Our question for today – “Is time real?”

Most people who think about time think of it as something measured by a clock. What time is it?  Now it’s 12:08 pm and I have to be at my appointment at 1:00 pm, so I better hurry up.

It gets more interesting if we have to do business across time zones.  Let’s see, my 1:00 pm PST in Oakland is your 4:00 pm EST in Boston.  Now if we want to connect our colleague in Chicago, that is 3:00 pm CST.

Experience of Time

But what happens if we pay attention to time as we experience it.  An instant comes into existence with some experience in the present bounded by what has just happened in the immediate past and what will happen next in the immediate future.

I’m standing at the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon looking out at the profusion of color and down the sheer rock layers to the muddy Colorado River way below, feeling a little nervous at the height, wanting to hold onto something, with the wisp of the immediate past in which I was walking up just passing out of my awareness and the sense of the immediate future beginning to take shape as I step to the side to grasp a branch of the tree hanging on the edge of the canyon cliff.

Time and Space Are Relative

According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, space and time are relative.  There is no absolute time, only specific times that are inextricably connected to particular locations.  Any location in space is only a location in space with some particular time associated with it.  Any instant of time is only an instant of time with some particular location in space associated with it.

Time/Space Gestalts

From an experiential perspective, each time/space intersection is a psychological gestalt – a unity of various inner and outer experiences combined with inner and outer actions. We take in experiences. Have feelings about them. Make sense out of them. Choose what to do next. And then act, leading to the next experiences.  Life, then, as we live it, is a stream of these gestalts each one configuring and giving birth to the next one, on and on.

Using various consciousness practices it is possible to expand our gestalts to take in more and more experience, feel more deeply, make more profound sense of what’s happening, and put out more and more powerful actions.  However, all of these consciousness practices begin with paying attention to our awareness, which means paying attention to our experience of the passage of time.

The Reality of Time

Really paying attention to our experience of time raises some pretty interesting questions.  What happens to our past once we have passed through it. Does it just go out of existence?  And what brings about the future that we are just now entering.  Does it form itself out of nothing?  That doesn’t seem likely when we stop and think about it.

I put it this way in two entries in a book called Whistling that I wrote a few years ago:


All right folks, let’s be very clear. Time is real.
The past is real and exists right now.
The future is real and and exists right now.

The alternative is very strange to contemplate –
That the present would be continually
Created out of nothing and dissolve into nothing?
All this present from nothing to nothing?

Come on.

It makes much more sense to just relax and accept that time is real.
Let’s finally believe that Albert Einstein was correct
When he said that time and space are relative.

Let’s acknowledge that our past is a place we have already been to
And our future is a place we haven’t reached yet.


Every moment lives forever.
Every moment, each minute,
every instant lives forever.

Oh oh, oh no.
I want some back.
I’m not ready for this.
Not every moment.

You mean this moment?
Right now?
Right here?


Accepting That Time Is Real

If we accept that time is real and that every moment lives forever, it can’t help but help us to live each instant of our precious lives with more of the attention and care that they deserve.

If Time Is Real, Then So Is the Future