Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Trapped In Our Own NOW

The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight" is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close as the machine on which you are reading these words. Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping pasts. So where, then, is "now"?

As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the depths of space you are also looking back in time. Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as they appeared when the last ice age was in full bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of years in the past.

We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.

Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the same "now" for us.

The multiple, foliated pasts comprising our present would be weird enough if it was just a matter of astronomy. But the simple truth is that every aspect of our personal "now" is a layered impression of a world already lost to the past...

We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.

The simple conclusions described above derive, in their way, from relativity theory and they seem to spell the death knell for a philosophical stance called Presentism. According to Presentism only the present moment has ontological validity. In other words: only the present truly exists; only the present is real.

Presentism holds an intuitive sway for many people. It just feels right. For myself, when I try and explore the texture of my own experience, I can't help but feel a sense of the present's dominance. Buddhism, with its emphasis on contemplative introspection, has developed a sophisticated presentist stance concerning the nature of reality. "Anyone who has ever mediated for anytime" the abbot of a Zen monastery once told me "finds that the past and future are illusions."

Yes, but ...

The reality that even light travels at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact that, at best, the present exists at the fractured center of many overlapping pasts.

So where, then, are we in time? Where is our "now" and how does it live in the midst of a universe comprised of so many "thens"?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Only In My Thoughts...

‎"I have so much to tell you that I do not [know] where to begin. 
Nor do I know what things I have actually written to you about already, 
and what things I have related to you only in my thoughts" 

... Alban Berg to Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno
Vienna. May 2, 1927

Friday, July 15, 2011



“The Messenger of God stood [in prayer] and lengthened his prostration until I thought that he died. When I saw this, I got up to move his finger and it moved. And so I went back. When he rose his head from prostration towards me and completed his prayers he said, ‘O ʿĀʾisha, or O Ḥumayrāʾ, did you believe that the Prophet was deceiving you? I said: ‘By God, no. But I thought you died because of the length of your prostration. He said: ‘Do you know what night this is?’ I said: ‘God and His Messenger knows best.’ He said: ‘This is the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān. God looks at his servants on the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān and he forgives those seeking forgiveness, has mercy on those seeking mercy, and leaves the bearers of grudges as they are.’”

She also related: “God the Exalted showers goodness (khayr) in abundance during four nights; the Nights of Aḍḥā and Fiṭr (i.e. the night of the two ʿĪds), the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān in which deaths and provisions are determined as are the pilgrimages written, and the evening of ʿArafa until the call to prayers."

The Prophet used to spend the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān praying and its day fasting. On the authority of ʿAli the Prophet said: “If it is the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān then stand [in prayer] during its night and fast its day. For God descends to the heavens of the earth when the sun sets and says, ‘Is there anyone who seeks forgiveness so that I may forgive him? Is there anyone who seeks provision so that I may grant him provision? Is there anyone afflicted so that I may remove his affliction? Is there not such and such,’ until the dawn breaks.'

For this reason, it is encouraged to be abundant in worship during this night, particularly in prayer and supplication. ʿAtāʾ b. Yasār said: “After the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr), there is no night greater than the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān. It is from amongst the nights that supplications are answered.”

It is said that the angels in the heavens have two ʿĪds as humans on earth have two ʿĪds. The ʿĪd of the angels is the Night of Salvation (Laylat al-Barāʾa) which is the night of the fifteenth of Shaʿbān, and the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr). The ʿĪds of the believers are ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. For this reason, the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān has been described as the night of the ʿĪd of the angels.

Al-Subkī writes in his Tafsīr, the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān atones for the sins of a year, the night of Friday atones for the sins of the week, and the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr) atones for the sins of a lifetime. In other words, keeping vigil during this night is a cause of the atonement of a year’s sins. For this reason, the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān is also known as the “Night of Atonement.”

This night is also called the “Night of Forgiveness” because of the hadith on the authority of Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿar saying, the Messenger of God said: “God looks [at His creation] during the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān and forgives the entirety of His creation except for the polytheist and the inciter of ill-will amongst people (mushāḥin).”

It is also known as the “Night of Apportionment (qisma) and Determination (taqdīr),” ʿAṭāʾ b. Yasār said: “During the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān, the angel of death records all those who will die from Shaʿbān to Shaʿbān. The servant plants seeds, gets married, and builds buildings all the while his name is recorded amongst the dead. The angel of death but awaits for the order to seize his soul.”

It is said that the one who is miserable (shaqī) is he who has been deprived of the blessings and mercy of this night. In a hadith on the authority of ʿĀʾisha saying, “The Prophet said: ‘Jibrīl has come to me and said: ‘This is the Night of Mid-Shaʿbān. By God, there are people who will be saved from the Fire as the number of hairs on the sheep of [the tribe] of Kalb. In it, God will not look at a polytheist, one who incites rancor in the hearts of people towards others, one who severs the bonds of the womb, one who drags his clothing [out of pride], one who transgresses against his parents, or one who is addicted to alcohol.’”

... Taken from SeekersGuidance


How far up the river
Would you go, would you go
To meet me again ?

And I built the cathedral
With the shelves that you held
In the hole in a tree...

There's a time to let it grow
There's a time to let it slow
And a time to let it go

... Cathedral, Cocoon