One of the most primary experiences of Earthly incarnation is that we are bound in time and space. But are we?
I recently reread the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, a novel that has intrigued me since I first discovered it long ago as a young student at the university.
Set in the time of the Buddha, it is the story of Siddhartha, a young Brahmin, and his search for enlightenment. After following many divergent paths, Siddhartha finally finds peace in his old age as a ferryman living by a river, listening to its voice.
In this reading, it was Siddhartha’s image of the river that stood out for me. He came to understand that the river was always now, its source, its passage through many landscapes, its return to the ocean, all one, all present at the same time. Then he realized that his life was like the river, always now from birth to death.
I have been thinking about this in relation to my own life. The concept bends my mind. As I age, memories long forgotten thrust forward unexpectedly from time to time, so real and clear they shake my sense of presence. Can it be that my long life is all now? The joys and griefs of my childhood, all the ways I’ve danced, all the spiritual paths I’ve followed, all the dance and yoga and Rolfing students I have taught, my marriages, my lovers, my children and grandchildren at all their ages and stages?
The not-yet-remembered unknown years that lie ahead? My death? All now? All present in this moment?
I can barely hold this realization for the length of a breath. But in that breath, I am free of time.
Then there is space.
Last week my husband and I spent the day in the high country. We lingered long among the peaks, and, even as we descended, kept looking back to the snow-dappled mountains, the huge sky. We drove down through the canyon, ears popping with the change in altitude, and came into town. It always feels sudden, jarring, after a day in the mountains to emerge from the canyon onto the city streets of Boulder.
But this last time, I had the strange experience that all the streets and buildings were very small, tiny, like doll houses, like the streets and buildings of the elaborate model train layout my brother created when we were children. That it was only by some weird Alice-in-Wonderland trick that I could fit into them at all. That strange perception stayed with me all the way home, driving through the impossibly narrow streets between the teeny tiny buildings. It was as if the vastness of the high country had filled me and was the only true dimension.
There is also the immensity of the starry sky.
If there is no time, if all the bliss and the anguish are now, how can there be suffering?
If the world we think is so important is actually rather insignificant in comparison with the dimensions of the cosmos, of even our own mountains, then perhaps we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.
It is only a glimpse, a crack in the dome of three-dimensional reality, a whiff of possibility, hope. Yet in that glimpse is freedom.