Last night I tried out a meditation group that meets at a church near my home, and the leader read to us from a book by Thich Nhat Hanh in which he talks about “signlessness.” This is one of the states that, from a mindful perspective, leads us out of suffering. A sign, in this context, is the physical form that something takes. But that form, whether it’s a table, a rock or a human body, is just a sort of container. At its essence, every container is filled with the same thing. Every single thing in the universe, human or animal, living or inanimate, natural or manmade, is composed of the same basic energy, housed in the microscopic containers of cells and atoms. In this way we are all just signs, manifestations of one infinite life force.
Wow, this is getting deep. But the state of signlessless is when you are able to see these signs for what they are: temporary manifestations of that central energy, inextricably connected and made up of the same things. You no longer labor under the delusion that the signs are all there is. This is starting to sound religious, but this basic truth is what every religion is based on. This is not a set of beliefs, it is indisputable truth--it can even be proven by science, people!
Anyway ... getting back on track. What occurred to me was that there is one sign that rules my life. Time. At first, I wasn’t sure time was a sign, since it is not a tangible thing. But the more I think about it, time is a construct, something that can be measured. It is a manmade tool that we use to try and understand the infinite. It exists only in our minds, because the absolute reality is, the only time that exists is this very moment. Flowers, animals, everyone except human beings knows this instinctively. And if we take the manmade version of time for the absolute truth, we are deluded. I say all this, and yet I am time’s slave.
Every day, more so now than ever, I run around trying to cross off items on my ever-growing to-do list. In the background, there is always fear. Fear that I will run out of time, that I won’t get it all done. Even with so-called leisure activities, I feel a pressure to pack it in, to race against the clock, to have ALL the fun. I feel this obsession with time most fiercely at night, when I am struggling to sleep. I try not to look at clocks, and yet, again and again, my mind goes back to the question of how many hours are left. Of how tired I will be tomorrow if I only get 5 hours of sleep. Of whether I can make the magical 7-hour cutoff that allows me to function without even a slight haze of fatigue. The more I think along these lines, the more my heart races. I calm down only when I am able to move into the space of thinking about this moment, of remembering that right now, I have all the time in the world--and the only thing I can change is what I do in this instant.
I wish I were writing this post because I have developed a solution for escaping this cruel master. But the first step on the path is recognizing your obstacles. And that’s where I am right now.