It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
What if you could make aging, the bane of human existence, a blissful process instead of a painful one? This question is almost never asked, certainly not by researchers into aging. No matter what new scientific track holds promise—and there are dozens of them—one assumption is never challenged, the assumption that aging is a negative process, like getting sick. The two go together, since the elderly are subject to conditions like cancer and heart disease far more than the young, and eventually most people die from a final illness.
To turn aging from a negative to a positive process seems impossible in the current medical context. But pause for a moment and place to one side all your beliefs about what aging is. For centuries in the Vedic tradition of India, aging has been viewed as a mistake, and the mistake isn’t made at the level of genes, cells, tissues, or organs. The mistake is made at the control center of life, which is consciousness. In effect, aging is a shared illusion that everyone falls for, and once you are taken in, you have no choice but to age, simply because everyone else is.
To break free of the illusion, we can start with a single sentence in the annals of Yoga: “Time is the consumer, and we are its food.” That’s a startling image, no doubt, but it is also the best starting point. The ravages of time diminish mind and body, which is why aging is so feared. But an escape route opens up when you see that tie isn’t the enemy. The enemy is mind-made. In our minds we make ourselves the prisoner of time instead of choosing to be timeless.
At this moment you are living out your personal story, which begins at birth and will end at death. You view your body somewhere on its own trajectory from youthful vitality to aged decrepitude. At the psychological level you are motivated by beliefs, wishes, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires. All of these processes needed time to come into being. By basing your identity on time, you are trapped in mind-made constructs. Even the world “out there” is projected by the mind, since the world, viewed from the human level, is a construct of experiences.
Time is consuming you because time consumes everything that is time-based. Even the cosmos is the food of time. Yet making time the basis of your ego, your bodily functions, your constant thinking and desiring, isn’t inevitable. The timeless is near at hand; in fact, it is closer to you than time itself. This is the most critical insight in Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism, and every other tradition based on consciousness. To put it in a nutshell, existence and consciousness are one. As long as anything has existed, consciousness has been there, too.
I won’t take up space by pointing out why physicists are beginning to see that consciousness indeed is a permanent fixture of the universe, like gravity or relativity. This understanding came about because no theory could explain where consciousness came from. It is impossible to locate the point in time when atoms and molecules learned to think. Creating mind out of matter is a dead end. It began to seem that there is no way forward except to agree with the notion that consciousness exists at the very basis of creation.
The Indian tradition took a bigger leap, saying that if the timeless is nearer than time, and if consciousness is fundamental in the universe, we have a choice. We can choose an identity based on time or an identity based on the timeless. In terms of everyday life, what does that mean? Here are the main considerations if you choose to be timeless.
Taken altogether, these steps open the path to practical immortality. Existence is immortal; therefore, so is consciousness. Since nothing is closer to you than existence, you have access to the source of creation. Nothing that time ravages is worth hanging on to. Indeed, reality doesn’t unfold in a series of straight lines going from A to B, following the law of cause and effect.
Reality is more like a multi-faceted diamond, and what you are here to experience are the facets that consciousness reveals. The names we give to various facets—love, compassion joy, creativity, empathy, insight, transcendent spiritual experience, beauty, truth—form the ground plan of an ideal life. To experience any facet is blissful. But glimpses of bliss aren’t the same as being in possession of the whole diamond.
The whole diamond is pure awareness. This is the source from which creative intelligence emerges. Everything that time has created or destroyed is really the coming and going of experience, and all experience eventually leads back to the source. This is the founding principle of Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism, and all the other consciousness-based wisdom traditions.
Like a hamster running in place in its cage because it thinks it is getting somewhere, a life trapped in the cage of time is a loop. We can call it a feedback loop because the more you keep consuming time, time keeps consuming you. Right now everyone is a consumer, using up time, wasting time, worrying that there is never enough time, racing to meet deadlines, and trying to keep aging, illness, and death at bay, which takes time. The loop goes nowhere; it just generates more of the same mind-made illusions.
I realize that being stuck in time is a choice no one thinks they actually made. Instead, the way the world works, including how your body works, seems like a given. No one would consciously choose pain, suffering, illness, aging, and death. But these are byproducts of passively accepting a time-bound existence. To escape the whole setup should be your goal if you want to make aging a blissful experience. The secret is to abandon aging altogether, which means abandoning time. Do this, and you discover the bliss that is accessed in the timeless.
(This is the second in a three-part series, to be cont.)
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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