As Einstein proved, time is elastic, slowing down as the speed of light is approached. But if that is true of physical time, how much more elastic, and illusory, is psychological time? With sufficient attention, the infinite regression of the observer ends, and psychological time ends as well. One is no longer in a perpetual state of becoming. For a few minutes at least there is simply being, and one is present with everything.
Simply put, the observer is the habit of separating oneself from oneself. If you sit still and watch your mind for a few minutes, you’ll notice that there is always a watcher, a self that seems to stand apart, evaluating, judging, and deciding.
Passively attending to the stream of thought, including the observer, awareness naturally and effortlessly quickens. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, awareness overtakes thought, catching it in the act of separation. One sees at an emotional level that the watcher and the watched are actually part of the same movement of thought. That is, the mind sees through the trick of the observer, ending the divisive habit. Then there is just observing. And that is the moment when meditation begins.
In actuality, there is no observer. The separate self is at best a functional illusion; a mechanism the mind fabricated to give us the ability to perform intentional activity. The tragedy is that the mind’s arbitrary separations are taken to be the truth, producing every form of individual and collective egoism, division, and belief, for which people since the beginning of time have been willing to kill and be killed.
Conscious thought can be defined as the mechanism that allows us to intentionally remove things from the background of the environment and recombine them for use. A tree is not a separate object until we perceive and name the oak as an oak. In nature, there are no separations; matter, energy, and time flow together in an infinite series of interpenetrating and seamless totalities.
Our birthright as human beings is to directly perceive, without any symbol or interpretation, the wholeness of life. The world ‘whole’ has the same root as ‘holy;’ and the direct, uninterpreted perception of what is allows holiness to seen beyond the senses, and flow through us.
Leaving a garish strip of stores, shops, and apartments along the mountain road, I turn off toward the lake, which is graced by a boulevard of pines and spectacular canyon views.
A few miles on and I arrive at the lake. It’s actually a man-made reservoir, though a most beautiful one, given its forested setting and emerald color. The jewel is deserted except for a lone and apparently disoriented driver haltingly pulling into (and then out of) the parking area ahead of me.
I walk a mile (as enumerated by trailside markers every quarter mile) on a wide path that circles the lake. Though the elevation is less than 1000 meters, the conifers confer a feeling of being higher in the mountains.
I descend the slope to sit in the sun at the water’s edge. The spot overlooks one of the narrow fingers of the deep green reservoir. The sun is at about 45 degrees in the western sky, and so bright off the water that I cannot look in its direction without shading my eyes. The silence is palpable.
The underlying silence is all the more astonishing because it isn’t completely quiet. From some miles away a back-up beeper on a construction vehicle goes on and off with the regularity of a maddening metronome. Fortunately, it’s too far away to hear many engine sounds. The occasional vehicle pulling into the gravel parking lot, over half mile away across the water as the ducks fly, is as audible as if I’m sitting on one of the benches adjacent to it.
But these are minor annoyances, and soon completely enveloped by a tangible silence that penetrates the mind and obliterates thought. I look up to see someone standing across the a couple hundred meters away; we speak to each other in normal voice, as if on the opposite sides of a room.
At the end of an hour alone (an hour that passes as swiftly as a minute), my ears, mind, and heart are fully attuned to the wondrous place. Then I hear a strange whirring sound behind me.
Nearly half a minute later, I look up to see a single bird flying high above, its wings rhythmically beating as it literally slices a path through the air. Each wing beat takes a moment or two to reach my ears, but the observer and time have ceased to exist.