The world is subject to change: plants, animals and languages perish and die. Life is dynamism and progression, and also decay or a leap into new orbits. It is a chain of phenomena, infinite and inexplicable. With its theories of relativity science has also made time into an uncertain quantity and with it all our ideas about simultaneity.
Given these perspectives, it is problematic to talk of a ‘here and now’. Just as strange as to speak about 'up and down', when the earth is round. The concept of ‘here and now’ implies a stationary idea. None the less we experience moments in the continuous process that life is. I shall also avail myself of the current terminology and speak of a ‘here and now’. A poem can be an impact on time of this kind, and while these lines are being written, several minutes have also ‘passed’, minutes that will never return. In the very instant that present is present, it turns into past. To the moment are tied not only the past, but also expectation and possibilities for the future.
Change is not necessarily tragic, and is not only a condition that must be endured. It is in the mutable that the magic of life is to be found: there the experience of time is given.
The risk for the modern individual is that of living more in the future than in the present, i.e. at the expense of the present and without presence, constantly on the way, without plan or conscious aim, instead of concentrating on the moment, which includes both past and future. To put everything into the single moment need mean neither painful loss of past nor be tantamount to giving up setting goals for oneself. What it involves is to have oneself with one. Always.
Every process has a duration in time, but in itself time is nothing. Yet something is given that unfolds time. My cells die and are replaced, I am a body in transformation. All the same, that body is still me, it is my fate. The child inside me is there, the young girl, everything I have been and already am – it is there at the same time.
The certainty of the end, of death, is decisive for every momentary action, but the past as a time dimension imparts to the present its special meaning.
translated from Danish by David McDuff
Note: the posts with the translated text of Chapters I and II can be accessed here and here.