The idea of time travel says more about our mind than reality


I have written about this too, several times, but thought I would briefly revisit it.

The idea of time travel says more about our mind than it does about reality.

In our mind, we can easily visit the past and future. Present, past, and future all co-exist. So it’s an apparently small leap to assume we can do the same in reality.

While in reality, we only have what’s here and now and our ideas about the past and future are all created here and now. For time travel to be possible, the past and future would have to be stored somewhere, and that’s very likely not how it is.

So the idea of time travel says something about how our mind works. It reminds us that we can easily visit some version of the past, present, and future in our mind, that we cannot find the past and future anywhere else, and that we sometimes mistake what’s going on in our mind for reality outside of the mind.

It also reminds us that all we have is what’s here and now. As far as we know, the past and future are not magically stored anywhere outside of our mind.

Of course, the idea of time travel in fiction is something else. It can create fascinating and fun stories, and those too can be used to explore and say something about us here and now.

Waiting for something / Waiting for my life to start


As most people, I sometimes find myself waiting for something to happen in the future. Right now, I notice I am mentally waiting for the vaccine so my life can open up a bit.

There is nothing inherently wrong here. But if this waiting or expectation is taking away from what’s here now, it’s worth looking at it.

Noticing what’s here

What happens if I notice it’s all happening mentally? That this is an image about the future that I invest expectations into?

What happens if I notice that these images of the future are images? That I cannot find the future or what these images refer to outside of these images?

What happens if I notice that I cannot know what will happen? That I cannot know the extent my future now will resemble these images?

What happens if I notice that these images happen here now? That what’s here – in all my sense fields – is all I have? That all my memories and my images about the future happen here and now?

Exploring what’s fascinating about these images

Why do I invest energy into some of these images about the future? Why do I invest energy into this particular image of my post-vaccine life?

What I notice here and now is a discomfort in me that was here when I woke up. It’s a slight anxiety and physical discomfort. These images of my post-vaccine life give me a small distraction from this discomfort, and it brings me in touch with a bit of extra joy and excitement.

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. But it is good to notice what’s happening and that I am moving away from the discomfort.

How would it be to say YES to what’s here? The slight anxiety and discomfort? How is it to be here with what’s happening, as it is, as a friend or parent?

If I explore this further, I may find underlying assumptions, identities, and painful beliefs. For instance, that I am not good enough, I am unloved, I am unlovable, or something similar.

Some additional questions that can be helpful in exploring these dynamics: What do I hope will happen if what I am looking forward to happens? What do I fear will happen if it doesn’t happen? What’s my earliest memory of having similar images about the future? If this sensation could speak, what would it tell me?

Waiting for my life to start

If we wait for something to happen in the future and invest it with a lot of energy, hope, and attention, we can get a sense of waiting for our life to start.

“My life will start when I get the vaccine. My life will start sometime in the future, when things are different.”

If this happens, it’s especially useful to examine what’s going on.

Is it true that this, here now, isn’t my life? Is it true that my life will start in the future? Does my future life even exist? Can I find it outside of my images?

The downsides of investing too much into these images about the future

There are some downsides to investing too much energy into these images about the future, and relying on these images to feel better about myself and my life.

An obvious one is that it may not happen as I envisioned it. If I invest too much into them, I set myself up for disappointment.

If I invest too much into a particular set of images, I may get fixated on one possible future and overlook all the other options and possibilities. I can limit myself too much and miss out on other paths that may be as good or better, or at least the best possible considering the situation.

Also, I miss out on what’s here. I miss out on the juiciness, richness, and fullness of what’s here. I distract myself through these images and, in a sense, leave myself. I become a distracted friend or parent to myself.

The upside of these images about the future

We depend on our images of the past, future, and present to function in the world.

When I have these images of my post-vaccine life, I am trying out different possibilities in my mind. I make a plan to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and I can also explore some plans for my life after. This is very useful.

I mentally try out possibilities and find the ones that resonate the most with me and work towards them.

A pragmatic approach

At the same time, there is no need to invest these images with too much energy or constant attention. I explore possible futures. Make some plans. And can notice that these are images happening here and now, and that all I have is what’s here now.

This helps me come home to the fullness of what’s here now, even if not all of it is what my personality likes. And somehow, that’s more fulfilling. It’s more real.

I can have the best of both worlds. I can have these images about the past, future, and present, and use them to explore how I want to live my life. And I can notice they are happening here now along with what’s happening in all my other sense fields. I can come back to reality. I come back home.

There is nothing particularly “spiritual” about this. It’s a pragmatic approach.

Byron Katie: All your there and then is really here, now


All your there-and-then is really here, now

– Byron Katie

To me, my there-and-then is here and now. It all happens within my own mind.

It all happens from a mental overlay labeling, interpreting, and creating stories, including the story of there and here, and then and now. (That’s not to say here and there, and then and now, doesn’t exist. It’s just that to me, as I perceive it, it happens through this mental filter ordering and making sense of it.)

And all of it – all sensory experiences, all mental images and words, anything anywhere or anytime, all experiences – happen within and as what I am.

Helpful and not so helpful ways of living in the present


Living in the present can refer to a few different things.

It can mean noticing that all we have is what’s here now and that the idea of a past and future is imagined, as is the idea of a present, and anything we imagine in the past, future, and even present is imagined. It’s all happening within our thought field, within and as mental images and words. It’s all – all our experiences including of the three times and what happens within them – happens within and as what we are.

A less helpful way is to take the idea of living in the present to mean ignoring past and future, or at least making an effort to ignore it. The idea of past, future, present, and what happens in those three times, is essential for us to function and navigate in the world. (It just helps to notice that that’s what they are – ideas.) There is no need to try to ignore these or anything else.

Another less helpful way, which tends to come from an emotional issue and believing certain thoughts, is to take what’s happening here and now – and especially feelings and thoughts – and projecting them into the future, as if they mean something about the future or that it will always be this way, and also projecting them onto the past and present and ourselves as if they mean or can say something real about the past, present, or ourselves.

The first is the cure for the second and third.

Data: I want to live, however briefly, knowing that my life is finite


I want to live, however briefly, knowing that my life is finite. Mortality gives meaning to human life, Captain. Peace, love, friendship – these are precious because we know they cannot endure.

– Data to Picard in the final episode of season 1 of Star Trek:Picard

I always enjoy these glimmers of real wisdom in mainstream culture.

In a conventional sense, it’s helpful to take in that our life is finite. It can help us face – and bring presence into – any fears we have around it and find more peace with it. It can help us appreciate our life more. It can help us find genuine appreciation for what’s here and now, even if some of it may not be exactly as we wish. It can help us reprioritize and find what’s really important to us. And it can help us reorient and allow more time for what’s important to us.

A simple exercise here is to visualize our death as vividly as we can. Take it in. Ask ourselves how I would have liked to live differently. And then see how our live can be different now in this new context.

We can also explore our finite life in immediacy. Any ideas of past, future, and present are ideas. What’s here and now is all we have. And it’s always fresh and new. Not only is no moment alike any other moment. There is just this ONE moment. This always changing timeless presence.

My life is finite in that it’s just this timeless presence. And that timeless presence is infinitely rich. It includes everything I have ever experienced and everything I will ever experience. It also includes any images and thoughts I have about past, future, and present – and any images and thoughts about anything.

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What is the present?


I saw a couple of videos about what the present is. Is it what happens right this millisecond? Or these few seconds? Or even minutes?

When I look at my experience of time, I find an overlay of thoughts (images and words about what happens in time) on top of another overlay of thoughts (an image of a timeline), on top of what’s happening in the other sense fields.

For past and future, it’s a series of images and words on top of the timeline either stretching back in time or forward in time, with sensations lending it a sense of substance, solidity, and reality.

For the present, it’s images and words on top of the “present” part of the timeline (the middle), and if the present is what’s happening in my immediate surroundings, then these are on top of what’s happening in sight, sound, taste, smell, and sensations. And, again, sensations lend these thoughts about the present as sense of solidity, reality, and truth.

So it doesn’t really matter how “long” the present is. It’s created in thought, as is past and future. In a sense, it’s imagined. And at the same time, our ability to imagine the past, future, and present is vital for us functioning in the world. We need it to orient, learn from the past, imagine different futures, and relate to what’s happening here and now.

And it does help to recognize that this is what’s happening, as it’s happening. It helps us hold it all more lightly.

The Living Inquiries is what I have found most helpful for exploring this in detail. And when I have found it, in depth, one or more times, it’s easier to notice it as it happens, in daily life.

When people say “be present” or “stay in the present”, what do they mean? It may mean to stay with what’s happening here and now, and that’s often helpful. But really, it means to notice that my mind creates an idea of a timeline, and then places other thoughts on top of it to populate my past, future, and present. I notice how my mind creates its idea of time and what happens in time, and that it’s all happening in immediacy.

Even if I am absorbed into thoughts about past, future, or present, one little noticing is all that’s needed for me to see that it’s all happening in immediacy, here now. My attention can be absorbed into thoughts about past, future, and present, and I can notice that’s what’s happening. And that helps me hold it all with a lighter touch.

One thing I like about this approach is that it’s pragmatic. It’s relatively easy to notice, especially through some guided inquiry. And it fits the understanding of modern psychology (although it’s still in its infancy) and even common sense.

At the same time, my impression is that many people tend to see past, future, and (their ideas of the) present as real, solid, and true. There is a past, future, and present, as it seems to us, and it’s populated with, more or less, what we think it’s populated with. That’s an understandable assumption, and it’s one that can only survive as long as we don’t take a closer look.

I also find the idea of time travel interesting. As a story device or a thought experiment, it can be very entertaining and even illuminating. If we take it as anything more than that, it means we assume there is an actual, real and solid past and future as a “thing”, that it’s somehow stored somewhere, and that we can conceivably visit it. That’s an example of taking our mental timeline of past, future, and present, investing it with a sense of solidity (through associating it with sensations), and taking that sense of a solid and real timeline as actually true and real “out there” somewhere, as a place we can visit. Again, this impression can only survive for as long as we don’t take a closer look.

Unknown: I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened


I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

unknown origin, (mis)attributed to Mark Twain

It’s a good quote even if Mark Twain probably never said it.

For most of us, most of the terrible things we live through never actually happen. They happen in our minds, and we may relive it in our minds, but it never actually happened.

Whether we tell ourselves it happened in the past, that it will happen in the future, or it does happen in the present, it never actually happened.

Some terrible things may have happened in the past. We then relive it in our mind, perhaps with added painful stories and interpretations, and it doesn’t happen anywhere else than our mind.

Some terrible things may appear to be in future, and that future isn’t here yet. Again, we live it in our minds and it’s not actually happening.

It may or may not come to pass, more or less as we imagined it.

If it doesn’t, then it clearly didn’t actually happen.

If it does happen, as it is happening, our imaginations about it are still imaginations. Our stories are stories. It’s all mind-made. It doesn’t actually happen as we imagine it. (I realize this one may require more investigation but it’s worth it.)

As with any of these explorations, understanding it intellectually or intuiting it is a good start. And for it to become a lived experience, we need more investigation. In this case, inquiry such as The Work or the Living Inquiries can be very helpful. Especially if we investigate the stories that seem the most true, and keep going with yet another story that seems true. Until, perhaps, they don’t anymore.

Byron Katie: Life without a future


Life without a future is magical.

– Byron Katie

It doesn’t mean having no images or thoughts about the future, or believing there is no future.

It means seeing clearly, through curiosity and investigation, that any images I have about the future are just that, images.

They are images and words, with perhaps sensations associated with them. If unexamined, the sensations will lend a sense of reality and solidity to the images and words. They will seem real, as if they reflect a real future. If examined, I see images as images and words as words, and feel sensations as sensations. It’s clear they are all happening here and now. I cannot find a future outside of these, happening here, and being images, words and sensations.

Notice it’s new


Time does go by (or, more accurately, it feels as if time is going by) more quickly the older we get. In the first few years of our lives, anything we sense or do is brand new, and many of our experiences are unique, so they remain firmly in our memories. But as the years go by, we encounter fewer and fewer new experiences—both because we have already accomplished a lot and because we become slaves to our daily routines. For example, try to remember what happened to you every day last week. Chances are that nothing extraordinary happened, so you will be hard-pressed to recall the specific things you did on Monday, Tuesday, etc.

What can we do about this? Maybe we need some new app that will encourage us to try out new experiences, point out things we’ve never done, recommend dishes we’ve never tasted and suggest places we’ve never been. Such an app could make our lives more varied, prod us to try new things, slow down the passage of time and increase our happiness. Until such an app arrives, try to do at least one new thing every week.

– Dan Ariely in Why Time Feels Like it Passes Quicker as You Get Older

Another option is to notice that this experience is, in reality, new and never experienced before and will never be experienced again.

When we take our images and thoughts as true, there is a sense that things are the same. Our images and thoughts makes it look as if this experience is similar or even the same (!) as a previous or future experience. As we examine how our experience is created, and see words as words and images as images, this experience is revealed as what it is, new and fresh. And it’s not even “new and fresh”, it’s just what it is here and now.

How do I explore this? I can question thoughts such as “I have experienced this before” using The Work. I can look for the past, future and present, and any sense of boredom or that this is the same as a previous experience using the Unfindable Inquiry in the Living Inquiries. I can also look for any threats related to this using the Anxiety Inquiry.

Byron Katie: Time ends


Time ends when you no longer need to produce it.
– Byron Katie

Where do I find time? How does time appear to me?

When I look, I find an image of time, and on this image I place images of what has happened in the past, what may happen in the future, and even images of what’s happening in the present. Past, future, present – they are all images, all thoughts, their boundaries defined by images. I also see an image of time as a timeline, and images of events placed on this timeline. And it’s all happening within this timeless present, within and as awakeness. I cannot find time outside of these images.

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Living in the moment


For a healthy person, it’s impossible to live in the moment. It’s a nice thing to say in terms of seizing the day and enjoying life, but our inner lives and experiences are much richer than that.”
– from Why Living in the Moment Is Impossible: Decision-Making Memories Stored in Mysterious Brain Area Known to Be Involved With Vision.

This reflects an interesting and slightly amusing misconception. It seems that the researcher assumes that living in the moment refers to having no memories of the past or scenarios of the future, which is clearly not the case.

Living in the moment can simply mean noticing it’s all happening here now, in immediacy, including any memories of the past or scenarios of the future. It doesn’t mean excluding anything, just noticing. (At least in my experience.)

If I took living in the moment to mean avoiding memories or the past or scenarios about the future, it would be stressful, futile, and not very functional or practical.

If I take it as bringing attention out of thoughts – perhaps when I notice churning thoughts about the past or future – and to sensations, then it makes a little more sense. It’s a practical way of shifting out of churning thoughts, and noticing it’s all happening here and now. It can be a relief, and offer perspective.

And if I take it as an invitation to notice it’s all already happening in immediacy – including memories of the past, scenarios of the future, and images of the present – then it makes even more sense.

So if living in the moment means consistently avoiding or being free of memories and scenarios, it’s clearly impossible – and meaningless as a pursuit. If it means noticing it’s all happening in immediacy, it’s quite possible, and it can even be interesting, a relief, and bring a sense of coming home. And if it refers to what’s already happening, then it’s unavoidable. It’s all happening in immediacy, including any images we have of time, of the three times, and what happened, happens and may happen in time.

Being present


It’s popular in certain circles to talk about being present. What does it mean?

I don’t really know, but imagine two things:

One is in the meaning of intentionally being aware of what’s here and now. The simplest way of practicing this  may be through training a stable attention, for instance bringing attention to physical sensations, whether it’s the sensations at the nostrils of the in- and out-breath, the sensations within any other imagined boundary on or in the body, the sensations of movement or weight, and so on. This also makes it easier to intentionally bring attention to what’s here in everyday life – sensations, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and images and thoughts. I assume this is what’s sometimes referred to as mindfulness.

As any other practice, this is also inquiry. What happens when attention is brought to sensations? (It goes out of thoughts, which may be experienced as liberating.) Can I notice when attention is absorbed on the “inside” of thoughts, and bring it back to sensations? What thoughts did attention go to? (What do I find when I take these to inquiry?) Do I have thoughts about wandering attention? (It’s not good, I am not doing a good job.) What do I find when I take these to inquiry?

Another is to notice that whatever is here in the field of awareness, or whatever attention goes to, is already here and now. Sensations, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts are all here and now.

I sometimes ask myself a simple question: Is it true this – including images of past, future and present – is not already here and now? 

To explore this further, I sometimes explore the sense fields to see how the mental field creates images of time (as a continuum) and future, present and past (discrete times), and places other images (memories, scenarios) on these images. Sometimes, it’s taken as real, solid and really “out there” in the past, future or present. Other times, it’s all recognized as happening within the mental field in immediacy. Any sense of time then “collapses” into what’s here in immediacy. Whatever is here – my field of experience – is all happening within and as awareness, including images of time, and images overlaid on the other sense fields such as images of space, images of a me and I, images of an inner and outer world, and so on.

This helps me see – and feel – that time (as a continuum) and the three times (past, future, present) cannot be found outside of my images. Images placed on these images of time (memories, scenarios) lose a sense of really being “out there” in time, in past, future or present. And it’s all – images of time, of space, of a me and I – more easily noticed as happening within and as awareness.

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I saw this when it first came out and thought it was very good.

What sticks with me now – and perhaps the main reminder from this movie – is that we have memories and tend to take them as true, or at least mostly or close to true. While in reality, they are just memories. They are images appearing here now, triggering emotions, and with stories about them saying they reflect the past, and that’s it. I cannot know for certain they actually reflect the past. And the past itself, the idea of a past is an image, as is any ideas of what happened in that past.

There is a big difference in knowing this abstractly, as an interesting thought, and knowing it through and through – with body and mind – about specific instances and memories. I can inquiry into one memory at a time, and gradually there is a shift in how I relate to stories about the past. I see – through specific, concrete and genuine examples – how my images of the past are just that, images, alive here now.

It’s from the past


I did an inquiry on the thought it’s from the past yesterday.

This refers to the (apparent) childhood wounds that have bubbled up recently,
along with feelings and thoughts such as I am alone, nobody likes me, I am unlovable.

– 0 –

It’s from the past.

Is it true?


Can you know for certain it’s true?


What happens, how do you react, when you believe that thought?

I see it (the childhood wound) as in the past.

I cannot do anything about it – that it happened.

I blame my parents, life.

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Thoughts create my world


How do my thoughts create my world?

I find that my images and thoughts label and interpret my sense fields.

So any image or thought of what’s happening is from my own thoughts. Nothing else.

And these in turn create feelings and emotions.

Which in turn influence how I am in the world.

The world may then accommodate my labels and interpretations (self-fulfilling prophecy), and that is just another interpretation.

Alan Watts: Boat and wake


Adyashanti talks about this analogy in Ideal Spiritual Orientation.

Is the present created by the past, or is the past created in the present? Or are both true, each in their own way?

The boat and wake analogy invites us to explore this. A boat creates it’s wake, so is it similarly true that the present creates the past?

If so, in what way is it true? What do I find when I explore this through simple, real and specific examples?

And is it true in just a moderate way, or in a more profound sense?

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Why I am 13.7 billion years old


My birthday is coming up (again!) later this month, and I get curious about my age again.

I first notice that here and now, in immediacy, there is timelessness. Whatever happens in the sense fields happen within timelessness, and that includes any thoughts about past, future and present. Those are all labels. Interpretations. Ways to organize and make sense of what’s happening in the sense fields.

Among those stories of time, I find the most basic one is the story of time itself. A story saying there is a time line with past, future and present. This one helps place events where they seem to belong, and this helps me – as a human being in the world – to function and operate. It is not a flawless system (I edit and even make up memories of the past, and sometimes actually believe my own stories about time and what happened, happens, and will happen), but it generally works pretty well. It’s functional.

One of these stories of time says I was born so and so many years ago. It’s the story that’s reflected in my passport and birth certificate, and what most people in my culture use for themselves and when they think about how old I am.

Another of these stories is the deep time story. This universe was “born” about 13.7 billion years ago, and that’s how old I am. Again, in our culture, this doesn’t quite make sense. I am a human being, not the universe. But it actually makes a great deal of sense from another perspective. Everything I am, as this human being, is quite literally 13.7 billion years old. It is the product of the 13.7 billion year old evolution of this universe.

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Play with stories, and then find it here and now


When stories about past, future and present are recognized as imaginations, it gives a sense of freedom and fluidity.

For instance, I am free to go into stories about the three times, and also find what these stories are about here now.

I am free to go into stories about the past, future or present, and also recognize the stories and what they evoke as happening here now.

I can ask myself, what is the seed of these stories? What are the feelings evoked by these stories? What are the needs and desires behind these stories?

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Gathering up past, future, and present


Before falling asleep in the evening, and after waking up in the morning, I like to take some time to explore the sense fields. And as I often write about here, one of the things I explore is the three times. How does the past, future, and present appear in the sense fields?

I may begin with bringing attention to each sense field – sensations, sight, sound, smell, taste, and thoughts/images – one at a time, and notice what is there.

Then, I close my eyes if they are not already closed, and notice how I have an image of my body laying there in the bed, in a room, in a building, at the outskirts of a small town, next to a forest, in a country, on the Earth. All of that happens in my own world of images. It is the movie I play for myself about the world. I recognize it all as images.

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Although eating honey is a very good thing to do



“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.
~A.A. Milne

Even a simple Pooh quote is a question and invitation for investigation.

When anticipating eating honey, it is easy to see that the joy of sweet anticipation is all in the mind. If we like honey, that is.

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