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 travelers 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 possibility of the horse disappearing entirely. 

We search above all else for a security that simply doesn’t exist; none of us can guarantee continuity for even a minute into the future; physically, psychologically or materially.

This is obviously true physically but the mind too has a much more elusive true nature – if indeed it exists at all – than our self-image, morality and courts can imagine. Even the most admired and lauded of individuals that we foolishly hold up as ideals and try to emulate are a confusion of contradictions when seen more closely.

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. But 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 the 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. In a sense the self is time. 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 physical brain can indeed be gradual or take place in a physical future. As physical entities we can no more live outside time than live outside gravity. It’s the psychological, causal, intentional future that is a way of avoiding change. Real change for the psyche only happens in the present moment.

Understanding as art and science