the human being — time and death
Existence is time. It’s not coincidental that time caused us to look at being-here separately from abstract “being” and ask what it otherwise would not have occurred to us to ask, why do I die, or “Why does being-here seem to end?”
My life is both temporal and temporary. There’s a connection between the two. It seems the very nature of the modulations of existence is to find better ways to be-here, to survive and extend survival. The vitality displayed by matter’s energy is not a leisured aesthetic creativity, an unhurried pastime. There is an urgency here that derives from a conatus, a drive to survive, that is integral to a developing universal entropy that results from the energy expenditure of any “thing,” whether it be the hydrogen fusing into helium in stars or the respiratory activity of the cells of the human brain. Entropy is the exhaust from combustion — the smoke that is the sign of fire — the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to move toward a state of uniform inertia through the expenditure of energy for the performance of work. Work is energy applied in the endeavor to survive. The aggregation and integration forged by matter’s energy is part and parcel of the “downhill” flow of the existential cataract initiated at the big-bang that drives the Universe to produce its effects — like the eddies and vortices that spin off in a raging current. These pyramidal vortices (one vortex cumulatively building on another and another) are an anti-entropic phenomenon — they struggle against dissolution, to survive — even though they add to universal entropy as a result.
My life is the inner force of existence because it is matter’s energy. It is driven in the direction of perdurance in an obsession to continue the dance of presence. Time is the effluence of my own presence. As my existence perdures from moment to moment — as each “now” molts into the next — it emanates time as the sweat of its creative labors; the vapor trail of its endless explorations. I embrace my being-here, and so I embrace time.
The transcendence over death, not only through evolutionary integration but also with other communitarian strategies like daily alimentation and organismic reproduction, harnesses even as it recapitulates the patterns and primordial energies let loose within the first second of the big bang. The energy that drives my hunger for existence, is the energy of matter itself.
We live in a banquet of existence. We are not self-sufficient. We are dependent on the entire material matrix within which we evolved. In our lifetime, each human organism consumes in sustenance probably 40 or 50 tons of the matter’s energy — in the form of carbon — of other living things who must die in order that we might live. Add to that another 50 tons of oxygen continuously drawn in from the atmosphere and utilized together with carbon in the cellular combustion we call metabolism. At death we return our “stuff” to be used as food by others as part of an endless cycle of interchange within the one organism produced and energized by the cascade of existence. Matter’s energy is a totality.
At a certain magical moment, also, the very cells of my body, by utilizing another communitarian tactic, combine with another’s to create a new identity — my daughter, my son — which is automatically granted a full allotment of time, slipping under the entropic radar of death. How was this miracle accomplished? The living cells are mine, but their age and accumulated karma are erased. Death is cheated, fooled, outwitted. The new individual with my cells, my DNA, eludes the death they were otherwise destined to endure. Do we share this adventure in survival with love and gratitude? … Only if we understand!
But if we mis-understand — if we originally mis-interpreted that moment of crisis, the perception of death, as the cessation of what’s really there, we are quite capable of turning this banquet of sharing into a selfish grab-bag where the desperate “eat drink and make merry” in a display of bitter disillusionment against a morrow of imagined nothingness. It is precisely the fact that “I” am metaphysically insignificant except as an integrated function of matter’s energy that opens me to a new dimension. I realize that what is really there and really important is the matrix, the universal “stuff” of which I am made, the homogeneous substrate of which all things are made, the single organism of which we are all the leaves and branches, and which will go on in other forms endlessly. It was with those micro-threads of existence that I was woven. The primacy here, as always, belongs to the stuff of existence, the matter-energy of the universe. It is material energy “congealed” in me. And in short order, the same existence will use “me” to do something else in a constant search for survival — existence.
So time is the expression of process; it is the measure of groping and the tracks of creativity. It marks the work in progress of evolutionary development.
endless or “eternal”
The re-cycling is endless. Isn’t that the same as “eternal,” and doesn’t it imply transcendent, necessary, absolute etc., all those abstract, essentialist characteristics derived from the “concept of being” that we rejected in chapter 1?
No. Endless is not “eternal” because endless is open and empty. “Eternal” is closed, fixed and finished, full and complete; “eternal” is the absence of time. Endless, on the other hand, is time … time without end; it contemplates development without term, a presence that is forever thirsty. “Eternal,” is synonymous with unchanging, impassible and immutable, Pure Act, pure stasis, without a shred of unfulfilled potential — perfect. It’s a completely foreign concept to us, pure conceptual projection. We’ve never experienced anything the least bit like it. For us, being-here as we know it is an endless phenomenon that throbs always with unrealized potential, with an ever perceived emptiness seeking to be filled and asking for nothing but more time. We have never encountered existence in any other form. Its current modality is always in the process of becoming, apparently without limit, itself — existence.
Being-here in our world, is endless becoming. It’s all we know. Where, then, do we get the notion of a fixed and finished “eternal”? I believe it’s another of our fantasies based on the requirements of the imaginary ancient “concept of being.” Existence, matter’s energy, as found in the real world, however, is a function of power — potentia as Spinoza discerned insightfully — potential; it is focused on survival and constantly ready to change tactics in order to achieve it. Matter’s creative power is the drive to exist (survive) by extruding new forms out of itself creating time.
“Eternal” is unthinkable. Endless is not. We can understand endless perfectly because it’s no different from time itself. To conceptualize “endless” requires no more insight than imagining present moments, “nows” in an open-ended flow into the future. In our very own awareness of ourselves-existing, which is the unfolding of our personal presence in time, we actually experience this phenomenon most intimately as our own sentient selves. We experience ourselves in a temporal flow into a potentially endless future. To experience temporal flow is to experience that part of “endless” which will always be here — the present moment, “now,” the only part of “endless” that ever … and always, exists. To experience one’s own presence in the here and now is to experience, in a sense, everything, because it is to experience all that reality is, or ever was, or can ever be.
We are reminded that for the 14th century mystic Johannes Eckhart, “now” was the most sacred of all locations, the center of the universe. It was precisely where “God,” he said, who exists in an Eternal “Now,” was actively sharing “being” with creation in an effluence of love and self-donation. If you want to touch “God,” he said, you can only do it “now.” The fact that “now” — the present moment — is the only moment that really exists and that, at the same time, it goes almost universally unattended, may be a measure of exactly how alienated from existence we are.
Can we say that our conception corresponds to the emphasis on living in the present moment promoted by the Buddhist, Thich Nat Hanh? The Buddhists insist their counsel is a discipline not a doctrine. They don’t speak about metaphysics, “being” or existence, so we can’t say for sure. But for the Buddhists, as for Meister Eckhart, the present moment is all there is. We are-here only in the present moment. To live in the present moment is to embrace the impermanence, the “emptiness” that drives reality always to the next moment, creating time.