The Mystery of Time
Like many other spiritual traditions, ACIM teaches that time is an illusion here on earth, but in the celestial realm there is no time as we know it. The state in the celestial realm is usually described as “The Eternal Now.”
The Course does not use this term but does state that “The present is the only time there is.” W-pI.164.1
It also tells us:
“The present is before time was, and will be when time is no more. In it are all things that are eternal, and they are one.” T-13.VI.6
“The only aspect of time that is eternal is now.” T-5.III.6
This eternal now or “present” is often described by the Course as timeless or timelessness:
“In timelessness we coexist with God.” T-2.V.A.17
“all the past undone; the present saved to quietly extend into a timeless future.” W-pI.110.4
Time itself is a very mysterious entity. Scientists and philosophers have tried to explain it for thousands of years and still there is no uniform description of it that is accepted by all.
Time is generally associated with motion, as we use the motion of our clocks to measure it. The question then arises as to whether time would still exist if all that existed was some formless void with nothing in motion. In that situation some say there would be no time, whereas others say time still exists independent of form and motion.
People generally see time as events that move from the past to the future with a focus on the present, but various spiritual teachers and philosophers have often speculated on the existence of an eternal present. This is the direction A Course in Miracles takes us. It says this:
“For time but seems to go in one direction. We but undertake a journey that is over. Yet it seems to have a future still unknown to us. Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic.” W-pI.158.3-4
Time as we understand it began with the separation:
“Ultimately, space is as meaningless as time. Both are merely beliefs. … Acts were not necessary before the separation, because belief in space and time did not exist.” T-1.VI.3 & T-2.II.4
The Course here tells us that in heaven before the separation there were no “acts” (or motion) because there was no space and time. Without space, form and motion, time could not exist as we know it.
Indeed, it is difficult for us mere mortals to understand what an eternal present with no space, form or motion would be like. Some who have had near-death and various spiritual experiences tell us that they have experienced a sense of timelessness, but cannot seem to describe the feeling in a way that conveys much meaning.
That said, let us look at what the Course says about time to see if we can shed any light on the subject.
The first thing to register with the seeker is that ACIM says that time within our dream state is an illusion, but not time itself. There are two versions of time presented by the Course. There is time as we know it that flows from the past to the future. ACIM calls this horizontal time. Then there is real time which is the eternal present. This is referred to as vertical or collapsed time, (See T-1.II.6) After all, it says, “The present is the only time there is.” W-pI.164.1
So, time itself is not an illusion, for time as the present is real. What is illusion is the way we divide time and then perceive it.
The wording in the Course makes for some misunderstanding when speaking of time as being not real, for it is only speaking of time in this world when doing so. Students often think that all time is therefore not real, but this is not the case. There is also a heavenly time called “the present.”
We all have a reasonable idea of what time is in our material reality, but what would time be like in the eternal present in heaven? Let us examine the differences between time on earth and in heaven.
Time as we understand it here exists in a universe of form, space, motion and consciousness. It seems to go from an unknowable past to an indefinite future.
Time in heaven would definitely be different than time here, as the Course tells us that there is no space, form, action or consciousness there. Instead of consciousness, the word that best describes our state would be awareness as in this quote: Heaven is “merely an awareness of perfect Oneness.” T-18.VI.1
Since the eternal present is said to lack the aspects of time as we know it, many teachers say there is no time in the eternal world and this presents us with the problem caused by our imperfect communication using language. Words have their limitations. If one defines time as earth time alone, then he could rightfully say that time does not exist, even though there is a different version in the eternal world. That different version is sometimes called by a different name, such as the eternal present, timelessness, eternity etc., but it still is a version of time. It is just quite different from the ego’s horizontal version of it.
One definition of time is that it is a flow of events and change.
Do events take place in heaven? The answer to this is yes, and the main event there is creation. It is written:
“Unless you create you are unfulfilled, but God does not know unfulfillment and therefore you must create.” T-7.IX.3
All kinds of creation have taken place in heaven. The first creation was the Son, which consists of an unlimited number of parts, and the extension of the Son through other Sons is an ongoing process as discussed in chapter five.
Next, we had the creation of angels. This was followed by the event of the separation, and following this was the creation of the Holy Spirit.
We thus have events and changes going on in heaven that would involve some version of time.
“But wait,” says a student. “The Course tells us that everything in heaven is eternal and changeless. How could this be if creation is an ongoing thing?”
The conflicting idea presented in the Course that there is extension and creation, yet changelessness, is a paradox most students just chalk up to a great mystery that they’ll hopefully understand when they awaken. On the other hand, the Course does give us some clues to solve this conundrum. A major revelation is given in this quote:
“What is timeless is always there, because its being is eternally changeless. It does not change by increase, because it was forever created to increase.” T-7.I.7
This is a very interesting statement. It tells us that God’s creations are “timeless” and “eternally changeless” yet “forever created to increase.”
In other words, change is happening in the eternal present, but the actual change caused by extension or increase is always there and is incorporated into the Course’s definition of changelessness. The change or expansion created by extension is always going on, so from the eternal perspective it is not change.
It may be helpful to visualize a balloon being blown up that always expands and never ends. If you observe the balloon as always being in this state of expansion you could say that this state never changes, even though there is increase. Similarly, there is changeless increase in heaven from one angle of looking at it, but change or “extension” happens from another view.
We are clearly told that heaven itself is in this eternal state of increase:
“Beyond the body, beyond the sun and stars, past everything you see and yet somehow familiar, is an arc of golden light that stretches as you look into a great and shining circle. And all the circle fills with light before your eyes. The edges of the circle disappear, and what is in it is no longer contained at all. The light expands and covers everything, extending to infinity forever shining and with no break or limit anywhere.” T-21.I.8
So, heaven is encircled by “an arc of golden light that stretches.” “The light expands and covers everything, extending to infinity…”
All heaven itself, or all there is, forever increases by stretching and expanding to infinity.
This corresponds to what scientists have discovered about our visible universe, which has many aspects that correspond to the invisible.
They have discovered that our entire visible universe is not only expanding, but the rate of expansion is consistently increasing. This discovery has baffled the greatest scientific minds and they have yet to come up with a solid explanation of how this could be, as it runs contrary to all expectations. The best they can come up with is that there is some mysterious “dark energy” that is at work creating the expansion.
Perhaps a better name for that which is driving the expansion of God’s creations would be “light energy” rather than dark. Scientists merely call it dark because they do not understand what it is.
Rather than teaching that there is no time, the Course tells us there are two versions of time.
One is time as we understand it in this world that moves from an apparent past to the future. This time is considered to be illusion and does not exist in true reality, but we have made it real to us.
Then we have what is “timelessness” or the eternal present. This is said to be the “only time there is,” but notice it is still identified with time.
We are told that “Earth can reflect Heaven.” T-14.IX.5 However, the reflections on earth are distorted, even so, symbols often reflect truth. Could we say then that the divisions of past, present and future that we have on earth are an imperfect reflection of time in heaven? If this is the case, then a higher correspondence should be at least hinted at in the course.
Indeed, this seems to be the case.
In addition to saying time is a trick it says:
“Fear is not of the present, but only of the past and future, which do not exist.” T-15.I.8
But then it kind of backtracks like this message to Helen Schucman
From the Voice: “There was a past, but it does not matter. It does not explain the present or account for the future.” Chapter 5 Section 7 COA
Indeed, the past can have some residual value according to the Course: “All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal.” T-5.IV.8
Here it again emphasizes that loving thoughts of the past are preserved: “If all but loving thoughts have been forgotten, what remains is eternal. And the transformed past is made like the present. No longer does the past conflict with now. This continuity extends the present by increasing its reality and its value in your perception of it.” T-17.III.5
“This interpretation ties the future to the present, and extends the present rather than the past.” T-13.IV.9
“The future now is recognized as but extension of the present.” W-pII.314.1
Interestingly the loving thoughts of the past “extends the present.”
These teachings are in harmony with the words of Paul in the New Testament:
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” I Cor 13:8-10 NIV
Here we have an explanation as to why time, particularly the past, is often spoken of as being not real:
“Whenever we move from one instant to the next, the previous one no longer exists.” UR T 3 C 34
And that gives us the basic message of time on earth from the view of true reality. When we focus on the present, it is as if there is no past except for those things motivated by love, which are an eternal quality which is carried over into the eternal present.
Most of our time on earth is concerned with dealing with negating our fears and concerns with daily living and does not even exist from the view of heaven, but anything linked to thoughts of love is incorporated into the eternal present and continues.
Even though time in heaven, as an eternal present, is much different than time in this world, there are still similarities related to our view of the past as well as the future.
Memory in this world is closely linked to the past, for in our current state that is where memory seems to be. The Course considers our memories here as part of the illusion.
“What you remember never was. It came from causelessness which you confused with cause.” T-28.I.9
“Memory, like perception, is a skill made up by you to take the place of what God gave in your creation.” T-28.I.2
Even though our use of memory on earth is discounted, it appears to be an asset we still use in heaven. The difference is that in the celestial sphere memory is associated with the present rather than the past.
“The Holy Spirit can indeed make use of memory, for God Himself is there. Yet this is not a memory of past events, but only of a present state. You are so long accustomed to believe that memory holds only what is past, that it is hard for you to realize it is a skill that can remember now.” T-28.I.4
So, God, the Holy Spirit and we in our awakened state still use memory, but instead of remembering the past we remember the “present state” or “now.”
“It (higher memory) is not past because He let It not be unremembered. It has never changed, because there never was a time in which He did not keep It safely in your mind.” T-28.I.8.
“Yet His memory shines in your mind and cannot be obliterated. It is no more past than future, being forever always. You have but to ask for this memory, and you will remember.” T-12.VIII.4-5
This is somewhat difficult to put our heads around, for anything we remember in this world is something from the past, but if we remember something from heaven, we bring again to our minds something that is eternal that is linked to the present, which always is.
The question now arises as to what is to be remembered by those who are awake?
The most important thing for us to remember is our Creator:
“Give up gladly everything that would stand in the way of your remembering, for God is in your memory. His Voice will tell you that you are part of Him when you are willing to remember Him and know your own reality again. Let nothing in this world delay your remembering of Him, for in this remembering is the knowledge of yourself.” T-10.II.2
“God’s memory is in our holy minds, which know their oneness and their unity with their Creator. Let our function be only to let this memory return” W-pII.11.4
Remembering God is important, for this gives us a knowledge of ourselves and our oneness with Him. In addition, it is important to remember our heavenly home itself:
“This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return,” W-pI.182.1
In addition, “with this memory, the Son remembers his own creations, as like to him as he is to his Father.” T-24.II.6
There is also an ancient song heavenly inhabitants are to remember:
“You know the ancient song, and know it well. Nothing will ever be as dear to you as is this ancient hymn of love the Son of God sings to his Father still. … And who is there in whom this memory lies not?” T-21.I.9-10
We are also supposed to remember our true name:
“The miracle but calls your ancient Name, which you will recognize because the truth is in your memory.” T-26.VII.16
We are also to remember our “brothers” or the other Sons of God:
“And in our memory is the recall how dear our brothers are to us in truth, how much a part of us is every mind, how faithful they have really been to us, and how our Father’s Love contains them all.” pI.139.11
In our right minds we can retain the memory of that which “is creative and good” from this world:
“You can, however, apply it meaningfully and at any time to everything you have made, and retain in your memory only what is creative and good. This is what your right-mindedness cannot but dictate.” T-2.VIII.5
Then we have a promise of a memory of virtually everything connected with the true reality:
“Very simply, you would remember your Father. The Creator of life, the Source of everything that lives, the Father of the universe and of the universe of universes, and of everything that lies even beyond them would you remember. “ T-19.IV.D.1
That is quite a promise to remember “the universe of universes, and of everything that lies even beyond them.”
Finally, we still have the memory of the initial separation in the memory of the Son: “but being kept in memory appears to have immediate effects.” T-28.I.1
In conclusion, we see that in our true state there is still memory, but it is connected with the present instead of the past, and with this memory many things are still recalled. Our priorities are merely different in our right minds.
In this world it appears that time moves from the past to the future. The Course says that this is incorrect and caused by an illusion. But in the true reality time still exists. It is called present time and moves within the present itself by an eternal expansion process called extension.
“all the past undone; the present saved to quietly extend into a timeless future.” W-pI.110.4
“No longer does the past conflict with now. This continuity extends the present by increasing its reality and its value in your perception of it.” T-17.III.5
Therefore, time moves in heaven from the present to an extended present it calls a “timeless future.”
This seems to explain why events in heaven, as described in the Course, happen in some type of timeframe even though it may be registered differently than the one we use in this world. Let’s go through some examples.
The prime example is our own creation. If we are created beings, then there was a time in the extension process before this happened, when it happened, and a time afterward.
Then the Son continues the creative process by creating more sons.
“your creations, who are son to you, that you might share the Fatherhood of God,” T-24.VII.1
You then will share creation with God by making creations “who are son to you.” There is a time in the extension where your sons have not manifest, a time when they are created and one afterwards, but because the process is always ongoing it is considered to be happening in the eternal present.
The Holy Spirit also had a creation:
“He came into being with the separation as a protection, inspiring the Atonement principle at the same time. Before that there was no need for healing, for no one was comfortless.” T-5.I.5
“He has created the Holy Spirit as the Mediator between perception and knowledge.” W-pI.43.1
The Course then tells us that there was a time “before” the creation of the Holy Spirit when “there was no need for healing.” Then after all awaken the “Holy Spirit will remain with the Sons of God, to bless their creations and keep them in the light of joy.” T-5.I.5.
Another creation is the angelic kingdom which would also have a before and after in the extension process.
“You were created ABOVE the angels because your role involves creation as well as protection.” UR T 1 B 30y
The event that started the separation is said to have occurred in “an ancient past.”
“Time really, then, goes backward to an instant so ancient that it is beyond all memory, and past even the possibility of remembering. Yet because it is an instant that is relived again and again and still again, it seems to be now.” M-2.4
Time, as we understand it, goes way back “beyond all memory.” If this is referring to heavenly memory then that would be an ancient past indeed.
“Only in the past,–an ancient past, too short to make a world in answer to creation,–did this world appear to rise. So very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven’s song was missed.” T-26.V.5
There we have it. The appearance of this world involved “a tiny interval of time.”
Which time was that – heavenly or earthly? We are told that “the separation occurred over millions of years” (T-2.VIII.2) so by our measurements. it was certainly no tiny interval. Therefore, the Course had to be referring to a tiny interval of time in heaven.
Time in heaven seems to be measured by instants, and an instant, which is short by heavenly time, may be very long by our standards. For instance, the Course refers to the mad idea of the creation of our world, which has been going on for over 13 billion years as a mere instant
“For what could house this mad idea against reality but for an instant?” T-20.VI.8
All of our universe of time and space is referred to as happening in “The tiny instant you would keep and make eternal.” T-26.V.4
Indeed, the reckoning of time in heaven is much different than it is here in world of illusion, making it difficult to understand in our current consciousness:
“The mind’s preoccupation with the past is the cause of the misconception about time from which your seeing suffers. Your mind cannot grasp the present, which is the only time there is.” W-pI.8.1
We cannot fully grasp eternal time from our reality but the Course does give us a few hints which are worthy of contemplation.
Copyright by J J Dewey
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2 thoughts on “The Mysteries of A Course in Miracles, Chapter 15”
should read: Not searching for something without, past or future…
Interesting. So it would seem that the way to access this present memory would be in the present, through the Kingdom of God which is within each of us. Not searching for something without, past or present , but giving space to allow all of creation which is within us to reveal the true memory of our Divinity, which we have always possessed and know the peace, love and unity which is our true nature but has been hidden from us due to our thoughts, beliefs and actions of separateness. Thank you for this beautiful post.