“Past, present, and future interact in the undivided dynamic of a circle or a wheel, offering one another fundamental support” Tarthang Tulku, “Knowledge of Time and Space”, Dharma Publishing, 2017, page 114.
The word “support” is unexpected, to describe a feature of time, and so the mind hurries to account for it. The notion of support suggests that there can be a relationship among the three times: the present, as the seat of awareness, intention, interest, and motivation, reaching toward the future (and belief in the future) in order to feel hope for all the aspirations, goals, and plans that arise in the present; and the present consulting the past in order to countervail against the helplessness of a blank slate devoid of friends and allies, or a sense of what has value.
When we awaken to the living dynamic of time, we can move beyond the conviction that we are treading a one-way pathway, confined to a single moment in a sequence of moments, where all that has gone before is irretrievably lost and all that lies ahead is hidden behind an impenetrable screen.
The sense that time is a one dimensional path, heading in one direction only, can be opened up through an invocation of multidimensional space. Expanding our view of time to include the space outside a track of instants, along which we are confined to a single moment we call “now”, we can ask what this linear sequence has to do with the spacious and mysterious force that animates our evolving lives.
If whenever we look at the past we are beset by regret and a sense of loss, and whenever we look at the future we are beset by anxiety and a sense that we are powerless, we can still look to right and left, above and below, in addition to ahead and behind. It’s not as if there is no past and no future. But as long as we view past and future as equally inaccessible to the speeding bullet train of this present moment, in which we feel encapsulated, we will have little choice but to feel unsupported by a dynamic, creative kind of time in which all that has already happened can guide us and all that has not yet come to pass, is recognized as a ship, full of all we care about, that is even now lowering its gangplank onto the shores of our present life.
Feeling ourselves confined to a sequence of isolated moments, we reach out for support, as if we were traversing a rope bridge strung across a windy canyon. Dizzy at the prospect of falling, we grasp hold of the ropes on either side. Imagining ourselves midway across this swaying bridge, we are in a hurry to reach the safety of the other side. We scarcely ever notice that the slat on which we stand is itself more than a tiny foothold on a swaying bridge, dangling above a yawning chasm. We tell ourselves that the past is all the slats we have already traversed and the future all the slats that separate us from the far wall of the canyon. But could this entire rope bridge be our living presence in life, while to our left is all that we have ever known—a vast openness outlined by the ravens rising on each updraft and colored in by clouds scudding on high desert winds—while to our right are all the possibilities that await the moment when they too will be swept up by the canyon winds that never cease from weaving the tapestry of time.
What could it mean to say that past, present and future “support” one another? Support suggests a different kind of connection than either logical linkage or undifferentiated oneness. Supportive relationships usually involve the presence of an assumed separation which is then spanned by common interest and shared understanding. Exploring this way of looking, we can speculate that whoever we may have been (especially at times when we survived being cast adrift by events) these earlier versions of ourselves are ready to fall in beside us whenever we recognize and welcome them. And if we reach out toward the future, as if leaning on a rope that keeps us secure during our tumultuous journey above the unfathomed openness of space, we may find a different kind of friend in time: a friend who shows up when least expected, and when most needed.
We can ask: has the future ever not showed up, has it ever failed to flow into our present situation–like a next breath, the light of dawn, or the birth of a being emerging from the mysterious beyond? We may not always like what the future brings, but who has ever experienced a future that never comes? The sense that we have no future is really just a projection of present discouragement.
The best antidote to such discouragement may well be the very stream of time in which our lives are unfolding. If we reach out with one hand to what has come before and with the other hand to whatever is about to arrive, something will shift in the middle ground of our present experience. Discovering that who we have been has our back and who we will become is already whispering in our ear, we realize that we are inhabitants of an undisclosed potential of being not confined to a single moment.
The circle of life, like the wheel of heaven, keeps turning; and whether we are on the hub or holding on for dear life to the rotating rim, we can never fall off the great wheel of time. So we might as well relax and enjoy the ride.