The Illusion of Time: Why the Clock is Not Your Master

“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

William Faulkner

Do you ever feel trapped or enslaved by time? Like there’s never enough hours in the day or the week is slipping by too fast? In our busy modern lives, it’s easy to feel controlled by time, always rushing to the next second, minute and hour.

But what if time itself is simply an illusion? A human invention rather than a cosmic truth. Understanding the constructed nature of time can liberate us from its tyranny. We can step into mastery of time as a tool rather than remain victims to time as a taskmaster.

In this in-depth article, we’ll unpack why time is a mental construct, trace how current timekeeping came to be, and discuss how to cultivate a healthier relationship with time. One where you author each moment and flow through timeless states, rather than remaining chained to the clock.

The Evolution of Timekeeping

Most of us take time for granted. Ever since we were young, the measurement of time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years seemed like simple facts of the universe. And keeping track of time through clocks and calendars felt necessary for a functioning society.

But the truth is, the modern notions of time emerged gradually over human history, through an evolutionary interplay between culture, technology, astronomy and mathematics. Our current time construct reflects choices and perspectives rather than some ordained universal law.

In the beginning, ancient cultures studied the cycles of sun, moon and stars which led to early calendars tied to astronomical phenomena. Sundials and water clocks were invented to measure daylight hours. Units like “the time to cook bread” gave rise to temporal hours that varied over the year.

The Sumerians divided daytime into 12 variable hours and developed a numerical system for time. Babylonian astronomers expanded on Sumerian timekeeping by dividing day and night into 24 “equinoctial hours” to better predict cycles. Meanwhile, the Greeks introduced temporal hours of equal length between seasons.

As technology advanced, mechanical clocks became prevalent enough by 1670 for clock watching to emerge as a common behaviour. This birthed psychological time — the sense that time is something we “spend”, “save”, “manage”, “waste”, or “lose track of”. No longer were hours strictly a practical means of scheduling. Time took on a moral dimension, spurring anxiety about using time wisely and guilt about wasted time.

By the mid-18th century, accurate timekeeping at sea enabled standardized time zones for efficient rail travel. Global synchronization accelerated with international telegraphy and radio time signals coordinating clocks worldwide.

In summary: Early timekeeping entwined lived experience of sun, moon and stars with cultural needs. Time units began as variable ways of sequencing tasks and events. But precision time measurement allowed hours, minutes and seconds to become fixed benchmarks enslaved to clock and calendar. This history makes it clear that standardized time emerged from human choices and purposes.

The Illusion of the Gregorian Calendar

Tracing the history reveals that arbitrary choices undergird our time construct. And no aspect highlights this more than the Gregorian calendar, which regulates our weeks, months and years.

For starters, why are there 7 days in a week? 24 hours in a day? 60 minutes in an hour? These standards arose from convenience and convention, not natural necessity.

Even more irrational — the uneven length of months. The aim is 365 days per year. A clean division would give you 12 months of 30 days each. Instead, we have:

  • 31 day months: January, March, May, July, August, October, December
  • 30 day months: April, June, September, November
  • 28 or 29 day month: February

This inconsistency is due to Roman emperors modifying the calendar for ego. Julius Caesar adopted the Egyptian solar calendar, took control of the calendar, and named the 7th month after himself (July). Not to be outdone, Emperor Augustus renamed the next month after himself (August).

These imperial changes threw off the stable 30 day month and birthed our irregular system. The modifications also dislodged the calendar from the seasonal year, requiring Pope Gregory XIII to introduce the Gregorian calendar in 1582 to reset the equinoxes and solstices.

Yet even with the correction, inconsistent months persisted. Clearly, the Gregorian calendar reveals timekeeping as a human creation layered with irrationality and imperfection, not a perfect cosmic design.

Einstein’s Relativity: Time is Relative, Not Absolute

Seeing behind the calendar and hours/minutes exposes time as a human invention. But it was Einstein’s revelations that showed time itself is relative, not fixed.

Einstein’s special theory of relativity shook assumptions about time with the insight that time does not flow at a steady rate everywhere for everyone. Instead, time flows at different rates relative to the observer’s speed and location.

For instance, time passes slightly slower closer to centers of gravity, so astronauts circling Earth age slightly less than people on the ground. Approaching light speed, the relativity effect becomes dramatic.

This means there is no singular correct “time” that all reference frames agree on. Observed time depends entirely on your relative motion. Einstein showed that time is not a Platonic ideal we approximate with clocks, but a dimension created through changing relations.

In summary, Einstein shattered the Newtonian conception of absolute time as a universal, immutable dimension distinct from space. Instead, he proved time is ultimately relational — it speeds, stretches, and bends based on perspective and location.

The Tyranny of Clocks

The standardized time units coupled with technologies like clocks and watches have led to the tyranny of “Newtonian time” — the belief in absolute, quantitative, mechanistic time that flows uniformly.

This Regime of the Clock oppresses us because it tricks our minds into believing time inherently flows in pre-divided units. In reality, the clock creates that effect rather than measures some natural phenomenon.

Without clocks, we experience time as Einsteinian: subjective, qualitative, mind-dependent. Introducing external measurement gives rise to the illusion that time is an objective, absolute entity marching to a fixed pace.

Standardizing time enabled civilization to accelerate in many ways through coordination. But it came at a spiritual cost. The more we synchronized to standardized time, the more it became a source of anxiety. No matter how precise, the clock cannot encapsulate lived experience.

We ended up torn between the standardized units of the clock versus the flowing experience of time. It’s incredibly liberating to realize that only lived time is real. The clock represents one particularly rigid perspective on time, not its totality.

The clock trains awareness to obsess over past and future rather than awakening to the moment. By tying attention to standardized time, focus remains trapped in thought loops rather than directly perceiving the living now.

Of course, clocks can be useful tools. But no tool should rule your being. While clock time serves an administrative function, lived time is the only real time.

The Myth of “Not Enough Time”

One oppressive belief the Regime of the Clock inflicts is the feeling there is “not enough time.” This scarcity stems from identifying with standardized time, seeking to maximize output measured in ticks of the clock.

No matter how we chase time, we can never catch it. External time visualized as a line forever receding pulls us out of the expansive now into an elusive future. This creates unresolvable stress as we inhabit one reality while trying to operate according to an artificial overlay.

The truth is, there IS enough time because there is only ever now. The present moment contains infinite space. Our experience of lacking time results from identifying with abstraction rather than directly perceiving being.

Next time you notice “not enough time,” recognize it as a mental error. There is always enough time, because all we have is this timeless moment. Nothing is missing from the unconditioned present.

Reclaiming Authority Over Time

Realizing the constructed nature of standardized time frees us from enslavement to external authority. We reclaim power by returning to our intuitive internal authority — our felt sense of time.

Each of us possesses an innate timekeeper tuned to natural rhythms like light/darkness, hunger, sleep, seasons. While standardized time helps coordinate collective affairs, inner authority should be primary.

Reclaim authority by listening to your rhythms. Let your directive function operate according to internal wisdom rather than external pressure. Use standardized time skillfully as a tool to serve your aims rather than command your being.

Ways to relate to time more consciously:

  • Unplug from the clock. Go on a digital sabbath to feel time directly rather than always referencing units.
  • Flow with your energy. Follow inspiration rather than rigid schedules. Attune to your natural rhythms.
  • Spend time in nature. Soak up the slower, seasonal pace guided by sun and moon.
  • Practice mindfulness. Feel the aliveness of moments without past/future commentary.
  • Focus wholly on tasks and relationships. By directing attention into the present, you touch the timeless.

Remember, qualitative living time unfolding for consciousness cannot be reduced to quantities. The flowing now will never perfectly conform to the clock so make inner authority primary.

The Power of Flow States

Beyond generally relaxing into natural timing, entering “flow states” allows you to touch the timeless through total absorption in the present. In flow, subjective time seems to expand and contract according to your degree of focus and engagement.

We’ve all experienced how time flies in moments of total immersion. Hours pass like minutes when fully engrossed in an activity. Athletes may call it “being in the zone”, musicians “finding the groove”, artists “hitting the muse”.

Flow arises during peak performance and creativity. Self-consciousness fades as you become one with the action and environment. Without effort, you enter immersion and grace. Subjective time bends to serve the activity rather than external clocks.

By dropping fixation on standardized units, flow touches the playful plasticity of time as lived experience. In flow, projections of past and future fade into the background. Without those constructs, time seems to open up — we feel “in the zone” for timeless moments.

Of course, flow fades the moment we re-impose external time. As soon as we think “what time is it?”, the trance breaks. But that immersion reveals time emerges from consciousness itself. Time does not exist without mind.

We do not flow inside time. Time flows through us as a mode of perceiving. By tuning into flow states, we touch the creator rather than creation — the source rather than result.

So dive into your passions. Lose yourself in activities that absorb all your creative energies. Cook, paint, dance, sing, code, climb, run, garden. Trust in the eternal now.

Flow is Available Always

Now, you may think touching flow requires special circumstances like a hike in nature or playing a sport. But presence is available anytime, no matter the external situation.

Flow is a mode of consciousness, not dependent on a particular scenario. You can enter that state washing dishes, sitting in traffic, strolling through a city. It simply requires dropping fully into the senses — into the feeling of warm water and soap suds, the movement of the car, the sound of footsteps.

When we believe certain conditions must be fulfilled to access flow, we deny its ever-present potential. Presence cannot actually be created or destroyed, only forgotten or remembered. Timeless flow is the ground state always accessible beneath the noise of mental time anxiety.

So relax into being. Stop treating flow as something to be chased and instead sink into its eternal nature. Standardized time is merely an undercurrent within the ocean of consciousness. By waking up to presence, you reclaim authority as an author of time.

You Are The Creator of Time

Ultimately, time is a mental construct — it’s a mode of perception. Just as depth and colour do not actually exist as external absolutes but are created internally, time arises when consciousness flows.

The apparent solidity and forward momentum of time is a projection. In truth, there is only this timeless now — consciousness moving through quantum fields generates the illusion of past and future.

While the clock ticks steadily on, subjective experience endlessly shifts and bends. Our perception of time expands and contracts according to how we inhabit the now.

Make no mistake: you are the creator of time, not the victim of time. The clock represents just one rigid perspective, not totality. By waking up to the eternal now, you step out of standardized time into boundless presence.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Steve Jobs

So how will you relate to time: chained to the clock or immersed in flow? The choice is yours. May you tap into the playful possibilities of the moment and author your own time.

November 3, 2023

Marcus Dickinson

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