Being In and Out of Time


Losing yourself in the moment. Living in the moment. Living by losing yourself in the moment. Being in time.

Some good writing from Tim Kreider.

When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in. I’ve heard people say the same thing about rock-climbing: how it shrinks your universe to the half-inch of rock surface immediately in front of you, this crevice, that toehold. Biking is split-second fast and rock-climbing painstakingly slow, but both practices silence the noise of the mind and render self-consciousness blissfully impossible. You become the anonymous hero of that old story, Man versus the Universe. Your brain’s glad to finally have a real job to do, instead of all that trivial busywork. You are all action, no deliberation. You are forced, under pain of death, to quit all that silly ideation and pay attention. It’s meditation at gunpoint.

I’m convinced these are the conditions in which we evolved to thrive: under moderate threat of death at all times, brain and body fully integrated, senses on high alert, completely engaged with our environment. It is, if not how we’re happiest — we’re probably happiest in a hot tub with a martini and a very good naked friend — how we are most fully and electrically alive. Of course we can’t sustain this state of mind for too long. People who go through their whole lives operating on impulse tend to end up in jail. We are no longer purely animals, living only in the moment; we are the creatures who live in time, as salamanders live in fire, prisoners of memory and imagination, tortured with dread and regret. That other, extra-temporal perspective is not the whole reality of our condition. It’s more like the view from the top of the Empire State Building, of people as infinitesimal dots circulating ceaselessly through a grid. Eventually we have to descend back to street level, rejoin the milling mass and take up our lives; you lock up your bike and become hostage to the hours again. But it’s at those moments that I become briefly conscious of what I actually am — a fleeting entity stripped of ego and history in an evanescent present, like a man running in frames of celluloid, his consciousness flickering from one instant to the next.

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