don’t trust ideas that are static, immovable. I don’t trust Common Sense. Seems to me that it is all too easy for static, rigid ideas to become dogma. For me, truth is to be found, not in set places, but in the movement between them. In the turning of the wheel, the circle. Taoists capture this beautifully in the Yin Yang symbol. It is a circle where opposites (black and white, light and dark, out and in) exist together in perfect balance. And within each quality lies the seed of its opposite. So, as night approaches its darkest point, we see the first glimpse of the dawn. The Yin Yang symbol implies constant movement. It is this movement that brings the Myriad Things into being and ultimately returns them to the Uncarved Block. And there is no beginning. No end. No stopping. The movement is constant.
Holding these seemingly contradictory ideas in your head is tough at first. It goes against the thinking in dualities that we are schooled in from birth. If you feel like really getting to grips with it, I recommend getting a copy of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. Written in China, in the sixth century BC, it is an esoteric but hugely practical guide to living. Every time I read it, I find something that rings true. Something that helps me make sense of the chaos of life. Example below,
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired,
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped,
Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone,
The world is ruled by letting things take their course,
It cannot be ruled by interfering
So,all in all, I think that the Circle is still the best symbol. It reminds us of the Uncarved Block. It emphasises the need to look inward rather than outward. Here rather than There. It is about constant movement and change without end.
I shall expand upon some of these ideas in Part 3.