Human Relationship to Time

Human Relationship to Time

Through weaving together a wide variety of material, this paper outlines the intertwining of two states of temporal consciousness. On one hand, modern consciousness operates almost exclusively in linear time characterized by the following adjectives: unidirectional, structured, static, external, dominating, objective, logical, quantified, mathematical, and masculine. On the other hand, indigenous oral-based cultures seem to operate in a more ancient form of consciousness which I will refer to as “dreamtime” and characterize as: omnipresent, fluid, internal, co-creative, subjective, intuitive, paradoxical, qualitative, musical, and feminine. I use the term “dreamtime” to draw attention to the unique temporal experience of dreaming consciousness as well as to that of the Australian Aboriginal mythic tradition.

I will begin working with the mental realm using the mystery of time to stretch the limits of logic then, descend through history using linguistics, into the body and the land, and end up back at the original mystery, hopefully having nourished myself and my readers with a new appreciation of time’s rich complexity and our participation in it.


Consciousness and temporal extension both seem rooted in the simultaneous and contradictory actions of division and connection. Division and connection are actually two sides of the same coin. Anytime a unity is severed, the two new pieces establish a relationship to one another. The relationship is a connection created by division. Consciousness divides the past from the present and connects the two together as well. One could just as easily say that time divides consciousness from its past and ties it to it as well. The point is that this is the relationship between them: they divide and connect one another. The seat of agency is arbitrary.

The root words of the word consciousness (and conscience), “con,” meaning “with” or “together,” and “scire,” meaning “to know or to see,” come together to imply a relational knowing. The term “science” implies independent knowing. It shares the root word “scire,” “to know,” without sharing the notion of “withness.” (Edinger 1984, 36)

“Withness” implies “twoness,” which implies a division as well as a connection between the twoness. The action of consciousness is an action of dividing and connecting – the known from the unknown, and the knower from the known. Ego development, as thoroughly explored in many branches of psychology, describes the growth of the conscious self, as the child separates itself from its mother, from the land, from the animals, and from qualities which it “is not.” Anywhere we find duality we find the opportunity for greater consciousness, as well as the potential for greater separation. One potent example of this is the divide between men and women. The division of gender provides both the space for potential growth, as well as for misunderstanding.

“Scire” means “to know or to see.” “To see,” implies a visual knowing rather than an auditory knowing. The eye cuts the visual field of attention like consciousness cuts the mental field of attention. The eye focuses and makes divisions between what deserves attending to, and what does not. Vision follows an “either/or” logic, while hearing allows “both/and.” The ear operates more holistically, incorporating sounds from all directions, excluding nothing, and hearing multiple sounds simultaneously. With vision, boundaries are clear and distinct. The spatial distinctions of the auditory world blend together, as it is often difficult to tell where a sound is coming from. Seeing separates us from one another, recognizing only the outside, while sound allows us to manifest our interiority through voice. Sound, however, is not without qualities of division as well. Vision divides space, while sound divides time. The beats of a rhythm create a geometric complexity within time that distinguishes and connects one moment from and to the next.

Luce Irigaray associates the feminine with hearing and space and the masculine with sight and time. “In various traditions the feminine gender is characterized by the ear and the masculine by the eye.” (Irigaray 1993, 134) “The feminine is experienced as space, while the masculine is experienced as time.” (Irigaray 1993, 7) Interestingly, vision, typically associated with the masculine, divides space, typically associated with the feminine. And sound, typically associated with the feminine, divides time, typically associated with the masculine. Thus the male/female duality neatly intertwines the dualities of space-time, and vision/sound. Masculine vision divides feminine space and feminine sound divides masculine time.

This reciprocal pattern echoes the mutual divisiveness of consciousness and time and leads into the mutual informing of dreamtime and linear time. Dreamtime, as the space between time and timelessness, informs linear time with meaning by connecting events in ordinary time to archetypal events in dreamtime. In turn linear time informs dreamtime, by providing a structure from which to interpret those archetypal events within everyday reality. In linear time moments are divided and reassembled in a particular relationship according to efficient causality, whereas dreamtime functions with relationships as primary, and causality as secondary.

The biological dictate that our eyes face forward, necessarily implies “in front of” and “behind,” which, in turn, may imply linear time. Humans typically walk in a linear manner, toward what we want for our future and leaving the past behind us. Interestingly, predators’ eyes tend to face forward. The eyes of prey animals, on the other hand, tend to be located more peripherally, allowing for a broader field of vision and greater energetic attunement with the whole of ones’ surroundings.

The broader sense field, provided by hearing and peripheral eyes, lends itself to greater receptivity and perception, epitomized by moms with “eyes in the backs of their heads.” While I see a correspondence between the predator / prey relationship and the masculine / feminine dynamics of the modern world, this does not imply that this dynamic cannot play out in other ways. After all, sexual topography, the shape of the sexual organs, dictates that the woman engulfs the man. Each side of a duality holds the entire duality within itself and can play either side, as Jung describes with the anima and animus, and as represented by the small dots within the yin-yang symbol. In other words, masculine and feminine exist within every man and woman, just as aspects of predator and prey, and visual orientation and sound orientation coexist within either side of their particular divisions.

Modern time’s linearity, perhaps attributable to predatory forward facing eyes, aligns with the aggression of capitalism and the hierarchy of the patriarchal worldview. Whereas, sound, a wider field of vision, and a feminine way of being, emphasize holism is a way similar to that of dreamtime, which prioritizes intuitive and emotionally driven ways of knowing. It is a more diffuse way of knowing, but a more present way of being in the moment, undistracted by the impositions of hierarchical abstractions. For example, an involved mother doesn’t have the luxury or the burden of the state to impose general laws over a wide domain. She has the flexibility and the contextual knowledge to adjust her rulings for the good of the whole rather than just considering a limited number of variables the law does.

Following on the outline of these two different spatial ways of being, focused and holistic, might we extend these to two temporal ways of being as well? What allows human consciousness to extend in a temporal dimension, to make connections between that which it has divided? Division disassociates the now from the past and the future, and space from time. David Hume took the empiricist tendency toward division so far as to deny the objective reality of causality, or any such mental connection between discretely experienced events. In doing so, he negated the reality of time. (Tarnas 1991, 337-341)

Immanuel Kant recognized this critique, agreed that sensation alone cannot guarantee the certainty of knowledge. But he also recognized the certainty and efficacy of Newton’s laws which flaunted the causal connection that Hume denied was possible. Kant resolved this apparent contradiction by acknowledging the role of the mind in actively structuring human experience and perception, rather than assuming, as Hume had, that perception is passive. Thus, Kant recognized that space and time existed, but as a construct of the human mind, rather than as a reality external to human experience. (Tarnas 1991, 341-350) I suggest that this line of argument be taken one step further. While the reality of time and space may arise as a projection of the human mind, we cannot forget that humans are of this universe as well, not entirely separate from it. So that if the notion of time and space somehow arises in us, it suggests that the structure for that perspective of reality exists as at least one reality of the universe through humanity, but also as a potential into which humanity grew into. We may not be able to know that space-time is the ultimate framework for reality[1], but we can know that it is one framework for reality. In this paper I explore not only how we determine our own reality, but also how the universe helps us to determine that reality by determining, in part, who we are.

I call attention to division as a function of consciousness, a projection of consciousness, and as implicit in the reality from which consciousness emerges. Now I appeal to the unifying nature, equally present in consciousness and reality, to mend the rend in our universal fabric. Sound may divide time, but sound also sews time together. This manifests differently than visual consciousness which divides and connects space. We[2] can listen for what binds reality together. If sound offers connection between interior spaces, one might think that we could achieve togetherness by speaking, but speaking has no power without listening. Listening, however, has power with or without the presence of speaking.

Listening requires a more subtle engagement with reality than seeing does. It is also a primary sense for prey animals to attune themselves with the entirety of their surroundings. If consciousness, as another form of narrowing focus, represents the next octave of seeing, then intuition, as a sensitivity to undifferentiated energies, represents the next octave of listening. Seeing takes; listening receives. Human consciousness creates an abundance of otherness by seeing distinctions; now it needs to listen to its “other,” the intuitive unconscious, in order to exercise true “knowing with.”

Just because consciousness provides an exceptionally powerful means of interaction with external reality, does not grant it superiority to other modes of interaction. Evidence of these other types of wisdom arises from the exploration of the unconscious in depth psychology, individual intuitive experience in romantic and participatory ways of knowing, and from beyond the personal in transpersonal theories.

As we just explored, listening and the intuition of the unconscious can be more powerful than seeing and conscious awareness. Consciousness, as I use the term here, describes a process of mental focus. “Focus” necessarily implies limitation, narrowing, and sharpening of distinctions. If we recognize the limitations of consciousness, then we can begin to live in a more holistic picture of reality, which allows for the wisdom of different ways of knowing. The big picture must include consciousness, but the limitations of consciousness prevent its ability to provide the container for a universal reality larger than itself.

Co-Creating Time

Today when we think of time, we rarely think of the varieties of our subjective experience. More often we think of the clock and how there is never enough time. We often become slaves to the clock and to the demands of our outer experience and interactions. This creates a texture of skimming across the surface of life, driven from one event to the next by our master, the clock, rarely sinking into the depths of a moment. Clock domination grows out of hierarchy and patriarchy, which prioritize logic of non-contradiction over subjective experience, which often includes contradictions. One role of a Buddhist koan, for example, is to assist the practitioner in recognizing the limitations of logic and to transcend it.

Our tendency to prioritize the perspective of logic and quantization over our own qualitative experience holds many implications for the quality of our lives. The demand for an abstract “either/or” ordering of priorities across all areas of life often prevents the organic unfolding of complex “both/and” specificity within each unique context as it arises. In other words, generalized values do not always apply to every situation. For example, the importance of tending to a hurt child may take priority over one’s ability to make it to work on time. Sometimes we benefit from abiding by the structure provided by the clock, but we also need to balance that movement through time with stillness within it, to really be “present to the present” in order to stabilize and empower ourselves.

Rarely do we experience a sense of co-creating time in which we really hold a sense of agency within our experience. Throughout this paper I will show several ways to regain a sense of deep time that truly serves, rather than enslaves. Specifically, I look at the way we relate to time’s fluid and relative nature through music, a feminine lens, the wilderness, and the evolution of consciousness.

We externalize and colonize time through the dominion of quantization, mathematics, physics, and patriarchy. We found power in the ability to orchestrate our movements with the help of the clock. Physics builds on predicting movement in time. Physics allows us to “know” the future with a precision unavailable to intuition. Modern society regards these definitions of time as real, true, and consequential, and relegates our subjective experiences of time to the realm of illusion, triviality, and inconsequence, along with the feminine, the arts, and the wilds that facilitate a deeper experience of time.

People used to live according to the temporal divisions of nature’s cycles, which allowed much more leeway than modern mechanical clocks do. Temporal demands coordinated with the seasons – when to plant, when to harvest — and the sun — when to sleep, when to wake. In modern life, however, we “freed” ourselves from the demands of natural temporal rhythms and their limited domain, and subjected ourselves to the unyielding rule of the clock. Nature quantized time long before the clock did, but the large scale quantization left ample room for internal movement. People could divide the “in-between” time as one liked, thus enriching the quality of time within the quantified chunks.

The small scale quantization that came with the clock leaves much less room for subjective spontaneous orchestration of one’s time. With the clock, schedules are pre-planned down to the minute. One great irony of our culture of so-called “independence” is that it demands such conformity. Subjective experience of “opinion” holds little weight against objective fact. Facts are abstractions and thus can never capture the complexity and specificity of truth in the way available to a single subjective experienced knowing (this concept will be further explicated throughout the paper.)

Before I delve into ways of being that balance our lives through a fluid, rather than static, relationship to time, I will explore some of philosophy’s limitations in dealing with the “problem” of time.

Time: Paradox vs. Philosophy

We tend to think of time as a linear progression of moments, divided into past, present, and future relative to some particular reference point within that spectrum. The moments that make up the apparent linear progression of time may have thickness or be instantaneous depending on one’s philosophy or perspective.

The categorization of parts of time into past, present, or future changes depending upon the temporal point of reference. If one chooses the present as a reference point, the divisions of past, present, and future always change because the present always changes. This is the crux of McTaggart’s article entitled, “The Unreality of Time,” where he argues for the non-existence of time based on its internal contradictions. A continually changing temporal state (from future, to present, and then into the past) cannot correspond to one true reality in which a moment would have one temporal location.

This brings us to another major question within the study of time. Can time exist without change? It seems that time simply measures the experience of change. Can the logic of non-contradiction, which describes reality with static representation, grasp the essence of a reality in continual flux? Logic tells us that reality must be static or dynamic, it can not be both. According to logic, since the definitions of these two concepts, stasis and dynamism, contradict one another, they cannot both describe reality. Since logic itself dominates the determination of reality and it describes a static reality, dynamism falls to the wayside as illusory. Luckily, we do not know reality through logic alone. We also use intuition to determine what feels real and what does not. Logic and intuition are not entirely separable, as logic may dictate.

One way of expressing intuition is via metaphor. By referring to linear time, we invoke a spatial metaphor and then feel constrained by logic to fulfill every aspect of the metaphor. If time progresses linearly, where does the past exist? Where does the future come from? Here we encounter the limitations of language’s ability to describe time satisfactorily. The Tao Te Ching reminds us, “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” Metaphors are useful, but limited in their application, as are abstractions. Rigorous thinking may dismiss metaphor as too loose to actually describe reality. But even rigorous thinking relies on words which also have limits in their ability to accurately represent what they intend. This gap points to the much larger issue of the limits of consciousness and logic in representing reality.

Our experience and study of time brings us face to face with the issue of paradox. Logic of non-contradiction, from Aristotle on, paints a picture of reality in black and white, while most peoples’ experience and intuition occur in color. To which do we give priority in describing reality? The answer seems difficult from the standpoint of logic which demands that reality be this or that in the case of conflict. But when thinking holistically the greater reality can contain its opposite rather than deny it. The key distinction between logic and intuition distinguishes between “either/or” and “both/and” thinking. Logic denies the truth claim of anything outside its scope, while intuition allows truth to exist outside of itself, or rather, in a subtle form of itself. Logic is a form of intuition. In the case of logic vs. experience, I prioritize experience because logic arises out of experience. Logic may imagine that it can contain experience, but if it truly considers all the phenomenal evidence, it fails wherever it encounters paradox. And paradox, regardless of its irresolvability, is an undeniably significant aspect of experience.

Benjamin Cornelius brilliantly surveys a few key philosophical recognitions of the problem of paradox as confronted in the study of time:

C.D. Broad faces the issue squarely. When the logic of time leads to a contradiction, he says, so much the worse for our logic. Jacques Maritain confesses that time is “a place where we put our blackest contradictions out to pasture.” J.E. Boodin almost rebukes the universe for exhibiting time, when he says that we describe the universe and then “time creeps into our world of description and negates it.” Schopenhauer goes further and actually defines time as the “possibility of opposite states in one and the same thing.” Whitehead, in a somewhat less disparaging mood, remarks that “it is impossible to meditate on time and the creative passage of nature without an overwhelming emotion at the limitations of human intelligence.” (Cornelius 1981, 8)

I hope to focus on this limitation of human incomprehensibility in my exploration of our relationship to time. Because logic has proven itself inadequate for providing a comprehensive understanding of time, I will appeal to other ways of knowing, in addition to logic, to try to track this elusive phenomenon.

One way of knowing I utilize in my research is intuition. For example, I see time as a central mystery for understanding both consciousness and cosmology, thus I intuit that the mystery of time perhaps marks a point of leverage in understanding the relationship of consciousness to cosmology and vice versa. This intuition leads me to explore the logic of each of these fields so that my intuition can pick up on places where they might line up and inform one another. The limitations of consciousness intimately tie into consciousness’ relationship to cosmology, as we will see when discussing modern physics in the coming paragraphs. Since consciousness hinges largely on logic, the limitations of consciousness seem to point us to the limitations of logic. At the limits of logic we encounter paradox, and time is a prime example of paradox and therefore a valuable starting point for defining and exploring realms beyond the limits of logic.   Central to the study of time is the issue of paradox and how we deal with it within the framework of logic, which is based on the denial of paradox. Rewrite this paragraph

The main issues within the philosophy of time revolve around the duality of stasis and dynamism, sameness and difference. We experience time as dynamic change, but when we try to describe it by isolating it from change, or by mapping it out as a static dimension of space, we lose its essential fluidity. This is not only a central issue of time, but also a central issue of consciousness. In order to represent, symbolize, or comprehend anything we must leave something out. I explore this concept further in the section on abstraction. Good connections in this paragraph

Bergson: Intuition and Analysis

My understanding and use of intuition (experience) and analysis (logic) differs slightly from Henri Bergson’s use of these terms. I appeal to metaphor as a type of intuition, whereas Bergson might consider metaphor as symbolism, as a category of analysis. I find metaphor to be a helpful mediator between the symbolism of analytic thought and intuition because it identifies similarities while recognizing their limitations. Because of Bergson’s appreciation of the interpenetration of dualities on either end of a continuum, he might agree that the distinction between categorizing metaphor as intuition or logic is fairly arbitrary. While I believe analysis of a metaphor can assist in understanding the comparison it makes, I think metaphor itself arises in a more immediate way, different from a step-by-step analysis of what something is not. Symbolism easily mistakes the symbol for the reality because of the lack of explicit limitations. Metaphor also adds a novel perspective by relating the object of description to something other than itself, rather than merely referring to itself as a symbol does.

Furthermore, Bergson believes that one attains absolute reality only through intuitive insight. I believe that our knowledge limits itself in such a way that the absolute reality itself cannot be expressed or comprehended. But I also believe, in the line of Socrates, that we can recognize these limitations and that the recognition of the limits of our knowledge is the highest form of knowledge we can attain. I believe we continually experience absolute reality, but that the fullest expression of reality available to us lies in the expression of our limitations. Thus, reality lies in the experience of intuition, just as it lies in the experience of analysis, but neither can adequately express the reality of that experience. Analysis can help us express the limitations of our expressions, but our culture has made the mistake of thinking that analysis can express reality, rather than recognizing its deeper value for articulating the limitations of expression and delineating the gap between experience and expression. Good praargraph

Bergson recognizes a part of this distinction by seeing absolute reality in intuition and the abstraction of analysis as secondary. (Bergson 1946, 33-42) Even though abstraction takes a back seat to the all-encompassing intuitive experience, we must not negate the validity of abstraction as a form of intuition as well.

This divide, between intuition and analysis, also appears in the tradition of depth psychology which acknowledges the wisdom and power of both the unconscious and the conscious mind. Notably, the unconscious “speaks” in metaphor and embraces the paradox of “both/and.” In this tradition, analysis carries an entirely different connotation, perhaps offering a space for the synthesis of the intuition and logic rather than demanding reliance on one or the other. This pathway to deeper understanding reveals what is possible when the unconscious and intuitive are allowed a place in the conversation.

Whitehead: Abstraction and Concreteness

Alfred North Whitehead builds on Bergson through his discussion of abstraction and concreteness. Whitehead’s philosophy also developed largely in response to advances in physics, particularly in quantum mechanics, the interpretation of which required an entirely new way of thinking for western culture. Science, through quantum mechanics, produced results which contested the very assumptions on which its own process of discovery was based. Science assumes objectivity; quantum mechanics reveals that the role of the observer is not negligible. Science assumes lack of logical contradiction; quantum mechanics yields wave/particle duality and superposition. Traditional science assumes causal determinacy; quantum mechanics produces non-locality and Heisenberg uncertainty.

Thus in one fell swoop quantum mechanics both revealed the limitations of abstraction within science and proved that the products of abstractions are not limited by the assumptions of those abstractions, but only by the reality which contains them. Not only can you get to reality via abstraction, there is really no other place it could take you. All abstractions eventually lead to self-contradiction — the all pervasive paradox of enantiadromia[3]. Abstraction provides the journey to its own negation. Define terms in these sentences: In Whitehead’s terminology, abstraction is the process that gets an actual occasion from infinitely many prehensions to an objectified superject. Hence, we realize that abstraction is a form of our most concrete experience, the continual feeling of concrescence.

Thus, as Whitehead aimed at a system grounded in the most concrete[4] reality he could postulate, he simultaneously established the broadest set of abstraction he could imagine. Actual occasions are very high abstractions. Within each abstraction is embedded, via negative prehension, the entirety of the whole which contains it.

One value of abstraction is its simplicity of expression. Whitehead finds it necessary to make his abstraction set obscure and hard to follow. Thus, for me, while the impetus for a more inclusive abstraction was helpful, the set of abstractions and the process itself requires more deciphering than the value of the rewards justifies. Whitehead’s basic concepts are helpful, just hard to get at. (Whitehead 1929)

Abstraction and Complementarity

The whole point of our concept of space and time is an attempt to describe reality accurately and simply. But here arises a larger question. Is it possible for a description of reality to be both completely accurate and simple? Where is the limitation of the ability of consciousness to contain/comprehend/understand reality? I find a paradox embedded within these questions. Thus, their answer is the paradox of the questions themselves. Paradox is the underlying reality.

The nature of abstraction is such that, in a simplified representation of something, accuracy is lost to the degree that the representation is simplified. For example I can say, “There is a giant redwood tree outside my window.” Or I can simplify that representation by simply saying, “tree.” There is a huge difference in the amount of information, and thus the accuracy of the description, conveyed by the first and second expressions.  Accurate representation of reality and simple representation of reality are mutually exclusive. The more you have of one, the less of the other. Mathematics offers an efficient balance between accuracy and simplicity, but still can never be completely accurate, because its simplicity limits its comprehensibility. The more comprehensive a statement is the more accurate it is. Mathematics is a simplified representation of reality, abstracted from the complexity of specificity. It can never fully contain/ express/ represent the full complexity of reality beyond its domain. But it does accurately predict, within a certain realm of probability. Mathematics is uniquely and essentially useful, but it will never accurately portray all of human experience.

For the same reason, science encounters similar limitations. The repeatability of scientific experimentation relies on there being a finite number of variables that one can control. This works with simplified models, but when one seeks to represent the world in its entirety, simplified models can never capture the true richness of the infinite complexity of reality. Metaphysics, in its attempts to describe the whole of reality, often ends up in paradox as Richard Tarnas describes in Passion of the Western Mind:

<blockquote>Whenever the mind attempted to ascertain the existence of things beyond sensory experience – such as God, the immortality of the soul, or the infinity of the universe – it inevitably found itself entangled in contradiction or illusion. The history of metaphysics was thus a record of contention and confusion, entirely devoid of cumulative progress. The mind required empirical evidence before it could be capable of knowledge, but God, immortality, and other such metaphysical matters could never become phenomena; they were not empirical. Metaphysics, therefore, was beyond the powers of human reason. (Tarnas 1991, 341) 9</blockquote>

Interestingly, metaphysics forces its way into empirical phenomena through the contradictions of quantum mechanics. We find the mutual exclusivity of simplicity and accuracy most explicitly within science through Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and through wave particle duality. With the uncertainty principle, the more accurately we know the position of a particle, the less accurately we know its momentum and vice versa. With light, once we measure its wave aspect, we cannot measure its particle aspect, and vice versa.

These instances each reveal two characteristics of reality which are mutually exclusive when measured. Yet, because we can measure both, independently of one another, they are both equally essential to our description of reality. The general phenomenon/concept/pattern that these instances describe begins as a duality, in which aspects coexist, but cannot be experienced together in their totality. One can only experience one aspect of the duality at a time or a fraction of each aspect simultaneously. The experience of one aspect of the duality is dependent on the absence of the other.

I want to make a “because” statement here, but “because” is limited to linear temporal reality and this phenomenon has its roots beyond this realm. Nevertheless, I will attempt my statement: The two sides of this duality cannot be experienced simultaneously because they are not experienced simultaneously. Were they experienced simultaneously they would be something else altogether; or perhaps they would be nothing at all by canceling each other out. One possible speculation is that they are not experienced simultaneously because they cancel each other out in the passageway between existence and experience, similar to the way the fullness of experience is cancelled out in the process of expression. Something in the nature of experience forces the collapse into one alternative or another. This suggests that what must be studied more closely is not the external reality, but the function of the consciousness that facilitates experience.

Paradox is a noun that describes the static picture of this phenomenon. Paradox arises as the modern mind tries to define a both/and reality within either/or logic. The term “complementarity” describes and draws attention to the relational aspect of the phenomenon — to the simultaneous existence of mutual exclusives — rather than to the conflict of their simultaneity and mutual exclusivity. Enantiodromia is a Greek word used by Jung to refer to the process of this phenomenon as it unfolds in time. Enantiodromia is defined as the process by which a thing, when taken to its extreme, is revealed to be, or turns into, it’s opposite.

This is also part of the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, in that the measurement itself is a variable which contributes to the result of the measurement. Thus, the observation of reality plays a role in the creation of reality – or just in the experience of reality? The universe is participatory, not completely other. While this may present challenges for the task of objectifying the universe we can see it as an obstacle or as an expression of reality, an expression of consciousness, a fact, and a lesson.

The commonality in all of these instances of complementarity is the role of consciousness. It is experience that separates out the duality, and experience is rooted in consciousness. The role of consciousness is often overlooked or simply dismissed with hand waving. But I believe that we are at a point in the evolution of human knowledge where we can actually start to look seriously at what consciousness is and what its role in reality is. This particular investigation requires a bit of a deviation from the modern method of inquiry and a return to an older form. By this I mean we will not be able to advance much further through any individual discipline in seeking to describe the entirety of reality. The way forward, now, must include knowledge from all disciplines.

Through the study of experience, as exemplified by the field of phenomenology, we can broaden our understanding of our place in reality. The endeavors of the logical/analytic still offer a valid field of experience to draw from, but serve more effectively in conjunction with other epistemologies. Thus, historical phenomenology is only part of the picture; a truly interdisciplinary phenomenology offers insights that are now within our grasp. The task of incorporating consciousness into our body of knowledge is limited by deductive reasoning alone; it benefits from the incorporation of intuitive cross-disciplinary jumps.

Intuitive insight has always played a large role in advancing knowledge, often working through the unconscious, revealing answers in dreams and “aha!” moments. Part of what intuition does is to draw parallels between diverse aspects of knowledge.   We utilize this aspect of consciousness all the time. For instance, a child may learn that the word “green” is associated with a particular block s/he plays with. If s/he recognizes independently that the tree outside can also be associated with the word “green,” then this is an intuitive jump that has allowed him or her to appropriately transfer knowledge from one context to another.

This is also the role of metaphor. Often metaphors are often dismissed as illegitimate forms of knowledge because they cannot be proven scientifically and because they are imprecise. The two objects, or processes, being compared cannot line up exactly in all aspects. But we have seen that imprecision is a problem, or rather, a hint at reality, with abstractions as well. With abstraction, imprecision is a matter of degree. A metaphor can be taken “too far,” by the association of parallels that are too weak to be useful. It is this very imprecision or asymmetry that enlivens reality and our engagement with it.

Irigaray: Space, Time, and the Duality of Sex Difference

Asymmetrical Duality

The universe is based on asymmetry. We divide experience into systems of duality, like symmetry and asymmetry, to describe this reality we inhabit, but inevitably either side of the duality is so entirely different from the other that to imagine them as symmetrical would collapse the system. The balance of symmetry is static. Motion requires asymmetry. Both are necessary to each other, symmetry for foundation and sustenance, asymmetry for growth and increase. Duality simply identifies two sides of a given division. It does not necessarily imply symmetry or hierarchy. We have discussed the dualities of logic/analysis and intuition, and of abstraction and concreteness, in an attempt to address the limitations of mental concepts for representing reality. Now I turn the discussion to include the dualities/asymmetries of gender, space and time, and matter and energy.

Identifying a division and calling for change of one side of the division inevitably evokes defensiveness in people associated with the side being criticized. Such a call, however, is not a war waged for the destruction of the qualities associated with masculinity, but merely a call for the recognition of their limitations and of the value of balancing them with the alternative qualities of femininity. For example, limitation, which I consider a masculine impetus, is an essential aspect of our everyday reality but could serve a greater good if applied to limitation itself, rather than assuming its own boundlessness. Even limitations must recognize their limits.

Patriarchy and Sex Difference

Peggy Sanday, in her book, Female Power and Male Dominance, makes an interesting observation about the difference between the cultures of patriarchal and matriarchal or egalitarian mythologies. She notices that cultures that hunt big game tend toward dominant male deities, while cultures based on gathering or agriculture tend to emphasize female deities or male and female deities. She claims that a culture subsisting mainly on big game locates the source of life and sustenance, and thus divinity, with the animals they hunt, external to the community. This lifestyle also practices a larger division between the domestic and the hunting spheres and, thus, between the lives of women and children, and men. This is a culture based on “otherness” of man from beast, of man from God, of man from woman.

In an agricultural or gathering community, however, men, women, and children often work side-by-side to bring forth sustenance from the very ground on which they live. This is a culture of “withness” rather than “otherness.” Here divinity is more participatory, all-encompassing, and embedded in daily life, rather than dependent on one isolated event sought outside the home. Agricultural people live locally rather than nomadically, like hunters who follow herds. They live peacefully rather than through the violence of the hunt and the kill. It is not hard to imagine hunters turning their hunting skills into warrior skills when game is scarce. (Sanday 1981)

The nomadic life of a hunter is separate from the land. It is a drama that is played out on top of the land, not with the land. The land becomes an object rather than a subject. This is an example of the division that also occurs when the focus of the human mind narrows and creates boundaries. In a similar way, the written language divides humans from the land. The power of abstraction that facilitates communication within human culture diverts attention from participation in non-human communities. In a similar way, patriarchy creates an internal culture of men, which then fails to recognize the subjectivity of women, relegating them to the realm of objects, to be used and abused, as are the land and the animals.

In the first few pages of An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Luce Irigaray identifies an intriguingly potent relationship between the dynamics of space-time and sex, as well as the problems that arise from our current conceptions of each. She calls for the philosophical work of reframing space-time in order to address the problems of gender relations.

To begin with, she outlines the typical theological cosmology. God first creates space, then creates the world by separating the elements, then creates the denizens of these regions and their temporal rhythms. Noting Kant’s alignment of temporality with subjective interiority and space with externality, she makes the jump to sexual difference: “the feminine is experienced as space, while the masculine is experienced as time.” (Irigaray 1993, 7) The notion of time and subjective interiority as masculine offers an interesting lens through which to view the history of patriarchy.

The main thrust of patriarchy has been to “divide and conquer,” later manifested in the Scientific Revolution as “analyze and control.” In the Babylonian creation story, which is covered in greater depth in later pages, the sea monster / chaos / goddess Tiamat is divided in two. From these foundations the dividing of the waters in Genesis are a short hop, skip, and jump away. And from here the history of patriarchy unfolds, dividing in order to create.

Openness and Closure

In this view patriarchy relegates the female to the role of “the divided,” absent of interiority – a role consistent with sexual topography, but lacking deeper understanding of interior complexity, like forgetting the little dots in the yin-yang symbol. The oversight of the whole within each of the parts is a function of abstraction, a depletion of complexity which arises as a by-product of division.

It is this line of thought that I will elaborate on in the following pages. Just how is the duality of sex difference a microcosmic manifestation of the larger, cosmological dualities of space and time, matter and energy? How can our changing notions of any one of these dualities inform the others, including offering insight into our own ways of living and being in relationship?

The notions of division and duality, while not fully elaborated by Irigaray, are alluded to by her reference to the masculine as the gender of closure and limitation, which creates division, as opposed to the open, boundless fluidity of the feminine envelope. Irigaray draws attention to the qualitative difference of physical boundaries men and women draw around one another:

<block quote>He contains or envelops her with walls while enveloping himself and his things with her flesh. The nature of these envelopes is not the same: on the one hand invisibly alive, but with barely perceivable limits; on the other, visibly limiting or sheltering, but at the risk of being prison-like or murderous if the threshold is not left open. (Irigaray 1993, 11)</blockquote>

This quote easily translates into the language of science through wave/particle duality. The wave encompasses and directs particles within its field without restricting them. The particle itself can be measured and limited to a precise position, but in doing so its wave aspect ceases to be. The physical closure kills the freedom and connection of openness.

The divisions created by masculine closures are the source of the rigidity that plagues Western civilization. “My criticism of Western culture above all concerns the forgetting of her – as woman, as nature or Goddess.” (Irigaray, 2004, vii) She has been forgotten in the same way space has been forgotten, as the ever-present backdrop whose perceived lack of internal difference renders her to the unconscious. The focus of the modern mind has been on enclosing and dividing for the sake of analysis and control of that which is unknown, wild, and potentially dangerous. The historical political thrust of private property ownership and colonization is the same: taming the wild unknown through creating boundaries.

Irigaray notes the cumulative effect:

<blockquote>…their fatherland, family, home, discourse, imprison us in enclosed spaces where we     cannot keep on moving, living, as ourselves. Their properties are our exile. Their enclosures, the death of our love. Their words, the gag upon our lips. (Irigaray, 1985, 212)</blockquote>

“Their properties… their enclosures… their words” are similar to the closed-ness of particulate matter, in contrast to the wave form of energetic reality. The wave is informed (given its form and being) by the particles of which it is composed. In turn, the wave determines where and how the particles move among one another. Neither is primary; both are reciprocal and necessary for the other, as with male and female.

The wave/particle duality informs and is made viscerally potent in sexuate difference, as explicated by Irigaray. The wave aspect of an object extends well beyond its physical boundaries collecting information and informing other objects. Many women, as social, intuitive, communicating creatures, and especially as mothers, naturally have more fluid boundaries than a person less communally anchored. Thus, the observation that “you are woman…The other already affects you. It is inseparable from you,” (Irigaray 1985, 211) gains additional validity from the science of waves and carries power because of women’s subjective experience of inextricable relatedness. The limitations imposed by patriarchal culture on this interconnectedness permeate many aspects of life. For example, historically, the ideal of the nuclear family, based around the idea of a paternal bread winner, tends to isolate women from one another.

Irigaray continues to point out the way that the difference has been used to subjugate. “That is the crime which you didn’t commit: you disturb their love of property.” (Irigaray 1985, 211) The “particle,” the perspective of masculine logic, sees everything as particulate, but is blind to the fluidity of boundaries and to the wave, which continually facilitates communication between them. The wave knows no property boundaries. It is not a conserved/limited quantity, but an infinite quality — like love.

Cosmologically, matter is energy closed in on itself. This we know from Einstein’s famous E=mc^2, where “E” stands for energy, “m” is the mass, and “c” is the speed of light, revealing that mass and energy are different forms of the same thing. The difference between loose energy (light) and bound energy (matter) mirrors the difference between feminine (openness) and masculine (closure). Time is the flow of energy, matter denotes space. Light (pure energy) actually exists outside of time, and as energy slows and wraps itself into matter, time emerges. The interaction between the stasis of matter and the fluidity of energy yields the particle/wave paradox. It is in relationship that all of these dualities are most interesting, and then seem to be not only drawn to each other, but completely inextricable from one another.

The uncertainty that exists where openness prevails is the fuel for the liminal state of in-love-ness. Certainty allows an experience to be taken for granted, for the “death of our love.” Certainty closes down avenues of growth and prevents the possibility of transcendence. The forgetting of an appreciation for uncertainty is the seat of the Western world’s disenchantment. When our words are poetic, they provide an openness and fluidity of interpretation that brings them alive. When they are literal, they act as the closed gag upon our outflow of alive-ness.

The openness of an action contrasts with the closed-ness of words, “perfectly correct, closed up tight, wrapped around its meaning.” (Irigaray 1985, 208) While words can always be taken literally, even if meant poetically, an action can never mean anything but the complexity of its relational context. Thus Irigaray sets up the contrast between the openness of a kiss or the evocation of the caress, and the limitation of words:

<blockquote>Two lips kissing two lips: openness is ours again. Our ‘world.’ And the passage from inside to out, from the outside in, the passage between us, is limitless….Openness is never spent nor sated. (Irigaray 1985, 211)</blockquote>

Here we see the direct link in Irigaray’s thought between femininity, openness, infinity, and the transcendent experience facilitated by that openness. Thus, the necessity for the maintenance of openness through the “limitation of limitation” is made clear for anyone desiring such a transcendent experience of difference. That openness is experienced temporally through sinking into the eternity of the present moment. Our resistance to this experience has its roots in a long history.


To begin to imagine how our understanding of time has changed throughout history, we have only our intuition and the scanty evidence of (mostly male-penned) historical texts fate has deemed necessary to preserve and bring to our attention. Thus, we are informed by the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the Old and New Testaments, the general knowledge of the mythological climate from which they both arose, and our intimate knowledge of today’s culture as informed by these models of relating to the world. Around these touch-stones we can weave together a myth of our relationship to time.

One of the oldest stories that we have managed to piece together is The Epic of Gilgamesh. Dating back to around 2,600 BC, the story of Gilgamesh is a rambling tale of multiplicitous plots and adventures. Distinctively dreamlike in nature, while simultaneously grasping for control, it marks a boundary and an intermingling between the dreamtime of early humanity, ruled by the instinctual collective unconscious, and the emergent, rational, and self-reflective mind. The tale explores the birth of civilization, humanity’s break with the natural world, the shift from complacency to challenge and adventure, meanings of dreams, powers of sexuality and of relationship, confrontation with death, and the quest for immortality. Each of these themes can be read as a means to self-preservation via control and creativity.

Most explicit in relation to time, is Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality. This king had all he could desire — nothing is beyond his grasp, no creature greater. Only when time reasserts its divine right to impose mortality, seizing his beloved, Enkidu, from him, does he realize the limits of his control. He aspires to divinity and immortality, yet fails to meet the requirements. He cannot stay awake for 7 nights and the plant of immortality is stolen from him by a snake. He returns to his city a mortal. He dies, and “will not rise again.” (Sanders 1960)

One reading of the epic’s implications for people’s relationship to time during this period is that of a shift from a cyclical, to a linear, notion of time, as emphasized by Gilgamesh’s rejection of the goddess Ishtar. (Eliade 1954) This goddess was associated with the cycle of death and rebirth. In rejecting Ishtar, Gilgamesh rejected the cycle of death and rebirth preferring to seek an immortality of his own. But it seems to me that the implications of the tale are much less black and white, a little deeper, and much more subtle than is characterized by the cyclical/linear dichotomy. Instead, we seem to be witnessing the grappling of a fledgling rationality trying to direct and control time in order to make sense of an unpredictable, uncontrollable, seemingly fate controlled dreamlike existence.

The dreamlike quality of the epic is emphasized by intense emotionality, rambling fluidity, and symbolic language. The rambling fluidity of the epic starkly contrasts its contemporaries: cuneiform logistical record keeping, genealogical listing of Genesis, and even systematic story development, which becomes more prevalent as the logical mind comes to regulate the musings of the unconscious mind toward specific purposes. Yet, even as permeated by this dreamlike nature, there is the growing element of mental striving against the flow of time. In the same manner, the conscious control and time delineation we inflict on our daily lives prevents an unfiltered view of the less structured world of our dreams.

To enter the time when the Epic of Gilgamesh was written is to enter the love story between humanity and time at the midpoint, where the love is being lost. Perhaps, if we can see our epochal history recapitulated in our daily lives, the Epic of Gilgamesh would represent our desperate attempt to recall and record our fleeting dreams as morning awakens us. So perhaps a more accurate description, beyond the cyclical / linear dichotomy, would be that of awakening from atemporal dreamtime into the logic of cause and effect which textures our experience of linear time, a shift from going with the flow, to swimming against it. It is not a smooth process but one of partial fits, bursts and regressions. Even now, some of us are still trying to recall our collective dreams, our histories, in the recounting of tales of the past, and to interpret their meaning for our lives today. Our quest for control has been a crawl out of the ocean of dreamtime and onto the land of conquering consciousness.

We control by dividing. Creation myths teach us this from the very beginning. As we’ve already noted, Tiamat, of Babylon’s second millennium BC Enuma Elish, the watery sea monster of chaos, was slain and divided into heaven and earth, so that order could be established. Destruction of division moves control into chaos is epitomized in the Babylonian New Year celebration which reverses the roles of kings and peasants, of dead and living, and culminates in a unity of division as the heiros gamos, sacred marriage. Sexuality is the ultimate of instinctual unconscious dreamtime drives to dissolve all division into incomprehensible unity. In this process of uncontrollable merging and destruction of boundaries which creates constructive division and control in the form of new life, the creation story can be told again and the earth recreated anew. (Sandars 1971)

In the same way, Gilgamesh rejected the instinctual sexual power of dreamtime merging in preference for a self-made power of conscious division, domination, and control, and failed. So does Christianity tend to repress sexuality and regulate dreamtime in favor of individuation, division and conscious control, without yet seeing its limitation. We see the beginnings of this divisiveness in the Genesis story of the Christian tradition, which grew out of Babylon’s creation story. The voice from the silence, the light from the dark, the land from the waters, heaven from earth – all of these divisions bringing about order. The conquering of the sea monster is continually referred to throughout the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible and Old Testament). (Sandars 1971) Although we see evidence of the influence of Babylon in the Jewish tradition, the tradition of division manifests itself in the concerted effort made by the people of Israel to dissociate from that past.

The beginning of the Jewish tradition is based explicitly on the division and segregation of a people. We first see division from their Babylonian context in the reversal of value in stories making that which was good in the Babylonian context bad in the new story, the isolation of one God from many, and when Abraham leaves Ur. Story reversal is evident in the role of sexuality which leads Enkidu to the God-like wisdom of civilization in a positive light; whereas the God-knowledge achieved in Genesis results in guilt, pain, and suffering around sex and civilization, thus the turn from the absolving power of sexuality to the isolating power of consciousness. The snake, a symbol of life and continual renewal in Mesopotamian tradition, becomes deceptive and demonized in the Jewish and Christian tradition. In this way, the cycles of life, previously revered, became an obstacle, a “vicious circle.” It was acceptable for the snake of cyclical time to take immortality from Gilgamesh because that is the way of life, death and rebirth. This cyclicity is communicated via symbol. More intuitive than logical, a symbol is like a “just knowing” experience in a dream where the appearance of something is not always linked to what you know it to be intuitively. So we see once again the embeddedness of cyclical time within, and emerging from, dreamtime.

Not only was the nation of Israel severed from Babylon, but their identity was further solidified in their descent to Egypt, the Exodus and final firing in the Babylonian kiln, during the exile of 587 BC. During all of these migrations, the people were in flight, all the while creating their inner identity independent of those around them. In the Old Testament the law sought to control the people and their behaviors, thus establishing identity and distinction between those conforming to the law, and those that do not. By establishing interiority they were able to establish a coherent manner of being in the world which allowed them a certain type of communal access to divinity / dreamtime.

The unique characteristic of the Israelites which differentiates them from other collective identities of the age was that their identity was not intrinsically developed in relationship to a specific place of origin. They came to the land of Canaan as conquerors and claimed it as their own. Their lack of place led to immense energetic investment in the construction of identity “glue” to hold the tribe together internally because there was nothing external to do it naturally. They were not localized in the same relation to the land as collectives that had arisen in relationship to their place as sacred. This key difference is what prevented the demise of the Israelite identity as others were dissolving around them because of the Hellenistic Age. (Hayes 1946)

With the Hellenistic Age quickly making individuals of people via increased mobility, each person was thrust into a larger, foreign, novel world. When all that you know surrounds you for your entire life, there is little difference between you and it. To establish that distinction you must experience novelty. Once there is difference, there can be cause and effect. Once there is cause and effect, time is born. Prior to this experience of individuality and separation, the experience of time was more an experience of mutual arising than of step by step progression. There is no “because” in pure dreamtime, it merely is. The “because” arises as the conscious mind interacts with dreamtime. Individuals, now forced out of the dreamtime trance of archaic ontology, had to start thinking in terms of trans-symbolic systems, like the logic of cause and effect, because the old ways were no longer applicable in new contexts.

In losing the atemporal dreamtime experience people also lost a sense of connection and meaning. The depth of experience had been cut off from them by the quantization of time. Now time was an unstoppable force pushing them headlong towards death, and they were scared. To alleviate this fear there had to be some sort of relationship maintained with dreamtime. Often the atemporal experience was lost. But it could be developed between the boundaries created for the sake of control. So people developed access to this realm within themselves, dreams gained importance, and Israel dreamed, and interpreted, collectively, within the community.

As the friction between the external world of individuality and the Jewish community increased, their identity, and thus communal access to dreamtime, was jeopardized. Dreamtime fought for its existence, asserting its power via threats, in the form of apocalyptic literature. (Russell 1960) And they desperately tried to control it, by writing it down, by deciphering its symbols, by forcing it to be what is was not – logical. They used the mechanism of control they knew best – divide and conquer.

So, naturally, in order to conquer time one continues dividing and sub-dividing until it can be figured out and controlled. Luckily, time is a little too divine and a little to powerful for our puny grasp to pin down. And we only find that that which we seek to preserve slips right out from under us, by our very attempts to hold onto it.   Again and again we fall flat on our faces grasping for time. Even to this day we divide our days into so many careful pieces, so as to best utilize time’s entirety, that it passes and is lost while we orchestrate the past and the future.

The transition from Gilgamesh’s grasping for immortality, which led to failure, to Jesus’ acceptance of death and rising, is the profound lesson of paradox which time bestows and which we are still grappling with today. Ironically, while living in the tradition of Jesus’ story we completely miss the point of the reality and acceptance of destruction, as we see only the resurrection and seek to bring that under our control.   Desire for control leads us out of the paradoxical dreamtime into conscious life where our control is powerful, but limited to realms of meaninglessness. Meaning and divinity can only be touched in the realms of mysterious paradox, the acausal dreamtime.

The feeling of this meaningless half-life of conscious creation, without destruction, manifests itself in the repression of sexuality, the repression of the shadow, the desire for affirmation via proselytization and conversion of others, and the demonization and oppression of the divisively constructed “other.” This is Jesus’ legacy as constructed by Paul during the oral tradition. By playing upon people’s susceptibility to novelty it was easy for Paul to allay the fears of burgeoning individuality and impending death by constructing a community of believers around a trans-imperial symbolic system of positive afterlife.

The offering of structure, something to believe in and something to do (convert), freed people from the responsibility of facing reality and consciously creating their own structure for living. In this way they were able to maintain the happiness of embedded trancelike dreamtime which relies on tradition more than novelty at decision points. “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, I will be there.” In other words, there is a connection to meaning available in relationship that is lost in the isolation of logical, linear time. In this the followers of Paul took comfort.

Alternately, the Gnostic interpretation of Jesus’ teachings chose to emphasize the intensification of the individual conscious experience over the comforting camouflage of the communal, and discover dreamtime within themselves. “The kingdom of God is within you.” The meaning, the atemporality, the dreamtime can also be found within each individual. In a world that had lost its dreamtime, Jesus offered a way to live both consciously and spiritually, fully man and fully God. By maintaining this connection to the atemporal he was able to accept death. Because Jesus was able to hold both the flow and the eternality of time his message was able to reach outside of the Jewish context. Not limited by fear of lost dreamtime, as an individual, Jesus appealed to those seeking the connection on their own. They were able to find not only dreamtime access, but the safety of community, conformity, and camouflage to hold their individual realities.

Christianity, as with most of our inventions, consciousness included, is both a curse and a blessing.   The story of the role of time in Western religion is that of the novelty of mobility brought by the Hellenistic age, which jars us from our sleep of embeddedness and meaning, insisting on justification, division, and domination and our attempts to hold the infinite depths of eternity in a bounded moment. Only through accepting our consciousness and responsibility as a means to sink into the atemporality of meaningful dreamtime will we be able to achieve the healthy balance necessary for our persistence on this planet which we threaten. There’s nowhere to run. We cannot freeze, maintaining business as usual and clinging to the illusory stability of tradition. We must act, not just to alleviate the pressure of cognitive dissonance, but to dissolve its root by accepting the importance of unification, destruction, and chaos as the complement of consciousness’s creative division and control.


Beyond contrasting modern linear time consciousness to the dreamtime of ancient culture, a valuable contrast is also available in contemporary indigenous traditions that have maintained many aspects of their culture independent of modern infringements. Language, especially, is a powerful carrier of worldview.

Matthew Bronson’s 2002 lecture on Dan Moonhawk Alford’s work on the differences between the English and Algonquin languages shed light on the knowledge limitations inherent in our own language by illustrating how English differs from Indo-European and Native American languages. He pointed out that in English things must be expressed in order to exist. The existence of our own presence and subjective reality depends on our ability to express them. In America good things come to those who ask, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” While in Japan, good things come to those who remain silent and invisible, “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.”

The language traditions of the Native Americas and Japanese are considered high content languages. Expression is loaded. One only says what needs to be said for the good of the people. For people thinking this way, the prolific “I love you”s of this country are scary. Why would you have to say that? In a culture that values silence, it seems that saying something is only necessary if it is not evident. And if love is present, one shouldn’t have to say it to make it so. “Fake it till you make,” is one of my favorite expressions. Perhaps this says more about our culture than we care to admit. You talk the talk to walk the walk, whereas elsewhere the walking happens so that the talking doesn’t have to.

Another of the main points made by Moonhawk, via Bronson, which is especially pertinent to this area of discussion, is that while English is largely visual, in that it evokes images, Native languages are kinesthetic, in that they evoke bodily sensations of movement. To talk about riding a horse in English generates an image, whereas in Algonquin you feel yourself riding the horse in the words. The separation of body and mind are not as easily distinguished as they are for English speakers. One’s connection to their body is impossible to lose when it is ingrained in one’s language. The Algonquins also maintain the animacy of all things, whereas in English if a thing isn’t gendered, it’s rarely animate. We relate to animate and inanimate things so differently that it is a hard distinction to overcome. Overcoming the distinctions English imposes through language and logic is valuable for recognizing not only the wisdom of our bodies but of all of reality surrounding us.

English tends to limit things more than native languages, in that we’re overly noun happy. We like to label everything in sight to imagine we’ve got it pinned down and know what it is. Nouns make it easy to think we have the whole story. Algonquin, on the other hand, uses nouns only as circumstantially necessary and then discards them, rather that trying to apply a static abstraction to a flowing reality. Algonquin relies more heavily on verbs and adjectives as more opened ended descriptions of things, allowing there to be more to the reality that we can describe. This is evidenced in our differing conceptions of God and time. We like to think of God as a gendered person and of time as cut up into the nice neat packages of past, present, and future — tangible and definite. Yet it truly seems a perversion of the true nature of these huge metaphysically incomprehensible topics to slap a label on them and easily forget that they are more than that. Similarly, we ourselves hate to be labeled because of the limitations involved in stereotypes that accompany labels.

The Algonquin, however, have openness in their language, referring to God as a, “big mysterious(ing)” and to time as simply manifest and unmanifest. (Bronson 2002) This is similar to the Hopi language, as Abram points out, in which time and space are indistinguishable and divided only between the “manifested” and the “manifesting,” rather than the past, present, and future, or physical and mental. The Navajo see the future as a set of possibilities which are “becoming” rather than “being” as the fatalistic school of philosophy reasons.

The indisinguishablilty between space, time, and past and present is especially potent in the Australian Aboriginal tradition of Dreamtime or Alcheringa:

<blockquote>Dreamtime does not refer to the past in any literal sense (to a time that is finished and done with), but rather to the temporal and psychological latency of the enveloping landscape. Different paths through the present terrain resonate with different stories from the Dreamtime, and indeed every water hole, every forest, every cluster of boulders or dry creek bed has its own Dreaming, its own implicit life. (Abram 1996, 193)</blockquote>

The Aborigines are an oral culture. Abram argues that this inseparability of space and time vanishes with the development of the written word. With the written word the interior subjectivity of things external to ourselves is forgotten and linear time is born.


The relationship of the masculine consciousness to time yields the possession of time through memory, and the possession of memory through words, and specifically through writing. By recognizing the limitations of words and writing we can free them to fully manifest their inherent beauty through the openness of poetry rather than trying to use them to possess and package reality through the imprisonment of literalness.

We have wrapped memory up within our minds and taken it with us, extracting it from its external relationships. We have inhibited our memories by cutting out various channels of interaction. We have made up for this in various ways, including, most potently, writing. David Abram expresses this transition powerfully in The Spell of the Sensuous:

<blockquote>The letters of the alphabet, each referring to a particular sound or sound-gesture of the human mouth, begin to function as mirrors reflecting us back upon ourselves. They thus establish a new reflexivity between the human organism and its own signs, short circuiting the sensory reciprocity between that organism and the land (the ‘reflective intellect’ is precisely this new reflective loop, this new ‘reflection’ between ourselves and our written signs). (Abram 1996, 187-188)</blockquote>

Here we can see how the transition of human culture from land and song based memory to a written based memory has contributed to the evolution of consciousness. Abram also makes the interesting connection between Mircea Eliade’s point that the Hebrews were the first people to prioritize linear time over cyclical time and the fact that they were also the first truly alphabetic culture. The ability to record events seems to play a role in the emphasis and memory of unrepeated events, such as natural catastrophes and battles. For the Hebrews, God worked through these unique events, not the background stability of cyclic patterns as worshiped by pagans.

Abram goes on to recognize how the text replaces the homeland for the Jewish people and notes that perhaps their identification with the theme of exile may have to do with the fundamental exile from the land created by the written word:

<blockquote>The Jewish sense of exile was never merely a state of separation from a specific locale, from a particular ground; it was (and is) also a sense of separation from the very possibility of being entirely at home. This deeper sense of displacement, this sense of always being in exile, is inseparable, I suggest, from alphabetic literacy, this great and difficult magic of which the Hebrews were the first real caretakers. (Abram 1996, 196)</blockquote>

I suggest that this exile into the word from the land, and the exile of linear time from the present moment, is intricately bound up in patriarchy’s exile of the divine feminine. Not only were the Hebrews the first to emphasize linear time, and utilize an alphabetic language, but they are also the main root of religious patriarchy through the championing of a single male God.

Land, Memory, and Music

Writing enabled a vast centralization of power and corresponding growth of infrastructure for trade and travel during the Hellenistic age, the Roman Empire, and through the birth of Christianity, all channeling the human mind to greater abstraction than was previously required to function in the fluidity of one’s localized community.

Within a localized community, characterized by activities which do not extend much beyond, and whose needs are met within, a certain radius of, say, fifty miles, life maintains a simplicity and depth rarely possible for individuals living in an extended world. The depth is a result of an embeddedness achieved through repetition over years and generations of relationship to a place. Repetition is one of the key variables that influences our experience of subjective time. Thus our modern emphasis on novelty, over repetition, evokes a different perception of time. Modern knowledge is stored largely in the written word, thus requiring little or no memorization. Much of the cultural depth of localized communities is stored in their music which can only be preserved through repetition. Music is the landscape of time, providing the vehicle for the community’s continued learning, spirituality, working, celebrating, grieving, and growing.

We can look to modern day oral cultures to get an idea of what it may have been like to live in a participatory consciousness. We must remember, as we compare ourselves with our neighbors across oceans as well as those, literally, under our feet, that even as we learn from them and honor them, we are continually destroying them. Their collective remembering is held in the land, which we continue to brutally disfigure beyond recognition. What we did to their land, we did to their languages, to their children, and to their continuity of self. There is great sadness here, and to receive these lessons without tears would be a disservice to ourselves and all our relations. As Eve Ensler said in her dynamic 2004 Praises for the World performance, it would be better if authorities were to issue their orders weeping rather than with the customary stoicism, because we are, “emooootional creatures.” She reminds us of that which we often forget.

The Australian Aborigines maintain a culture of embeddedness. Their culture, songs, stories, land, and language are all inseparable, inextricably linked to one another, so that to utilize one, necessarily implicates each of the others. These links serve to create the meta-channels that facilitate a vast store of memory. As David Abram puts it, “While the sung stories provide an auditory mnemonic for orienting within the land, the land itself provides a visual mnemonic for recalling the Dreamtime stories.”(Abram 1996, 177) He also draws on Helen Payne’s anthropological work, showing that every significant site along their songlines (songs which map the land through stories) offers water, shelter, and/or a vantage point, and that they cover every source of these elements crucial to desert survival. Memory is essential to survival. The memory stored in the land and in our bodies is unlocked by music.

Not only is the memory essential for the survival of the people but it is also essential for the survival of the land. Through the divisions of consciousness we have forgotten our fundamental relationship to the land. We can see today the effects of a mentality which treats the land as a gravel pit to extract resources from and dump our waste into. Without a mindful and heart-full relationship to the land we do not experience love for the land and cannot care for it the way love would demand. In Alice Walker’s Book, Now is the Time to Open your Heart, we see how integral both songs and plants are to shamans in facilitating the healing of people’s spirits. Walker speaks through her character, Alma, saying, “The land…wasn’t meant to be bought and sold… It was meant to loved and sung to.” Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, expresses the painful alternative, “an unsung land is a dead land.”

Melody and Rhythm

Luce Irigaray champions the female subjectivity that is often disregarded by masculine mentalities. Her work at the intersection of gender dynamics and music is of particular interest in this context for the role both gender and music play in our relationship to time. Irigaray mentions that:

<blockquote>In ancient religious rituals, which worship feminine deities more, music prevails over words – it is rhythm and melody which direct the energy to the point of creating an individual and a collective exaltation leading to ecstasy. (Irigaray 2004, 134)</blockquote>

Here she emphasizes difference between music and mere words, aligning music more closely with the reality of action and fluidity as opposed to the stasis of words. We can see how the religious experience has changed under patriarchy to emphasize words over music. The extraction of the words from the music seems similar to the extraction of the words from the land and of value from the realm of women and domesticity.

Joachim-Ernst Berendt’s book, The World is Sound, draws an interesting parallel between gender and musical structure:

<blockquote>Why do women have higher voices than men? Why has conventional science ignored the fact that is so obvious: Everywhere in nature and in music the higher voices have a leading function? Instruments with a higher pitch (violins, flutes, trumpets) carry the melody, while those with a lower pitch (in the “male” range: cellos, basses, trombones, tubas) usually have accompanying functions. They are perceived as melody instruments only when the higher ones are kept silent or kept transparent and reserved. (Berendt 1983, 8)</blockquote>

Irigaray also speaks about the roles of rhythm and melody, without specifically identifying gendered parallels:

<blockquote>Rhythm supports the emergence of melody which finally succeeds in freeing itself from the structure which allows it to arise. For a melodic theme, to follow a repetitive, indeed even insistent, rhythm, amounts to removing from a musical universe its most subtle property; its ability to modulate energy without arresting it in a precise structure. But to harness breath through a repetitive rhythm corresponds to its being bound by the laws of discourse rather than by the qualities of music which permit it to remain fluid, moving. (Irigaray 2004, 134-135)</blockquote>

One can’t help but appreciate the subtlety of her commentary on the way these two different aspects of music, the fluid and the structural, can either mutually enhance one another or how the structure can easily stamp out the fluidity if it is not careful.   This is, in fact, a beautiful condemnation of patriarchy’s potential for rigidity and divisiveness to the point of violence, as well as an important teaching point for our relationship to time. An overemphasis on the grand march of mathematical time can easily overshadow the rich depths of musical time.

Individualism and Relationship

Whether you attach it to patriarchy or not, logical, mathematical divisiveness characterizes our modern era. The autonomous self, severed from context, is the marker of the evolution of human consciousness in the modern age. Modern society encourages people to become self-sufficient, self-contained, self-reliant, independent, and free. Dependencies are looked upon as a weakness of character, an inhibition of one’s personal gain and status. As Charlene Spretnak appropriately expresses:

<blockquote>The heroic figures of modern literature boldly escape their place of origin and head for the new promised land: the city, with its sprawling urban potential rising from flattened hills and filled in stream beds, offering anonymity and heady autonomy in exchange for nearly everything else. (Spretnak, 1997)</blockquote>

Increased mobility and division of labor set a perfect stage for the rise of big business (the ultimate middle man), people’s migration to the cities, and estrangement from the land. The drive for production eventuates in loss of community.

As it is impossible to rid ourselves of dependencies in a world of increasingly complex interconnections, moderns must find some way to avoid acknowledging them in order to succeed in a world that demands independence.

By extracting the self from landscape one is also extracted from deep relationship that comes from spending a great deal of time with an other, whether it be a person, place, animal, plant, culture, or object. Conveniently, modern society values things over relationships, which facilitates the extraction of self from contextual relationship. One might argue that modern society does not prioritize things over relationships. But in considering what society is built around, production and consumption shine as modern society’s main priorities. Once relationships fall by the wayside in the shadow of piles of stuff, we are severed from our complex interconnectedness, left with many things, and few relationships. The problem here is that relationships are where meaning is held. Without relationships we have no meaning, no purpose, and no ethics. Carl Anthony in a conversation with Theodore Roszak notes one example at the heart of racism as well as eco-psychology, thus intertwining the two issues: “… separation within the human community (racism) is deeply reflected in the separation between people and nature.” (Roszak et al. 1995) The same divisions which advance our knowledge through analysis also create rifts of great ignorance.


Human and personal history, both involve a story of increasing complexification. Our lives gradually grow from a finite number of variables and relationships, a context of limited mobility, to an exponential multiplication of variables as mobility expands. As a child the world is relatively simple, home and school. When a driver’s license is achieved a whole new world opens up, and again when one leaves for college, and again when one leaves college. Gradually, one ceases to be able to keep track of all the variables and their complex interrelated intricacies.

People, then, come to rely heavily on reductionistic abstraction and instant gratification. Immediacy takes priority over that which is distant in location or time. Hunger dictates that you buy a Big Mac, not that you pause to consider the environmental or health consequences of such a decision. Objects are immediate and give us something to hold onto in a fast-changing world. Rarely does one have the time to deal with the complexity of processes or relationships. The contrast of prostitution to marriage serves as a striking example of the contrast between objectification abstracted from its context of relationships to meet an immediate desire, and a contextually embedded relationship allowed to change as necessary. Somehow, we have managed to allow money to sever us from all responsibility, as if it could be a fair trade for anything. Wal-Mart offers anything you might need for cheap, never mind the sweat shop labor required to make it happen. The main responsibility of any relationship is awareness of your impact, not just cognitively, but emotionally felt. If all your relationships are touch-and-go, it is hard to understand your impact. When there is no time, there can be no ethics. Ethics requires pause for contemplation.

Relationships and meaning are patterns, hidden or invisible to one rushing across the surface of life, hopping from one thing to the next, never seeing more than one thing at a time. But if one allows for the time to sink down into the depths of a moment, where the complexity can wash over you, the world is suddenly colored, vibrant, alive, and full of relationship and meaning. The world is more like you than you thought!

Relationships take time to develop. In a fast changing world, where time is carefully parceled out to meet certain needs, often the time to develop relationships is not allotted for. In potent contrast to modern life is the texture of a trek into the wilderness, which physically removes you from the multiplicity of things which demand your attention. Time no longer has to be parceled out judiciously. As John Muir put it, “Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.” (Muir 1911) One can release and sink in deeply. This is the duration experience that is missing from today’s hyper-technocracy. This is the richness of living creatively in musical time rather than mathematical time of quantification.

When you are exploring new territory, you are in survival mode. What do I need now, and how can I get it now? It is practically impossible to realistically think about the future when you have no past relationship to the place to base future notions on. In the modern world, like the wild world, we are always exploring new territory, but the key difference is quantity. The modern world has an infinite list of demands. In wilderness you require only food, water, and shelter. Once those are set, you can truly relax, without some other “to do” hanging over your head. Fear is simpler in the wilderness too. You have bears, injury, and getting lost, and that is pretty much the whole list, all nice and tangible. And because the feedback loops are smaller, one can quickly learn to strike a balance of reasonable caution which does not interfere with your enjoyment of the trip. When you are situated in a consistent environment, even when that environment is harsh, your situatedness offers hope based on real experience and thus displaces fear.

Our physical and mental space transitioned from a fixed world to a changing world and we have yet to catch up spiritually or emotionally. One has only to observe the quickly rising tide of fundamentalism in Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam to see that the faster humanity changes the world the more we try to establish a rigid structure to cling to in the midst of the chaos.

When we remove ourselves from that situatedness, bodily, we must establish a new relationship to hope and fear, now disembedded and detached from continuous experience of history and place. When detached from consistency it is much easier to fall into a disconnected worldview. Normally one’s embeddedness would be the judge of the worldview. But if your worldview doesn’t work somewhere, you can just leave, or look only at the facts that support your view. Thus, the disconnect between one’s cognitive process and one’s lived experience proliferates.


We have managed to domesticate, control, and structure space to serve our purposes of stability and security, at least on a small level. Even though you may spend you year divided between three different time zones, you can count on Wal-Mart to provide for all you needs wherever you may be. You certainly do not need to know where or when to look for berries or medicine in the local woods. Consumer homogeneity has replaced our localized, deep relationship with place.

Time, however, as measurable as it is, we have not been able to exercise power over in the same way. It continually evades our grasp and our desires for how it should behave. It remains wild. “A wild is a great beauty that seethes with intelligence that is ever surprising and refreshing for the human mind to behold.” (Swimme and Berry 1994) It laughs at our futile attempts to stop it, and dawdles when we would have it fly. In our resentment of time’s freedom, we devalue its untamed aspects, including processes, in favor of the more manipulatable versions, things — feeling, perhaps, that the more things we own, the more time we have managed to conquer into nice little packages.

As moderns we fear losing all our things. We hope for more things and greater productivity. The modern relationship to hope, fear, and time is largely based on things, which seem nice and solid now and seem to require little time to build up. Yet this is the great misconception of our time. Things do take time to build up, as much time as relationships. Nouns are just bound verbs, like a curled up dimension of space-time. If we, verb-like in our true nature, spend all of our time with nouns, we will surely feel lost and disconnected. We spend our time to make money, to have things, when we could be spending our time to build relationships, to have meaning.

We are a society overextended. The reach of our actions’ ramifications greatly surpasses that which we are willing to engage, willing to allow into our being. Our need for autonomy is so great we delude ourselves into thinking, “better bargain, better for me” without a thought as to the fairness of the exchange for the labor invested in the product. For the sake of “efficiency” we have divided labor and with this division increased the degrees of separation between ourselves and those whose services we depend on. In this overextension the buck gets passed, literally, as money accumulates in the hands of middle men, and figuratively, as responsibility is continually passed off on the next person in the chain. Eventually there is no moral recompense for any action beyond how cheap you can get it.

There is so much we need to come to terms with in this life in order to be in real relationship to it rather than wrapped up in our own little imaginarily disconnected worlds. We try to control both time and space by filling them. We are afraid of ego-emptiness, of death, and of responsibility. We have tried to remove and ignore them, and we have suffered the consequences. If you act as if you have no responsibility, then no one relies on you and you have no meaning. Without death, life loses its momentum. Without emptiness, fullness is stagnant. The asymmetry of duality is essential for life.

In the wilds death is constantly underfoot. And when one cannot avoid it, one cannot help but notice its relationship role and meaning in the greater scheme of things. Massive fallen trees are hiding hovels for little creatures, nurseries for fascinating fungi and new trees. In this context, one’s own death takes on a much gentler meaning, of energy recycling itself into new forms. We continue to participate in new ways beyond death through the immortality of the conservation of energy. In coming to terms with death, we can quit grasping for life and actually live!

Being vs. Grasping

As a continuation of our extraction of memory and knowledge, from the land and from music, our concept of time has also been extracted from its native habitat of context. The argument has been made that a lion in captivity is not truly a lion, because a true lion is part of the ecosystem in which it has evolved in full participation. The same can be said for time. We may try to study it in isolation from space or as another dimension of space, but then it ceases to be the same phenomenon we initially hoped to comprehend. As Lao Tzu tells us, “The Tao that can be named is not the real Tao.” (Wu 1989) Once something is limited by measurement or conceptualization it loses every quality of itself that was infinite. This is the gap between consciousness and reality. We have seen it in quantum mechanics. We see it when we try to observe our thoughts:

<blockquote>If a person tries to observe what he is thinking about at the very moment that he is reflecting on a particular subject, it is generally agreed that he introduces unpredictable and uncontrollable changes in the way his thought proceeds thereafter. (Bohm 1951)</blockquote>

We see it in our spirituality:

<blockquote>as long as we try to grasp God, we shall never realize him. Life itself, as we experience it moment by moment, proceeding as it does directly from God, is the perfect analogy of this truth, for to grasp life is to kill it, or rather, to miss it, and more than ever is this true of God – the Life of life. Pluck a flower and it dies. Take up water from the stream, and it flows no longer. Pull down the blind, but the sunbeam is not trapped in the room. Snatch the wind in a bag, and you only have stagnant air. This is the root of every trouble: man loves life, but the moment he tries to hold onto it he misses it. (Watts 1947)  </blockquote>

We try to grasp time with our minds, like we try to grasp thoughts, like we try to grasp life, only to find that capture denies the essential freedom of both ourselves and of the object of our desire.

Grasping is the root of the emptiness of the modern world. Being allows the depth and fullness of each moment to flourish. To grasp something is to imply you do not already have it. To be something is to accept the power and responsibility inherent in your being. Capitalism is based on competitive grasping, and is seeking to validate itself by enveloping the world in its cycle of need and greed.

I do not intend to preach an ascetic denial of desire, because there is fun in the game of grasping itself. But then appreciate the grasping for the sake of grasping and do not make yourself miserable because you cannot capture reality. It is through the recognition of the limits of grasping, and our self-denial, that we may actually be freed from capture by the inadequacy of out own concepts.   The goal is not the goal; it is a means to the process. Once again we find ourselves face to face with cyclicity and paradox; the goal is not the goal; the goal becomes the process and the process becomes the goal. We do not speak and write in order to define everything explicitly in words and writing; we speak and write to facilitate the process of communication.

It is this point of reversal that I want to emphasize in our relationship with time.

We are right back at the paradox of time which makes it so illusive to consciousness’s grasp. The paradox of time is also the paradox of consciousness, of experience and expression, masculine and feminine, openness and closure, poetry and literalness, predator and prey, intuition and logic, music and mathematics, humanity and wilderness, matter and energy, time and space, dreamtime and linear time. The asymmetry of each of these paradoxical dualities enchants and enlivens the richness of our experience and allows us to participate in this one grand eternal moment of the universe.


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[1] Throughout this paper when I refer to “reality.” I never use this term to refer to any aspect of reality smaller than the totality itself. I do not mean physical reality, or reality external to human experience but, rather, the whole of reality, including human experience.

[2] Anywhere I use the pronoun “we,” assume that I mean modern Westernized humans, unless the context specifies otherwise.

[3]Enantiadromia: A term first used by Heraclitus and then by Jung to describe the process by which something turns into or is revealed to be its opposite, literally meaning, “running into the opposite.”

[4]Concrete: Whitehead uses the term concrete to refer to experience, as opposed to conceptualization.

Final paper for Fall 2004 Independent Study: Philosophy of Time and Spring 2005 Comprehensive Exam: Phenomenology of Time for Professor Sean Kelly at California Institute of Integral Studies


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