Time, Change and the Self

To hold to a self is to seek to protect it against the inevitable flow of time. But change is a reality; we can no more avoid change than stop breathing or thinking. Change is inseparable from life and therefore the self and its worldview is a kind of denial of both. Change will assuredly happen whether we will it or not. We are time travellers born anew each day; a mind and body waking up just a little bit different. We are each riding a crazed horse into the future with no real control over speed or direction or even the horse stopping entirely. 

Thus from fear the mind clings to a false consistency as time unspools. It’s frightening to leave the familiar and give up the illusion of control but to insist on this illusion is to grow within a stunted version of life. To relax into change, to give up our resistance to it is to simply embrace reality. 

The self is literally made up of psychological subjective interior time, the two are the same thing. When time ends in this sense so does the self. But the progression of physical objective exterior time is a threat to its sense of order, of permanence, even of its existence. Hence it exists in a type of time that’s purely imaginary and abstract and yet denies, lives in fear of its only real concrete form.

In seeking self-improvement we may be tempted by the idea of changing ourselves gradually, putting it off into the future. This gradualness is the enemy of any real psychological change because the future is where the self retreats to safety, the ground on which it chooses to fight. Gradualness is safe because then the self doesn’t need to change at all. This is a subtle point as actual physical change which may include the brain can indeed be gradual or take place in a physical future. It’s the psychological future that is a way of avoiding change. Real change only happens in the present moment.

Understanding as art and science