Time is an Illusion

Time is an illusion.
~ Albert Einstein

Fraternal twins are born and grow up into adults. At the age of 30, one of those twins boards a rocket ship where she travels at a high rate of speed (670,583,098 mph) for a two-year trip. Upon returning to Earth at the age of 32, she learns that her twin brother died long-ago of old age. Had he lived, he would be 230 years old.

This is known as the twin paradox, a scientific thought experiment that demonstrates the peculiar nature of time in that it slows down for objects in motion. The female twin moving at that high velocity only aged two years while her brother aged two-hundred years.

Science fiction, right?

Wrong. Proven fact.

In 1971 researchers took two atomic clocks that were perfectly synchronized. If those two clocks sat side-by-side they would have displayed the exact matching time for billions of years. But one of those clocks was loaded onto a jet and flown around the world. Upon returning, sure enough the two clocks were no longer in sync. The one that traveled on the jet had an earlier time.

This strangely bizarre nature of time “slowing down” was the brilliant insight of a Swiss patent clerk by the name of Albert Einstein. Besides his mind-blowing theory of relativity, Einstein realized the dividing line between past, present, and future – in fact, all of time – is an illusion.

Time is nothing more than an extended aspect of multiple spatial dimensions, not an independent metronome-like entity that relentlessly ticks toward some finality.

But that’s not how we see it. The past is behind us while the future awaits our experiential senses. And thus we spend our lives contemplating what has gone and anticipating what’s to come – all the while completely oblivious of the eternal “now”.

We think of time like a river that carries us – and everyone else – unceasingly forward. We can’t escape its persistent progression. In that view of time, everyone (and everything) will age and eventually disintegrate – whether that takes 10 years, 100 years, or 100 billion years.

In truth, there is no time, just the immortal existence of an infinite now-ness.

Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. The script is written. For we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by.

Just like the twin paradox, it is nearly impossible for our brains to understand time as an illusion.

But we can approach the concept through an understanding that everything we experience is based on judgment. Our senses report on stimuli. Our brains process that stimuli and utilize past learning to render a current assessment. And based on that appraisal, we react accordingly.

If we pay close attention to the dynamics, we recognize that we “see” only the past. Our past learning drives all our experiences of what we see. In the insightful words of A Course in Miracles:

I see nothing as it is now.

We intrinsically link the past into our current experiences and then project out an anticipated future. However, instead of regretting the past and rueing choices we made (or didn’t make), and rather than anxiously striving toward or hoping for some improved future state, we can escape the grip of time and learn how to see clearly.

And we do that by recognizing the present moment in which any sense of me, myself, and I dissolves. In that present moment, there is no time. With no past or future, there is no judgment. And with no judgment, we transcend the ego – the seat of all fear.

In this condition, we experience a shared connection of unity with everyone. No barriers. No differences. We tap into a state of infinite oneness, and the feeling is euphoric.

Eternity is an idea of God. Time is a belief of the ego. The only aspect of time that is eternal is now.

Of course, we still act in the world and do all the things normal people do. But we are now doing them from a place of peace. A place of mindfulness. A place of love.

So the next time we find ourselves sad, anxious, angry, jealous, or discontented in any way, we can remember that we’ve bought into time and are using the past as a means for justifying our emotions. From this point, we can recall the wise counsel of sages:

The past is over. It can touch me not.

As we let go of time and see it for the illusion that it truly is – then we can experience the incomparable joy that comes from the eternal is-ness of now.