Can you stop time’s flow? Most people don’t think so. They believe that relentless flow and pressure are somehow ‘built into’ time. Even most time management experts say there’s no way we can control time. But they’re talking about physical time and clock time, which don’t seem to change unless we travel near the speed of light.
There’s another kind of time that we can learn to control—and this kind, personal time, is much more important for our health, well-being, and productivity. Just as we have a personal space, we have a personal time, an individual way that we experience time from moment to moment. This depends on our cultural background, personal conditioning, the level of caffeine or other drugs in our bodies, the temperature, and how well we’re concentrating from moment to moment. When we’re children, our experience is timeless. In the West, as adults we ‘normally’ experience time flowing constantly and relentlessly beyond our control, among past, present, and future ‘rooms’ in our experience. People through centuries have reported that peak experiences, those best experiences of life, seem timeless—events occur and clock time still passes, but without the typical friction, pressure, or feeling of being out of control. Check it out: During the best moments of your life, what was your experience of time/timelessness?
So personal time varies considerably. Can we learn to stop its flow at will, and instantly get rid of its seemingly built-in pressure? Yes, we can. And we can also find ‘more personal time’ in the process. You need to do some exploring in a way you probably never did before. Think about this: How long is a moment? Most people agree this is a very short time period–but people vary in their thinking about exactly how long this is. A moment is not a precisely defined unit of clock time; it’s a vaguely defined instance of personal time. Take a direct look at your personal experience of time passing from moment to moment. See how long a moment is for you. Just watch the moments pass, and get some sense for how long a moment is. Stop reading and do this now. Then do it again.
OK. Now while sensitively watching time pass from moment to moment, notice two moments, perhaps very close together. Try to somehow ‘spot’ two moments, one after another. Stop reading and do this a couple of times.
OK. Now, between two moments in the passing of time, see whether you can find a third moment. Look between two moments for a third moment. Repeat this a number of times, perhaps ten times or more. What happens? Stop reading and do this now. Then do it again. Don’t read further till you do this.
“Initially, it might seem that by moving ‘into’ time in this way, we could go so far and no further. But the intrinsic dynamic of the movement sets no such limit. The triangle of knowing that opens between any two points in time is itself composed of ‘points’ that can open as well.” (Dynamics of Time and Space, Tarthang Tulku, p. 230) So now, if you can find instances of moments between moments, see whether you can find additional, perhaps more subtle, moments between those. Stop reading and try this. Now try it again. Don’t read further till you do this.
When you did this, what happened to the experience of time flowing? Did it change? When you look for moments between moments, what happened to the usual momentum and pressure of time? Did it change? If so, how did it change? Were you able to instantly find relief from time’s ‘usual’ pressure and flow? Did you somehow find ‘more time’ between moments? Was it true that between any two points in time there were “‘points’ that can open as well?”
“By learning to be sensitive to the infinity of ‘time’ available within any clock-time period, we can begin to appreciate more fully the value and possibilities life presents.” (Dimensions of Thought, eds. Moon and Randall, p. 43) In particular, if you’re suffering from some intense emotion, try the above exercise. Most likely, when doing this exercise, emotion’s momentum will lessen or stop, and the feeling may lose its negative character. And if you’re working under deadline pressure, doing this exercise should significantly decrease or stop the pressure, and transform the pressure and anxiety to invigorating energy, furthering your productivity. You might think, “I don’t have time to do this exercise.” But rather than the truth, this thought may itself be just part of the pressure and momentum you want relief from.
We can stop time’s flow and pressure, and find more time if we know where to look. The humble moment . . . is a target worth aiming at. It’s the vital center of the universe; if we hit it, we explode everything that prevents fulfillment, attaining everything that fulfills. (DOT, p. xlvii)
Dimensions of Thought: Current Explorations in Time, Space, and Knowledge, Volume I, edited by Ralph Moon and Stephen Randall (Berkeley: Dharma Publishing), 1980.
Dynamics of Time and Space, Tarthang Tulku. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1994.
Love of Knowledge, Tarthang Tulku. Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, 1987, p. 119.