People sure seem to be getting worked up about the end of time these days.
Some people believe that the end of time has been cosmically scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012, and that Mayas knew all about this -- 5,125 years ago.
Those of a survivalist bent are stocking up on candles and canned food. And those of an apocalyptic bent -- well, I suspect that they had their bags packed and were ready to go anyway.
There are many people, however, who believe that the Mayas got the date right, but that the prophecy should be taken symbolically rather than literally. They believe that the Mayas predicted not the end of time, per se, but the end of a way of living -- and thus the beginning of a new and better future.
These optimistic souls consider Dec. 21, 2012 to be the date on which a great transformation will take place: a shift in human consciousness. From their point of view, Dec. 21, 2012 gives us an extraordinary opportunity -- a once-in-5.125-millennia opportunity, to be precise -- for reflection, contemplation and celebration. It gives us a chance to open our minds when the time is ripe -- when there is a heightened potential for positive change.
Whether or not you believe there is some cosmic significance to the date, the fact that so many people are consciously focusing energy on a specific intention at the same time does have some significance. The choice to spend a day together in prayer, meditation and reflection is itself a creative and constructive action. And such an action might even have the power to shift consciousness -- at very least for those who take part.
There is another interpretation of the end of time, however -- one that isn't getting much publicity. And if you really want to be ready for the end of time, this one could be the most helpful.
This begins when you realize that no one really knows what "time" is. Yes, physicists just can't agree on the subject. And some even say that time isn't even real.
Einstein, who debunked the Newtonian idea that time is absolute by showing its relativity to space, reputedly said, "Time and space are modes in which we think, not conditions in which we live."
If you stop for a moment to take this in, it's quite something: Time might not be a feature of the physical universe. Yes, there are things about the physical universe that are suggestive of time, such as change and decay, but as for time -- well, it's just not there.
I would love to explain this in more depth, but there isn't time for that here (or perhaps I should say, space for that now). So let me oversimplify: The measurement of time is best understood as a human construct It is a perspective that we co-created and that we perpetuate. We teach it to our children, and we take it to be real. It is a belief that we have used to divide and conquer reality -- a reality that is actually quite hard to get a grip on.
Certainly, time is useful. It gets us to the church on time. We use it to convince our boss when it's time to go home. It gets us to the airport in just enough time to complain about the delayed departure. But time just isn't as real as you think. The hour that is displayed on the clock you are watching does not actually refer to something that's really out there.
And here's an even stranger thing...
Although we don't know what time is, and it may not even be real, we do have a very tangible fear that it will end. We fear that our own time, as individuals, will end. And we fear that our collective time, as a species, will end, too. Indeed, we fear the end of time as if our lives depended on it.
And here's an even stranger thing...
Although we fear that time will end, we also have a profound yearning to be free of it. For time -- or rather, our belief in it -- is also responsible for our suffering. We are prisoners of time, we are slaves of time. We feel short of time and pressed for time. And we get very wound up when we believe that time is winding down.
Many spiritual traditions, however, describe a certain experience in which time seems to stop altogether. Or to say this more accurately, in this experience our normal perception of time is suspended and we experience something -- and here, words fail -- that is beyond time. Let's call this the timeless.
In this experience, there is freedom from all of the conventions about time that enslave us. There is freedom not just from our crazy-busy schedules, but from deeper consequences of our belief in time, too: our fear of old age and death, the burden of history, our regret about the past, and our worry about the future. We are even free of yearning itself.
In this experience, we also get a break from ourselves. Our sense of self -- our "identity" -- is really a story, and being a story, it is dependent on time. And so, in the release from time, when we get a break from ourselves, we are released from the pain of separation, the pain of division. And what remains is the absence of separation -- or in other words, Love.
Fortunately, this experience is not just available on Dec. 21, 2012.
The end of time is available now.
Indeed, the end of time can happen to you any time. It can happen when you pause for a moment, as if suspended, between thoughts. It can happen when you are so involved in building a sand castle or running a marathon that you lose awareness of yourself -- and yet, feel totally fulfilled.
The end of time can happen when you are meditating, just as soon as you stop looking for it. It can happen when you suddenly perceive the surprising beauty of a dying flower. It can happen when you're dancing in such ecstasy that the universe around you slips out of focus.
It can even happen when your whole life has fallen apart, and you feel broken, without hope.
It can even happen in times of collective heartbreak, when you are united with others only by tears and incomprehension.
Actually, the end of time can happen any time, because it is always here.
And if you want to be ready for it, the best way to get started is by stopping. For just a moment, stop doing and stop thinking. Most of all, stop worrying about the end of time. Let things be, just as they are.
Martin Boroson is author of 'One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go.' He is a keynote speaker and provides leadership and workforce training in One-Moment Meditation at hospitals, corporations, and in a yearlong online course (that takes just one minute a day). For a quick introduction to One-Moment Meditation, or to receive free One-Moment Meditation tips and reminders, visit him at www.onemomentmeditation.com.