What is the meaning of this approaching moment in time, winter solstice 2012? It is a day in cosmic time when it is said our solar system will be aligned with the center of our galaxy.[i] There are many different interpretations about what this might mean. According to the Mayan calendar it is the end of the Great Cycle of 26,000 years. Does this “end of time” mean a global cataclysm or the beginning of a Golden Age? The truth is that nobody knows. And yet our attention is drawn towards this moment in time, like moths to a lamp. Is it because in our soulless, materialistic culture we are looking for some event that can awaken us to a deeper purpose within our day-to-day existence? Or does this day in December hold a real secret for all of us?
If we are going to approach this date with a receptive attitude we first need to have some understanding of time. The Mayans had a deep spiritual knowledge of time, of its cycles and cosmic dimensions. Their whole culture, their cities, were built around their knowledge of time and accurate observations of celestial events. In contrast our culture has a very limited, linear approach to time. We see time as a river of events that pass us by, never to return. And in this linear time we often feel constricted, caught. There is “never enough time.” We are hounded, haunted by time, by the days, hours and minutes in which we try to cram the events and demands of our life. We have “schedules” to try to arrange our lives, like train timetables. We have forgotten the flexibility of time, its deeper rhythms and spiritual dimension.
Although we often live seemingly caught in time, spiritual teachings tell us that time itself is an illusion. It is created by our mind and does not belong to the spiritual reality of the Self, of our true nature. In the dimension of the Self there is only the present moment, only now exists. There is no past or future. This is why spiritual teachings stress the importance of being present in the moment, and also why there is great value in the basic spiritual practice of watching your breath. You cannot breathe in the future or the past. If you watch your breath you are always aware of the present moment. And only in the present moment can you awaken to the reality of existence. Only in the present moment can you experience life as it really is—taste the sweetness of the strawberry, smell the fragrance of a rose. The present moment is all that ever exists.
Caught in the illusion of time we struggle to be present in the moment. We practice awareness of the now, and try to escape from the imaginary conflicts and struggles of our ego. Only in the present moment can we awaken to our divine nature. In this reality of our true nature, the Self, we are always outside of time, always present in the moment. This is also the truth of love, not our passions and projections but the love that belongs to our heart. In depths of our heart there is no time, just the essence of love as Rumi exclaims:
Step out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.
And we know this timeless state of love in those moments when our heart opens and we say “I love you forever.” In that eternal moment there is no time and love is always forever. And yet sadly we return from these moments out of time, from the sweetness of what is, to our time-bound culture with its days and hours and clocks and schedules. Once again we become caught in time.
If we are to begin to understand time it is important to recognize that our relationship to time is not universal. For example the Moken, the sea gypsies who live in South East Asia live only in the moment. In their language there is no word for time, and significantly no word for worry! They also have no word for “hello” or “goodbye.” There are no greetings. You arrive, spend a few minutes or a few years and then leave. You are either here or not here. With few possessions they live in the moment—eat when they are hungry, sleep when they are tired.
But significantly when the tsunami came in 2004, they knew how to respond. How did the Moken know that the tsunami was coming? “The water receded very fast and one wave, one small wave, came so they recognized that this is not ordinary…And then they have this kind of legend that passed from generations to generations about seven waves.”[ii] Attentive to the moment they were also attuned to their ancestral memories, and so they turned away from the shore and took their boats to deeper water where they rode out the tsunami. When they were asked why they survived and the Burmese fishermen perished they responded simply, “They saw nothing. They don’t know how to look.”
There is a time both ancient and present that belongs to the moment. Traditionally the Australian aborigines live in this relationship to time. For them every moment is an opportunity to return to the Primordial Moment, when Dreamtime comes into existence. Their understanding of time is not a linear progression of events, but a single moment when the Dreaming is born, when the patterns and meaning within existence become manifest. This is the moment in which they are alive.
In our culture we have lost any deep understanding of time, of the power of the present and of time’s cycles and rhythms. Women have a closer relationship to this deeper time because they carry the cycles of the moon in their bodies. Women also seem more able to enter the timeless world of children, who are still able to live in the moment, outside of our construct of time. And yet even a few centuries ago in the West we lived in a very different relationship to time. For example, in the early medieval period when people did not have clocks, time was the cycle of the seasons, of the planting and harvesting, and each day was not divided into hours, but the rhythm of light and dark. If the peasant did have any relationship to time, it was the bells of the monastery heard across the fields, marking the time of prayers for the monks, a day marked by Vespers, Compline and Matins. Their time was a calling to prayer, a divine time.
And now we hurry through our days, slaves to a concept of time that does not nourish us, that does not connect us with our souls or the cycle of the year. We have lost an understanding of the deeper rhythms of our being, how our life, our heartbeat, can be in tune with the movement of the stars as well as the seasons. We struggle to live in the moment, and need spiritual practices or teachings to be able to present in life—something which is so natural for every child. And yet our attention is being drawn to this moment in cosmic time marked by the end of the Mayan Great Cycle in December 2012.
If time is an illusion, if only the moment of now exists, why does it matter? What is the meaning of a specific moment in time? Shakespeare understood that specific moments can have a important meaning, be an opportunity that does not come again:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.[iii]
He uses the image of the sailing ship that needs to wait for the moment of high tide to reach the deeper waters and the sea. But he is referring to the esoteric fact that there are moments in our life in which an opportunity is present, a door opens, that can give us access to a different chain of events, a different reality. If we recognize this moment we can make a shift in our life that we would otherwise miss.
In these moments an energy is present that can enable us to make such a transition, a shift in consciousness. This is why spiritual practices often stress the importance of watching, practicing a receptive awareness “like the cat at the mouse hole, infinitely relaxed, infinitely attentive.” You learn to watch the signs in the inner and outer worlds, taking notice of events and synchronicities, paying attention to your dreams. Many of us have experienced such a moment, meeting a teacher for example, that can change our life forever. But we have to be attentive in order to catch this moment. Otherwise, to quote T.S. Eliot, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Then we remain in our old patterns and nothing changes, our life “bound in shallows and in miseries.”
Could it be that collectively we are approaching such a moment, that our whole planet is being given an opportunity that comes only once every 26,000 years? Are we awake to the possibilities of such a moment, or are we caught in our patterns of conditioning, even our spiritual conditioning, unable to fully respond? We sense a crisis all around us. There is unprecedented depletion of species, global warming, global economic instability. Our materialistic lifestyle is unsustainable, but collectively we do not seem to want to change. We seem blinkered by our desires as we approach ever faster a global ecological disaster.
Are we really attentive to what is happening, both spiritually and ecologically? Do we dare to be fully present at this moment in time as the materialistic darkness devours our planet, killing its life support systems? And what could it mean if the day in 2012 is the moment we have been waiting for? Is this the moment when we finally have to take responsibility for what we have done, for the damage and destruction we have caused this beautiful planet? Or is it the moment when we can collectively change, when a door opens between the worlds and humanity is given a unique opportunity to help the world to evolve? Or do we need to take responsibility in order to be awake to the possibility of global transformation? Have we read the signs in the inner and outer worlds, or merely heard the slogans that keep us asleep?
It is also important to remember that at any moment of possible transformation there are forces that try to hinder or prevent any real change. We know this in our own journey, when our own negative patterns try to keep us imprisoned, when the darkness within us tries to stop any real shift in consciousness. The darkness does not want the light, our lower nature tries to keep us in its grip. Similarly the forces of corporate greed that seem to dominate our world, destroying our ecosystem, do not want any change that would limit their power. They poison our souls and our planet with the images of materialism, with brand-names and advertising, keeping us asleep, making it more and more difficult for us to wake up. To be attentive to any possibility of change means to break through their grip, and all the collective images of desire and prosperity that try to manipulate us.
We need energy to be awake. We need our own power in order to be attentive and not be caught in the web of materialism that is bleeding our planet and our souls. And it could be that this coming moment is crucial in our collective evolution. If we remain asleep will we miss the tide, the opportunity for a real global shift?
Every moment is an opportunity to be awake, to be fully present and alive. And yet according to spiritual teachings some moments need to be waited for because they give us a greater opportunity. They are moments that belong not just to the succession of days but the patterns of the soul and rhythms of the cosmos. There are moments when many cycles come together, when our individual and cosmic destinies are aligned. The Mayan prophecies suggest that on the coming winter solstice there will be such a moment: an outpouring of cosmic energy that is unprecedented. It will be both an end of time and a beginning—a death and a birth. Such an inflow of energy can be both creative and destructive. And if this prophecy is true it will be a possibility for change beyond our imagining.
But will we be fully present at this moment? Will we try to hold on to our old patterns? Are we prepared to give up our images of security and go with an energy of change that can effect everything?
Life always gives us an opportunity and a choice. For those who can read the signs it is not difficult to see that great changes are constellating in the inner and our worlds. We can see it in the unprecedented loss of species as well as in global political changes suddenly happening around us. Many of us also sense it in our dreams—see an inner tsunami coming. What really matters is not whether the Mayan prophecies about a date in December prove accurate, but whether we are awake in this moment of our planet’s time. Are we like the Mokan, attentive to the changes happening around us, and thus able to access a deeper wisdom that knows how to respond. Or will we be like the sailors who were destroyed by the tsunami, “who did not know how to look.”
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D., Sufi teacher and author. His most recent book is Fragments of a Love Story, Reflections on the Life of a Mystic .
©2012 The Golden Sufi Center, www.goldensufi.org