Nothing Ever Stays & Everything Always Goes

"O dark dark dark," wrote T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets, "they all go into the dark." Where to? What is this darkness where everything is constantly going? If Time were a person, they would be the kind to make most people feel nervous, self-conscious and uncomfortable. If somebody were to talk about them around us, our energies would likely flop and we would be eager to change the subject. We have to ask ourselves: what is it about the nature of time that can make us feel so anxious, so eager to forget it exists? It is part of our human condition to consider the many peculiarities involved in existence - the nature of time being one of the most curious of these. 

The fact that everything comes and goes is an observable reality of life. The only permanence in the world is impermanence. There are immediate and gradual changes constantly taking place - and in general we tend to be more conscious of the former. It seems that the older we grow, the more we feel we do not have enough of time when we have a great many things to do or too much of it when we are idle. Post-childhood, it eventually dawns on us that time is constantly passing, that the moment we hold onto something, are convinced that it is ours - the feeling, the person, the moment - it flees our grasp. The realisation that all is changing often brings about a gradual hysteria within us, who were previously too involved in life to give this any serious thought. To those who have reflected on the inescapable reality that everything is in constant flux, that all of our loved ones will one day pass away, that everything we have ever loved and hated will no longer be, that everything we do, say or believe we are will soon fade away, know that these reflections have their consequences, to the disciplined and undisciplined mind alike. 

As children, we were much too absorbed in the fruits of innocence, the ecstasy of immediate existence which seems eternal and undying, to be acutely aware of the inevitable passing of our youth. In future, the mind can suffer terribly - often it does, until desperation leads us to either evolve by penetrating deeply into the complexities involved in the human anxieties which have plagued humankind for centuries and are nearly all rooted in the "problem" of time, or alternatively, we do not evolve, but rather drown in a sea of existential despair every now and then and remain chained to suffering. 

But it is not time itself which we seek to recover, nor add as a desirable ingredient to our plate of life; rather, the more we dig into this question, we find that it is a feeling that we miss - a state of being entirely absorbed in the play of life, without being conscious of it being anything other than that. We have all been children, and, no longer being children, we can easily remember what such a state felt like. That is why children are fascinating to us and why they themselves cannot yet understand why they are so fascinating. It is also why looking back to that season of life makes us feel simultaneously happy and profoundly sad because it was so lovely and it is so irretrievable. 

What do we do, then, about the question of time? We have to turn to direct experience. Only then, past the initial intellectual comprehension that everything is always changing, can we lead our lives in such a way as to free ourselves from the suffering that awareness of time so often brings. When we adopt an understanding attitude toward the impermanence of all things, including our own thoughts, no longer are we consumed by what goes on in and out of our minds. Even when our minds are in states of agony or pain caused by obsessive thoughts of the future and/or past, this profound insight assures us that even this will pass. You see, feel, hear, touch and taste it all as it comes, never pushing anything away, but not becoming attached to that which inevitably fades, because you know that nothing ever stays and everything always goes.

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