Warner Allen, Herbert - The Timeless Moment – Thoughts on time
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Timeless Moment – Herbert Warner Allen
What does the average man of to-day think about time, if he thinks about it at all? Let us examine a small section of it and try to discover its nature. I went for a walk this morning with my dog. Time materialized in the shape of a watch I carried in my pocket. From the village lane we crossed a stile into a narrow path between an old elm and a thatched barn. Elm and barn had stood facing one another over that path for centuries like landmarks in the uncharted wilderness of time. With a row of firs protecting a cherry orchard on the left and on the right broad open fields, we followed a cart track to the top of the hill. From there we could look back on the way we had come and see at one glance the various stages of that short journey. The hands of my watch had registered twenty minutes, twelve hundred seconds, since our start.
My eyes assured me that the village lane with the stile, elm and barn, the path and the cart-track, the firs, the cherry orchard and the fields were still there in the outer world as when we passed them. It would have been a staggering blow to expectation, if they had not been. Strictly speaking, no doubt, they were not exactly the same as they had been, for the elements that composed them were in a state of perpetual motion, however motionless they might seem. Each instant there had been some change in them, if only microscopic, but they retained enough of their outer selves to set their identity beyond question.
There was much on my walk that day to emphasize the law of ceaseless change. There was snow on the ground and a thaw had set in. From the hill-top I could see that a mass of snow had slipped from the thatch of the barn, since I had passed, and here and there grass appearing where none had been visible. The dog and I had struck across a stretch of virgin snow and our footprints showed where there had been an unbroken white expanse until we had trodden it. A grey horse, standing in the orchard when we reached the cart-track, had moved off to his shed by the time we had reached the top. A hawk that had been hovering over the fields had long since disappeared and the rooks hunting for food had changed their positions again and again.
Time, to judge from these specimen twenty minutes, consists of a series of events or a succession of states and changes. An event is real when it is 'now'; it ceases to be real when it is past and is not yet real when it is in the future. On my walk, if I looked at my watch, I found the real 'now' shown by the position of its hands; if I looked around me, by the actual state of that part of the universe which constituted my environment. But it was impossible for me at any moment to grasp the true 'now', because by the time I was aware of it, it had already moved into the unreality of the past and been replaced by a new position of the watch hands and a new state of my environment. Yet it seemed not impossible to arrest this elusive 'now' and form at my leisure an idea of what it was at the moment when it was real.
Suppose I had stopped my watch at some chosen moment, say ten minutes past ten, and taken instantaneous photographs of all the objects surrounding me, I should have a record of the 10.10 am 'now', as related to myself. This record might be taken as a typical example of one of the events which composed those twenty minutes, if I disregarded those microscopic changes which the record itself was undergoing every instant.
In time, pattern succeeded pattern continuously; each instant a new pattern took shape and each instant its place was taken by another.
It was as if I had been walking through a series of worlds, each flashing into the other's place and then vanishing. For from the moment we started, the dog and I were moving and changing the things about us, while in their turn those things were continually being changed through circumstances outside our control, just as the hands of my watch, which, for the purpose of measurement, I treated as in a closed system, isolated from my environment and geared to the relative motions of certain heavenly bodies, moved uniformly and continuously round the dial.
The successive states of the universe which marked time seemed to be composed of the same basic material which was ordered only in the order of its arrangement