Being human means living with the knowledge that we will one day die and that those we love will die too. As mortal beings we are the children of time and none of us are spared its reckoning. Time makes playthings of us all and we are powerless in its passage. A healer it may be but ultimately we do not escape the fatal wound inflicted upon us by time’s passing hours and minutes. There is no cure for time and this is the difficult truth that we must all live with. Religion and philosophy offer sustenance in the form of faith and knowledge. Science and medicine continually develop to improve our life expectancy but time flows relentlessly on…. we may transfigure time we cannot deny or destroy it.
Me, myself and I
Our mind shapes every experience we have, it is our greatest asset and our greatest tormentor. We spend most of our time literally lost in thought and when we are lost in thought we are by implication elsewhere and not in the present moment/reality (psychosis by another measure). It has long been understood in many contemplative traditions that being distracted by thought is the fundamental source of human suffering. It is not so much that our thoughts themselves are problematic but rather the way in which we identify with them. It is hard to truly recognise just how distracted we are and how much of the time, thoughts bond with feelings and feelings reinforce thoughts, both drag us from the present moment and hold us hostage to time…time which ticks on regardless, immune to our suffering.
“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”
Occasionally a crack opens up in time (or at least that might be a way of putting it) in which we have an experience akin to non time or timelessness. What characterises these moments is an experience of merger, probably best expressed through paradox and poetic imagery, as in Leonard Cohen’s evocative lyric. Love is one of these experiences. Love helps us look death in the face. Beyond pleasure and pain (and it is both) love is intensity. It cannot vanquish death but it makes it an integral part of life. Love cannot protect or preserve us from the risks inherent in living, no love ultimately escapes the ravages of time, age and ill health. Wherever there is rapture there will be rupture and like all the great creations of human kind, love is twofold, both joy and sorrow, an instant and an eternity.
In order to become less identified with the tyranny of our thoughts and the drama of our own lives we might well be advised to consider cultivating new disciplines of attention. How might we allow for a crack in our convictions and cognitions such that a light may shine through? A sure fire way of busting through the doors of perception would be to ingest a powerful dose of a psychedelic substance such as psilocybin. For better or worse in such a state we would have a different experience of time and space, and a sense of total immersion in the present moment. (It goes without saying that if such an experience were to be truly useful the set and setting would be of fundamental importance.) Such an experience might shine a powerful light on the mind’s potential, far from that which might be available during the course of normal waking consciousness. However, a Peak experience is exactly that, fleeting in its nature and as such not coincident with everyday waking life (which presumably must go on). Meditation offers another potential way of breaking the spell of identification with thought and the persistent cycle of rumination and reactivity that so many of us are caught in so much of the time. Cultivating awareness via one intentional discipline or another seems, on balance, a useful proposition. A psychotherapeutic dialogue can be of significant value in helping to ground and integrate new insights and awareness into our everyday lives.
Gerry Gilmartin is an accredited, registered and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor. She currently works with individuals (young people/adults) and couples in private practice. Gerry is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.