Almost fifty years ago, the German writer Michael Ende published Momo, a little prophetic book where imaginary grey men literally stole time from human beings (their “hour-flowers”), showing the alleged uselessness of leisure and carefree time… and promising that if they followed their advice, they could monetize their entire time. In Momo, the grey men were defeated thanks to the alliance with Mastro Hora, the Lord of Time. But if we look at human life today, in reality the winners could well be the grey men!
More than 2000 years ago, during a debate about the shortness of human life, Seneca said:
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.
When Momo asks Master Hora to prevent the grey men from stealing time from human beings, he replies: “No, I cannot, because men have to decide how to spend their time, and it is up to them to defend it. I can only distribute it”.
If it is true that every human being is responsible for the management of their time, it is necessary to consider that time contains a mystery, which we will now try to look at more closely. Years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds… the measurement of time seems to be the same for everyone nowadays. The time marked by satellite watches is valid for everyone, but each one of us knows a time that has felt very long, or long periods of time that have slipped away in the blink of an eye.
Why is the perception of time not always the same?
What makes the flow of minutes so elastic? Maybe emotion? Or consciousness? Why do the moments that precede a possible incident last for a long time and contain a conscience that sometimes embraces a lifetime? Why does a great love, lasting only a few months, take such a great space in our memories?
Consciousness is one of the main attributes of the soul, and emotions, feelings, and thoughts are elements that first of all nourish the consciousness; we may thus say that there is a “body time” and a “soul time”.
Regarding the “body time” we must remember that the first time-meter is the heartbeat – just think, that the duration of one minute -sixty seconds- generally encompasses a little over sixty heartbeats. The body, therefore, is in alignment with clock time.
About the “soul time”, we enter in a much more varied field, since the soul can assume very different connotations and characteristics. By nature, the soul – as Plato said – may be very close to the body as well as very close to the spirit, depending on its orientation and its state of development. It can therefore experience the flow of time in various ways, depending on many factors.
Two types of time
The ancient Greeks used two distinct terms to name time: Cronos and Kairos. While the first one refers to the chronological and sequential time, the line of past-present-future, the second one indicates an indefinite time in which “something special” happens.
From an individual, personal point of view, the motto “Carpe Diem” is a typical example of action that takes place over time in Kairos. From a spiritual point of view, we may observe that in the New Testament the term Kairos indicates “the time when God acts”.
Even in the pre-Columbian tradition of the Central American Indians, two types of time were known: Tonal and Nagual.
Tonal time is the “linear time” of daily life, the time when one hour lasts 60 minutes. Nagual is instead the “spiritual time”, a fluid time, in which the experience of the duration is variable. Tonal is one-dimensional, while Nagual is the bridge between two dimensions: the individual inner dimension and the dimension of another world, the spiritual world.
It is also called the infinite stranger, which cannot be reproduced in words, since it can only be experienced internally. In Nagual’s time the consciousness of the human being asks questions like “Who am I? What does life mean to me? What remains of me, once stripped of my roles and my alleged identity? Is there a spiritual nucleus in me? What is my deepest aspiration?”. When you experience such a state of being, for at least short periods of time, Nagual becomes indispensable, otherwise you become agitated, stressed, unhappy.
In our present western civilization we sometimes speak of time and eternity, but these concepts have been profoundly misunderstood because generally it is believed that time is something that is always new, different, constantly changing and evolving, while eternity is a fundamentally static representation, like a concrete reality and always equal to itself.
History shows, instead, that time follows courses and recourses, through cyclical and repetitive development, as if it were not really straightforward but circular and closed in itself (from day to night to day, from spring to winter and then again to spring…) while eternity is a “living present”, the continuous sequences of unique and unrepeatable moments that escape the control of reason.
Is there a way to go from Cronos to Kairos, from Tonal to Nagual, from the place of time to the place of eternity? Where is the door that connects these two worlds?
The symbol of the cross, an ancient symbol far before its use by the Christian religion, shows the intersection of “horizontal-straight-line time”, the linear succession of the past-present-future with the “vertical-spiritual time “Time-out-of-time. On the other hand, the human being, when stretching his arms, is a perfect example of a living cross, and then one can ask “What is the central point at the intersection of the two beams?”, since at that very point Cronos and Kairos, Tonal and Nagual, time and eternity come into contact.
Between time and eternity
The human being is at the intersection of time with Eternity. Human beings therefore have a certain amount of time, short or long, depending on how they will use it. They have a body with a deadline -which is unknown-, but also a soul that might be able to cross the frontier separating the two worlds.
Humans are lost in time and space, until they finally realize that it is indispensable to decipher the mystery of life. Then they choose an existential way that will sooner or later lead them to Gnosis, the knowledge of the origins of the world and logos. Now everything is deception for them, everything assumes another meaning, since their existence becomes a continuous stream of “nows”, and in every “now” they can shape their own reality.