I’ve always thought the string of words: past, present and future invited a misleading symmetry. The three time frames create the illusion of equal billing on the marquee of our life, reality and universe. A moment’s reflection reveals the falsity of anything approaching equal measurements. That is common sense. We know different frames produce wildly different durations.
What is the time frame of the past? We have scientific evidence is approximately 13.8 billion light years. That is an Incomprehensible long period of time. Time had a beginning. We can time travel inside our mind through movies, books, songs and art to visit Plato’s Greece, or gladiators in Roman times, or to the Globe Theatre in the time of Shakespeare or hang out with Darwin on HMS Beagle for a five-year journey, or closer yet, to Einstein desk as a patent clerk in Berne.
More likely we revisit our school, our neighborhood, places we travelled, people who shaped our lives in one way or another. Tap someone on the shoulder and ask them where they are, right now. The answer is on some journey into the past.
Mental time travel in the past has a huge following.
On the opposite side of the present, lies the future. This time frame stretches into the possibility of infinity. Time with no end. Unbounded time. There is no scientific consensus as to how long our universe will exist. The best estimates range from 5 billion years, 25 billion years to forever. In terms of time frames, the future has the appearance of being the winner in as measured by duration.
People scarcely give a thought to the Big Rip of the universe, but they are eager to imagine finding the perfect job, mate, house, car, network of friends, mentors, and much more. If you aren’t caught up in regrets about a past you can’t change, you are more likely to be found plotting your wealth, health and happiness in the future. That could be later in the afternoon or in ten years.
What about the present? The Now. This tiny, insignificant time frame, neuroscience informs us last a few seconds before a new present takes its place. This microscopic crack in the wall of time is easy to miss. You have to consciously seek it out.
Mindfulness holds the promise of increasing the time frame for the present. Short of enlightenment, the present moment remains a fleeting moment. A wisp, a whisper, a whimper. Our present time exists as briefly as a fireflies light, a fragile and nearly invisible barrier separating the past and future.
We spend most of our present lives thinking about the past or making plans for the future. They are transit stops. They are the mental hotels that we check into. Daily we think nothing of occupying hundreds of such hotels in hundreds of locations. Our nature is to roam in one time direction or another.
The present time is our home. But we rarely visit that home for long. The past calls pulls us in one direction and the potential of an unfolding future pulls us in another. The gravity of these time frames to find regret waiting or to appease our anxiety as to what happens next if we our child becomes ill. We are pulled by black hole like gravitational forces that spaghettify the present.
One of the saddest moment for anyone facing death is the realization they rarely spent time at home. The present had been a ghost. Home was like a cemetery you occasionally honored by smelling a flower. Of course, there was so much more hidden in that sliver that we could have mined. It’s never too late to go home. You may wish to spend more time there. As the end of your time comes, as it will, you will die at home.