A Peak Performance weblog


How is the experience of time related to pain, stress, disease, and health?  Are there ways to change the experience of stress and pain by changing our experience of time?

With experience as a physician in both East and West, Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen sees dire consequences if we don’t change our experience of time: “Until we learn to control time consciously, our lives will continue to speed away from us, and we won’t even notice the beauty or the events around us. We’ll simply be left with the feeling that something’s missing, something’s disappeared.” (p. 14, Time Shifting)  And it’s not a matter of just feeling stressed out:  “By living in mental time–in a speeded-up world–with the resultant repression of emotional issues, we increase the chance of disease.” (p. 171)   However, “If we can think of time in a different way, if we become aware that it contains myriad rhythms and that any individual moment can be expanded or contracted under our control, then I believe we can make time our servant–and in doing so, fill our lives with happiness and health to a degree most of us don’t experience and cannot even imagine.” (p. 3)  “The misuse of time in today’s society should lead to a ‘time movement’.” (p. 226)  Such a movement has been started–see   http://www.tskassociation.org/time-movement.html

(Linear) time is bad for our health!

“Beat the Clock” was the name of a TV show that was popular years ago. To win prizes, contestants had to complete certain tasks within short periods of time. It was fun to watch the people race around, make mistakes, and get frazzled. Unfortunately, for many of us “Beat the Clock” would be a good title for our lives, where we’re the frazzled contestants racing against time. Do you have too much to do, and not enough time? Is the only ‘solution’ to race against time and just put up with the extra stress? Most of us think so. “Our lives have turned into a grueling race toward a finish line we never reach.” (Jay Walljasper, Utne Reader)

“Many people now find that they live in a rush they don’t want and didn’t create, or at least didn’t mean to create. If you feel busier now than you’ve ever been before, and if you wonder if you can keep up this pace much longer, don’t feel alone. Most of us feel slightly bewildered, realizing we have more to do than ever–with less time to do it.”  (p. 4, Crazy Busy)    As mentioned in an ABC news video some years ago, “many of us are now in a hurry most of the time,” and have the strong feeling that we don’t have enough time.   These mental and physiological habits strongly and adversely affect our health and well-being.

Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen wrote, “I would say that 95 percent of the stress in our lives relates to our feeling of time poverty.” (p. 48, Time Shifting)  “Unless we consciously learn to control time in our lives, the stress we suffer will only get worse. . . . Until we learn to control time consciously, our lives will continue to speed away from us . . . .”  (p. 14)  And it’s not a matter of just feeling stressed out:  “By living in mental time–in a speeded-up world–with the resultant repression of emotional issues, we increase the chance of disease.” (p. 171)

In 1988, when things were probably less hectic than today, French CEO and journalist Servant-Schreiber wrote, “Unfortunately, the poor use of our time does not make us fat, and so its effects are less visible.  That may be why the problem has not yet been given national priority. Nevertheless, it can make us as sick as overeating.  Ulcers, heart attacks, and cancers are created in the furrows of stress . . . . In a sense, this situation is much more serious, because many more people suffer from stress than from obesity.” (p. 31, The Art of Time)

Our modern culture of ADD and turmoil

Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, who specialized in diagnos­ing and treating ADD for twenty-five years, wrote, “I have come to see it as a metaphor for modern life . . . . Once applicable only to a relative few, the symptoms of ADD now seem to describe just about everybody.

“People with untreated ADD rush around a lot, feel impa­tient wherever they are, love speed, get frustrated easily, lose locus in the middle of a task or a conversation because some ether thought catches their attention, bubble with energy but struggle to pay attention to one issue for more than a few sec­onds, talk fast or feel at a loss for words, often forget where they’re going or what they’re going to get, have bright ideas but can’t implement them, fail to complete what they’re doing, have many projects going simultaneously but chronically postpone completing them, make decisions impulsively because their brain’s circuitry is overloaded, feel they could do a lot more if they could just get it together, get angry easily when interrupted, feel powerless over the piles of stuff that surround them, resolve each day to do better tomorrow, and in general feel busy beyond belief but not all that productive.

“Many people who do not have true ADD do have many of those symptoms these days. You might say they suffer from a se­vere case of modern life.” (p. 8, Crazy Busy)

“Most of us do try to do too much in too little time . . . . Owing to the conditioning we’ve received in the past ten years [from 1996-2006], some of us are simply un­able to slow down.

“Others frankly don’t want to. . . . No one needs to read three newspapers every day, check e-mail every ten minutes, make or take scores of phone calls every day, and channel surf during all conversations, tuning out the mo­ment stimulation subsides. These are habits some people de­velop simply because such habits make them feel charged up, as if doing a lot fast puts them on the cutting edge of life.

“In today’s world, free time or down time-time to do noth­ing but just hang out and think or feel or listen and watch-has become as rare as silence. Instead, we hop to. Gotta have action. Keep driving, don’t stop for long, don’t pause to linger, wonder, or think. . . . the modern imperative is to keep moving, eyes roaming, attention on scan, cell phone in hand.  Look at our popular movies. Long on action, special effects, quick cuts, and fast pace. Short on character.” (p. 58)

“What’s our hurry? Why, as the novelist Milan Kundera points out, is speed our new form of ecstasy? In fact, both speed and ecstasy are slang terms for drugs of abuse, drugs that can make you high. But even without taking a drug, mod­ern culture associates going faster with being happier as well as smarter.

“Neither makes sense. There is no correlation between a fast life and a happy life. Indeed, if anything there is a negative cor­relation, as fast lives tend to be stressful.” (p. 121)

Cultural turmoil and violence

“The misuse of time in today’s society should lead to a ‘time movement’.” (p. 226, Time Shifting, 1996)  (Actually, such a movement has been started–see   http://www.tskassociation.org/time-movement.html  )  “If we cannot incorporate the ability to timeshift to a slower beat, . . . then, as Alvin Toffler points out, the shattering stress and disorientation caused by too much change in too short a time will overwhelm us.  Indeed, in many cases, it already has, as evidenced in the cacophony, the shattered relationships, the violence, and the greed that surround us.”  (pp. 229-230, Time Shifting)

How has this ‘time sickness’ and modern turmoil come about?  Here’s an explanation by meditation master Tarthang Tulku:

“We readily take on old patterns collected and transmitted down to us. Our thoughts and sense experience, our emotions and moods combine and edit . . . previous patternings to fit the present situation. . . . As the past accumulates layer by layer, its weight exerts an ever stronger pressure on the present. . . . Much of what amasses, however, has no apparent direction or meaning . . . . There are simply more names, more images, . . . more to cope with and engage, more to direct, more to absorb and deal with. The  experience  of  processing  this  expanding  and proliferating transmission can leave us feeling almost stunned.  We  experience  the  weight  of  time  pressing in on us, active in the obligations of ordinary reality and  the  obscuration  that  clouds  our  comprehension. Time  that  has  been  strongly  dimensioned  exerts  a pressure  that  is  almost  tangible,  pervading  our  lives, our circumstances, and the repetitive patterns of our thoughts.  The  production  of  new  stimuli  far  exceeds our ability to consume them.

“When the past-centered identities of each moment shape our present responses, emotionality builds. . . . Externally there are sudden shifts in the temper of the times and the play of circumstances.

“Today we live in times when such trends have moved into the foreground for everyone to see. Tendencies that have accumulated through history are coming together. Like streams flowing into a river, they feed the force of time’s current until it threatens to rush out of control.”  (pp. 86-8, Dynamics of Time and Space)

The relationship of linear time, stress, pain, and disease

What’s the toll of this turmoil on most individuals?   Dr. Larry Dossey is a physician who thoroughly investigated the question of how the experience of time relates to pain and disease.  Here’s an excerpt from his book titled Space, Time, and Medicine:

“Just as Pavlov’s dogs learned to salivate inappropriately we have learned to hurry inappropriately. Our sense of urgency is set off not by a real need to act quickly, but through learned cues. Our “bells” have become the watch, the alarm clock, the morning coffee, and the hundreds of self-inflicted expectations that we build into our daily routine. . . . Our sense of urgency results in a speeding of some of our body’s rhythmical functions, such as the heart rate and respiratory rate. Exaggerated rises in the blood pressure may follow, along with increases in blood levels of specific hormones that are involved in the body’s response to stress. Thus, our perceptions of speeding clocks and vanishing time cause our own biological clocks to speed. . . . the end result is frequently some form of ‘hurry sickness’–expressed as heart disease, high blood pressure, or depression of our immune function, leading to an increased susceptibility to infection and cancer.” (p. 49)

“We determine our own reality by mirroring our perceptions of a fleeting time in our body’s function. Having convinced ourselves through the aid of clocks, watches, beeps, ticks, and a myriad of other cultural props that linear time is escaping, we generate maladies in our bodies that assure us of the same thing–for the ensuing heart disease, ulcers, and high blood pressure reinforce the message of the clock: we are running down, eventually to be swept away in the linear current of the river of time. For us, our perceptions have become our reality.


“Our sense of time is not only a major determinant in our awareness of pain, it affects our health by influencing the development and course of specific diseases. This is nowhere more obvious that in persons who have been called Type A individuals by Friedman and Rosenman. Type A persons have ‘hurry sickness.’ Their lives are oriented around goals, deadlines, and objectives, which they seem to react to in a driven fashion. They are unable to approach a task in a healthy, balanced way, but in extreme cases seem almost consumed by a need to accomplish and achieve.

“Not only do they have an inward sense of urgency, their outward behavior suggests the same quality. When sitting they may be in constant motion, not only with thoughts, but with body parts–hands, fingers, legs, feet. They are usually vocal, verbally expressing the products of a mind that cannot rest. This behavior frequently generates discomfort and tension in those around them.

“It is as if Type A persons are ‘time sick.’ They resemble patients who are in chronic pain in that they have an acute sense of time. Only in this case, unlike the person experiencing pain, there is never enough of it. . . .  (p. 50)

“Time sickness is not merely a colorful appellation, it is an actual illness possessed by the group as a whole. It is not just that Type A persons may experience excessive anxiety, that they may be more nervous and discomfited than their Type B counterparts, in which case their hurry sickness might be counted only as a nuisance or a bother. The problem is worse than a nuisance: Type A individuals, as a group, die earlier. Their behavior puts them at risk for the most frequent cause of death in our society, coronary artery disease.

“The importance of the exaggerated response to time, the sense of urgency displayed by Type A individuals, is that it is translated into physiologic effects. These effects are pervasive and are seen long before heart disease supervenes. These physiological events are so characteristic of time-sick persons, they could be called the time syndrome. Among them are increased heart rate and blood pressure at rest; elevation of certain blood hormones such as adrenalin, norepinephrine, insulin, growth hormone, and hydrocortisone, all of which are ordinarily secreted in an exaggerated way during times of urgency or stress; increased gastric acid secretion; increased blood cholesterol; an increased respiratory rate; increased secretory activity of sweat glands; and increased muscle tension throughout the body. The time syndrome is a body-mind process with effects on all major systems. It is not simply a conscious experience of unpleasant feelings.” (p. 51)

“Many illnesses–perhaps most–may be caused either wholly or in part by our misperception of time. . . . I am convinced that we can destroy ourselves through the creation of illness by perceiving time in a linear, one-way flow.” (p. 21)

“The chronic misjudgment of the nature of time should be seen for what it really is: chronic disease itself. It is a silent process, but for many of us an inexorable one leading to disease which can be fatal. We do not ordinarily judge it in these terms, of course, and too frequently ascribe our sense of time urgency to ‘nerves.’ Having misjudged the cause of our distress, we misjudge the solutions– tranquilizers and alcohol are too often the most commonly trusted antidotes.” (p. 166)

Learning a new sense of timelessness

“Persons who experience pain ordinarily live in a contracted or constricted time sense. Minutes seem like hours when one is hurting. Because the time sense is constricted, pain is magnified-sometimes far beyond what seems appropriate. Are there ways to intervene in painful situations, ways to manipulate the sense of time by expanding it? Can we lessen pain by “stretching” the time sense?”  (p. 46)

Evidently so.  Here’s a transcript from one of Dr. Dossey’s physician patients who learned biofeedback therapy to deal with headaches: “I watch the River of Time flow gently for a while . . . . The river slowly starts to curve so much that it begins to flow back on itself, gradually forming a complete circle. . . . the circular River of Time . . . starts to flood its banks inwardly . . . . and as it continues a giant lake is formed. . . . The surface becomes calm and still, reflective as a mirror. . . . time itself, has ceased to flow. . . . This timeless Lake of Time is indescribably serene, like a high alpine lake you encounter unexpectedly and never want to leave. It fills me with a sense of peace and I stay there feeling the stillness of the Lake of Time for as long as I wish. . . .

“This patient had himself learned how to manipulate his sense of time to his clinical advantage. He had learned to experientially slow time and to stop it . . . . His headaches continued to diminish. . . . Events did indeed enter his awareness sequentially, yet this process was entirely divorced from any sensation of a linearly flowing time.”  (p. 20)

Besides this imagery of a river flowing, “There are a variety of images that can be used effectively in manipulating the sensation of pain. The technique which [a patient named] Monica used to abort her discomfort was to visualize the location of her pain as a small glowing red ball. She would focus as intensely as possible on this image, and when it was extremely vivid she would cause the ball to begin to move, ever so slowly, outside her body. She would center the ball about six feet in front of her. Then this small red ball of pain, glowing intensely, would begin to grow. It would enlarge to the size of a basketball, hovering in space. Moreover, it was suspended in time. Monica’s description of this state was that time ‘stood still.’ Although events were ‘still going on,’ such as the red ball continuing to shimmer, time had ceased to flow.”  (p. 173)

“I began to realize that I was witnessing patients becoming healthier through acquiring a new experiential meaning of what time was all about.  My patients were learning a strategy that held serious consequences for the improvement of their health.” (p. 21)

“As we learn to meditate, or when we become familiar with the states of consciousness that are peculiar to biofeedback, autogenic therapy, or to other techniques employing deep relaxation, we develop a familiarity with a new sense of time. We begin to experience time in new ways. We begin to feel at home with time as it expands. Phrases such as ‘the ever-present now’ and ‘the eternal moment’ become full with meaning. Above all, we develop a friendliness with time.

“As this new regard for time evolves to deeper levels, new understanding unfolds. It becomes apparent that one of the motivating forces behind our old way of reacting toward the passage of time (p. 52) was fear–an indisputable feeling that took the form of busying ourselves in needless motion. This frenetic behavior begins to appear as a defense against time, a resistance that assumes its final form in our individual, silent protest against death itself.

“All time-driven events such as illness and demise begin to appear less menacing. Events in our daily lives such as tragic happenings, which used to stir us reflexively to remorse, now evoke less painful responses. We see the world differently through a new time. And as we learn to see a friendlier face of time, the mask of death itself becomes transformed–if not into a smile, perhaps at least without a frown.” (pp. 52-3)

“Perhaps it is not surprising that most great religions have always prescribed methods such as prayer and meditation . . . in practicing these disciplines one quickly discovers that the experience of time changes. It ceases to flow; and experientially one feels enveloped by the stillness of which all the great mystics have spoken.” p. 30

Treatments for linear time

“Almost all substances that we [physicians] use to treat severe pain modify the patient’s sense of time. Patients who receive these medications do not say, of course, that their time sense was altered, but they respond with statements such as ‘that medicine made me float!’ or ‘I became really drowsy,’ or ‘I forgot where I was.’

“There simply is no good vocabulary to use in describing these events which occur hourly in every major hospital. What does a patient mean when, after receiving pain medication, he says, ‘I really lost track of things for a while,’ or ‘That medicine really ‘zonked’ me,’ or ‘That stuff ‘bombed’ me out?’ Undoubtedly altered time perception is one of the hidden meanings in such statements.

“Not only drugs but other techniques as well do much to alter the time sense and have become valuable adjuncts to controlling pain. Hypnosis is one such example, and is of incalculable value for some patients in pain control. Biofeedback, which relies heavily on imagery and visualization in achieving physiologic self-control, has a marked effect on modifying time perception. Meditation, autogenic therapy, and progressive relaxation have similar effects. In fact, any device or technique that expands one’s sense of time can be used as an analgesic!

“It is important to realize that when we experience a technique that diminishes pain through expanding our time sense, we are not merely exercising self-deception. We are not fooling ourselves into thinking the pain is not there. Evidence is solid that mental states can evoke actual changes in brain physiology, changes that alter pain perception.” (p. 47)

“Most persons learn these skills easily and they come to enjoy the imagery process. Why? The new mode of time perception feels good. To be forever bogged down in a sense of time urgency is defeating. Stress and anxiety for most of us are unbearable without periodic alleviation. Thus, to involve oneself in a new mode of time perception is to experience good feelings.

“We have seen earlier that participation in the states of consciousness that we typify as being serene, calm, and relaxed generate physiological changes that can be measured. The changes that occur are as real as those produced by any drug. Changes in hormonal levels in the blood, variations in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in levels of muscle tension and blood flow to certain regions of the body accompany a subject’s imagery efforts. Thus, since the processes of imagery and visualization are [sometimes] involved in these states, we can begin to see these processes as potent therapeutic agents. They are ‘medicine’ in the truest sense, as real as drugs and surgical procedures.” (p. 167)

“The physician, nurse, or therapist who aids the patient in pain is more than a dispenser of analgesics. He can be a guide. He can be one who shows the sufferer the way through the corridors of time to the still point where time ceases to flow, and where pain abates. And the patient, the suffering patient–how can we avoid the conclusion?–becomes a time traveler.” (p. 174)

The construction of time

Following is a transcript of a dialog between Jiddhu Krishnamurti and David Bohm from The Ending of Time.  Although it may require careful reading and consideration, from this transcript you may be able to understand how our sense of time flow is the result of separating ourselves from a painful feeling.

J. Krishnamurti broaches the possibility of ending psychological time:

K: Now how am I . . . to be free of time? . . . Can time as thought come to a stop? The memory of experiences, hurts, attachments . . . can come to an end when the very perception asks, what is it? What is hurt? What is psychological damage? The perception of it is the ending of it. Not carrying it over, which is time. The very ending of it is the ending of time. . . .

Trying to understand Krishnamurti’s proposition, David Bohm focuses the discussion on a specific example of being hurt:

DB: The first thing is that there has been a hurt. That is the image [of ‘me’ being hurt], but at first I don’t separate it. I feel identified with it.

K: I am that.

DB: I am that. But then I draw back, and say that I think there must be a ‘me’ who can do something.

K: Yes, can operate on it.

DB: Now that takes time.

K: That is time. . . . Let’s go slowly into it. I am hurt. That is a fact. Then I separate myself—there is a separation—saying, I will do something about it.

[Note the importance of simply feeling the hurt rather than separating from it, as discussed in Chapter Five.]

DB: The ‘me’ who will do something is different. . . . It projects into the future a different state.

K: Yes. I am hurt. There is a separation, a division. The ‘me’, which is always pursuing the becoming [In this dialog, the word ‘becoming’ refers to the ego trying to become something], says, I must control it. I must wipe it out. I must act upon it . . . . So this movement of separation is time.” (p. 72)

DB: . . . A person is thinking that the hurt exists independently of ‘me’, and I must do something about it. I project into the future the better state and what I will do. . . So I am hurt and I will become non-hurt. Now that very thought maintains the hurt.

K: That’s right. . . .

DB: Now if you don’t maintain it, what happens? Suppose you say, I won’t go on with this becoming?

K: Ah, that is quite a different matter. It means I am no longer thinking, no longer observing, or using time as an observation.

DB: You could say that is not your way of looking. It is not your theory any more.

K: That’s right. . . .

DB: Because you could say time is a theory which everybody adopts for psychological purposes.

K: Yes. That is the common factor; time is the common factor of man. And we are pointing out time is an illusion . . .

DB: Psychological time.

K: Of course, that is understood.

DB: Are you saying that when we no longer approach this through time, then the hurt does not continue?

K: It does not continue, it ends—because you are not becoming anything.

DB: In becoming you are always continuing what you are.

K: That’s right. Continuing what you are, modified . . .

DB: If man feels something is out of order psychologically he then brings in the notion of time, and the thought of becoming, and that creates endless problems. [This last statement is from p. 23.]

Thus Krishnamurti also said, “I want to abolish time, psychologically. . . . If psychological time doesn’t exist, then there is no conflict, there is no ‘me’, no ‘I’, which is the origin of conflict.” (pp. 14-15)

Healing pain

In the following quotes from Dynamics of Time and Space, Tarthang Tulku uses the word time in a broader sense than just psychological or linear time, as the word is used in the above excerpt. With this provision, however, one can see remarkable similarities in content.

When we lose contact with time, we have cut the dynamic central to our lives. . . . Subjectively, there is the sense that time is flickering, like a film not properly adjusted on its reel . . . . There is strain that goes nowhere. . . . These structures are in place before consciousness fully forms. . . . they give rise to nervous agitation or uneasy pain . . . .

If the momentum of time’s forward conducting persists, the agitation and its underlying ‘flickering’ intensify. Suddenly there is an abrupt break, as if the reel of film . . . had snapped. Everything freezes—movement vanishes. . . . Pain has been transformed into the fixed and rigid structures of linear time. Consciousness emerges into a temporal order in which time is a hostile force . . . . Time in its pastness grinds us down . . . feeding us the lifeless recordings of the past and the seductive fascinations of the future.

Caught in this fabricated past and future, we are divided against ourselves. Our knowledge and energy are spread across the linear length of the temporal order. Thus, when we set a goal, we assign a part of our constructed identity to that goal. Now it is as though a part of us was ‘out there’ in the future along with our projection, pinned against the temporal horizon of the present moment.

Increasingly confined, we find it deeply disturbing just to inhabit the successive moments of our lives. . . . The specific ‘point’ of time that we occupy lacks all capacity to hold time’s dynamic. Life goes out of the present, drained away ‘across’ time.

We may respond by withdrawing into a dull numbness that has a quality almost like being shocked or stunned. . . . In our worn-out dullness, we are like a baby that has cried itself into exhausted sleep.

If we could awaken at this point to the feeling of pain, we would actually be close to the original dynamic of the time that we have lost. But this alternative is not available, for we are too closely identified with the pain. As ‘I’ merge with ‘having the pain’, I become the victim of what objectified time has presented. I possess the pain and am possessed by it; in this feedback I repossess it, tightening its hold. Awareness arises only in the wake of recognition, and so can lead only in the direction of further identification.  Accepting the reality of the pain assures its continuation. (pp. 295-7)

Through a direct focus on the painness of pain, this ready interpretation can be recast or re-projected. If there is no ‘I’ as subject—no one making efforts with regard to the pain—there will be no pain to be identified. As pain enters experience and is projected into awareness, it is received without labels and identifications and reactions. There is nothing to be conditioned and no one to be caught. Without the subjective framework, pain is stripped of its solidity.

. . . In this new arriving of what time presents, the logic of temporality defeats itself. The past is gone, the future not yet arrived, the present too short: ‘I’ am nowhere. (p. 305)


These excerpts show the importance of the full perception–rather than avoidance–of painful experiences, preventing the rigid construction of linear time.  Understanding how time is fabricated from the self separating from painful experience can be very helpful in relaxing and opening up pain.  The second excerpt gives clear instructions on how to dissolve pain:  Although “accepting the reality of the pain assures its continuation,” “Through a direct focus on the painness of pain, this ready interpretation can be recast or re-projected. If there is no ‘I’ as subject—no one making efforts with regard to the pain—there will be no pain to be identified. As pain enters experience and is projected into awareness, it is received without labels and identifications and reactions. . . . Without the subjective framework, pain is stripped of its solidity.

Healing Time and Pain exercise

The following exercise can be very helpful in relieving pain.  Rather than a visualization of some kind, it directly and openly explores different aspects of experience without any manipulation or effort to change anything. The initial instructions (first three paragraphs) should help relax and loosen up mental and physical tension, while the rest of the instructions address pain from several different perspectives, leading up to a direct shift in the way it’s normally perceived.  Of course you can practice any part of this exercise that seems especially helpful.  A narrated version of this exercise can be found at http://www.tskassociation.org/pain-management.html

[ ” . . . ” signifies a pause.]

You can first explore the physical and emotional tension in your body. Imagine yourself as a tiny point of awareness. As that tiny point of awareness, travel through your body exploring particularly the areas in which there is tension, pain, or a feeling of heaviness. . . . Move through the space of the body, and when you encounter some heaviness, pain, or density, travel through it and allow it to open up. . . . You can also allow the size of the visualized body to change. It might expand and become more spacious, allowing you to more freely travel through the densities and feelings. . . . Continue, and allow the space and awareness to become lighter and more open.

Now you can relax the mind. Observe how thoughts arise and then disappear. In the movement from one thought to another, a kind of force or energy accompanies specific thoughts, creating a momentum that pulls or draws thought forward. . . . Some thoughts seem very large and heavy, while others are smaller and lighter. Each thought may have a different weight or gravitational pull. Observe this gravity of thinking in operation. . . .

Where do the thoughts come from?. . . Where do the thoughts go?. . . What happens in the interval between one thought and the next? . . . Watch very sensitively for the moment when one thought fades and another arises. There may be a space available which you can contact and even expand. . . . In this space does the ordinary flow of time occur? . . .

Notice how the mind, the body, and pain and emotional feeling interact. Notice how they change from moment to moment. . . . You may also notice tendencies for the self to intervene and ignore or push away the intensity of feeling. . . . There may be a tendency for the self to remain outside the feelings and to simply observe what is happening from a distance. . . . a tendency for the self to comment on and think about the situation but not be totally involved in it. . . . Notice the complex interrelating among self, sensations, mind, thoughts, emotions, body, and other, which constitutes this situation. . . . Notice the tendency to control, or own or disown different aspects of the scenario, to draw them towards the self, or to push them away from the self.

When there is pain, we often maintain some kind of position or point of view that is separate from the place where the pain is located. See if you are aware of an observing position, a sense of self, or a sense of identity, that is being maintained apart from the pain. . . . Allow yourself to feel the firmness or rigidity of any such position. This position is usually distant from another place where the pain is located. There may be a tendency to ignore, control, or push away pain by keeping it at a distance. . . . Allow yourself to become aware of any other painful position. . . . Then become aware of the boundary or energy between the two positions. Notice how the two positions divide up the space. . . .

Let the contrasted positions of the observer and observed pain, and their associated thoughts and stories communicate with each other, while you simply listen to the stories and observe what’s happening in a neutral way. . . . At first the thoughts and positions may alternate in prominence or weight as you observe, but as you continue, they might both be present at the same time, carrying equal weight or significance. . . . Watch how the prominence of the positions changes over time.

In the same way that you did with your body, allow a tiny point of awareness to travel through the two spaces of observer and observed sensation, and open up the separation and the boundary between the spaces. . . . See whether the sense of distance between the two positions or points of view diminishes. . . . Notice whether the positions are any less definite from what they were originally. See whether the boundary between the two spaces has changed in any way. Is there any kind of space that includes the two positions now?

Continue the exploration, attending to pain in all its forms. . . . Cultivate the intention of healing the pain. . . . Let pain contact awareness directly, allowing its staccato throbbing to be fully present. . . . Let pain and awareness fully commingle, so that neither is at all apart from, or separate from the other. . . . If the pain is still ‘sharp’, or if time still occupies sharply defined ‘points’ or moments, bring more awareness to the breath, and gradually let the breathing slow down. . . . Eventually there may be no ordinary sense of moments, or time passing. . . . There may be no sense of identity that is distant from, or apart from, the sensation. . . . By relaxing into pain, you may find there is only sensation, without a sense of ‘I’ that is a target for, or victim of, the sensation. . . . Awareness and sensation can be in direct touch without confrontation, effort, or control. . . Without a doer or thinker, and without the labelling and distancing of what’s happening, there is only sensation, not pain. . . . There may be a way of relating directly and immediately to the sensation that is no longer sharply painful, an immediate way of relating that occurs ‘within’ or ‘beneath’ the ordinary flow of time. As long as there is no rejecting and identifying with sensation, there will be no getting stuck in it. Sensation can appear as movement and energy, yet not have the character of pain. . . . Contacting this energy of time directly, ‘beneath’ the ordinary flow of time, the entire situation can be opened up; the energy of pain can be turned toward release. Nothing is established or identified, nothing grasped or rejected or taken hold of in any way.

This exercise is an amalgamation and edit of a number of exercises from two books by Tarthang Tulku, Time, Space, and Knowledge, and Dynamics of Time and Space.


ABC news report on time pressure, 1999.

Dossey, Larry, M.D., (1982). Space, Time and Medicine. Boston & London: Shambhala.

Hallowell, Edward M. (2006). CrazyBusy. New York:  Ballantine Books.

Krishnamurti, Jiddhu, and David Bohm (1985).  The Ending of Time.  San Francisco:  Harper & Row.

Rechtschaffen, S. (1996). Time Shifting. New York: Doubleday.

Servan-Schreiber, Jean-Louis (1988). The Art of Time. Reading, Massachusetts:  Addison-Wesley.

Tulku, Tarthang (1994). Dynamics of Time and Space (DTS). Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing.

Tulku, Tarthang (1977). Time,  Space, and Knowledge  (TSK). Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing.

Walljasper, Jay.  (1997).   “The Speed Trap,” Utne Reader, Mar-Apr 1997


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