Friday, January 1, 2010

A Brief Perspective on Time

In the fall of 1993, I had the pleasure of hearing Ram Dass speak at a conference in Long Beach. During his talk, he presented some interesting perspectives on the nature of time, and I thought that passing along his perspective on New Year's Day might be apropos.

The concept of time, in terms of the movement of years, brings us face to face with impermanence. The concept of time in terms of the awareness of the present moment, however, shows us that we also exist in an ever-present Now in which there is no time as we perceive it because it's always Now.

How time seems to move, depends a great deal upon where we are standing in relation to time. When I was five years old, being 55, as I am now, seemed like an eternity away. From where I stand now, the past fifty years seem to have gone by very quickly.

So Ram Dass came up with a model for presenting a perspective on the 4.5 billion year history of the world by equating it to a 108-story building (108 being a sacred number in several religious traditions). Here are his words:
For the first 20 floors, there was no life at all. At the 20th floor, simple single-celled organisms made their appearance.

Single-celled organisms proliferated until about the 50th floor, where they became complex cells.

Photosynthesis began around the 60th floor.

Sexual reproduction of simple cells began at about the 70th floor.

Milti-cell reproduction began around the 80th floor.

Fish began to appear around the 94th floor.

They came to land at around the 95th floor.

The dinosaurs roamed the earth between about the 105th and 107th floors.

At the beginning of the 108th floor, mammals appeared.

Humans appeared a few inches from the top.

Language appeared a tenth of an inch from the top.

Civilization, a 100th of an inch from the top.

The Industrial Revolution, a 1000th of an inch from the top.

-- Our history is thinner than a layer of paint at the top of a 108-story building.
Ah, Yes. Seems like only yesterday...

(It may have already occurred to you that the model Ram Dass used for this illustration was the World Trade Center. At the time, the notion that they could be destroyed by an act of hatred and confusion was unimaginable. Such is the nature of impermanence.)


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