Imagine you’ve just stepped out of a time machine into a copse of trees you’ve never seen before, with a trail snaking away through the woods in front of you and behind you. You don’t know where the beginning or end are, which way is which, but you start to run. How do you choose which way? And assuming you don’t come to some obvious ‘end,’ when do you stop running?
What we’ve done in this thought exercise is eliminate any meaningful past and taken the future out of your control. Does the possibility frighten or excite you?
Einstein believed that time was non-linear, despite the way we’ve ordered it in our minds. Among today’s physicists, this is accepted truth. As a non-physicist, I’m torn. I can accept that Einstein was smarter than I am, and that as humans we create constructs (e.g. money, religion, hierarchies of all sorts) in order to more easily navigate our lives. At the same time, it is hard to feel time’s non-linearity.
The good news, once you begin to consider the implications of multi-directional time, or really omni-directional time, is that you don’t have a past filled with doubt or disappointment that affects your present or your future, neither of which exists as such. The fault in my initial metaphor is that the trail only runs in two directions, that there is a trail at all.
Zoom back in to the context of a single run. The first mile, with its lumbering steps and uneven breathing, means nothing about how you feel now (JK…there is no now) and isn’t a limiter on what you’re going to do. You have really just gotten out of a time machine, as you are, and get to decide what to do. In fact, every moment, ever step, is just a step out of the time machine.
The past is nice, but it doesn’t exist in any real way, a scatter of memories, electro-chemical traces in gray matter. Your memory of it doesn’t match anyone else’s. In a similar way, your projections of the future are all wrong. Your worries are the wrong worries. Your expectations, mostly, are doomed for the disappointment bin. This is all really good news.
Every footfall is an isolated incident. Hear the leaves crackle, the trees shift in the wind. They will never do it again just like that, or rather, they will always have done it just like that, but only for you. Your feet beat small clouds of dust, and your mind capers to find something to hold onto. You breathe, cold air rasping in your chest.
Let all that shit go.
In many ways, fast and slow are lies, too, relative measures of your perception really. A bead of sweat gathers at your hairline, tingles, tickles, and asks to be wiped away. In any moment here, diced down to the nano-moment, you can stop running. You can reverse direction. Maybe you did, actually, on some other imagined timeline. If you think a little on it, you can probably see what happened. Or not.
It’s dizzying, this idea, the suggestion that there are so many more decisions to be made (to have been made) than you were aware of before, but it’s also so richly empowering. Not every stride is a fait accompli. The things you thought were holding you back are just thoughts. Dismissable. Your senses are the only reliable source of information, and even then, you can’t see the full spectrum of colors streaming in, sunlight maxing out every lens, or hear every sound waving at you from the depths of the universe.
It means you’re free to do your best right now. It means the baggage you’ve been dragging behind you is all a lie, and your goals are like your grandmother’s recipes. They’re nice, but they never quite come out the way you envisioned.
Time will tell you a lot of lies if you ask it to. The present gives you an opportunity to correct the record. Which way will you go? And how will you know when you’re done? Just asking the questions provides a straight path away from failure. Away from success, too.