This was a few weeks ago, on a day that has already disappeared into the midsts of a very busy month. I was walking in Vancouver Central Park, on the way from the college to the library, on a sidewalk I have been walking down since I was three years old. I can't remember if it was before or after I got my new shoes: knowing that would fix both the date and my attitude at the time, but is perhaps unimportant for my philosophical point. Looking from side to side, I probably perceived, like a Necker Cube, the buildings and fields on either side with the double vision of a young child viewing them as foreboding and deep entities, and with the adult vision that understood what had formed these institutions in this small suburb. But that is also, perhaps not important for my philosophical point.
But it suddenly occurred to me, as each step hit down on the sidewalk in a rhythm, that the experience I was undergoing was absolute and eternal. That I was just touching down on something that was, in a way, already there, and that the experience was so deep, and so absolute, that in an eternity, I couldn't experience it all. None of this was that clever, eternity in an hour (or in the time it takes to walk down a long park block) isn't a new idea. What was original, at least for me, was the idea that my experience was reaching a tangent line, a mathematical analogy that I found more fitting the longer I thought about it. Because while the moment might be eternal, my experience has moved on. I am currently on an Amtrak train that has just left the Tukwila station southbound, so that walk some weeks ago is obviously still not going on. But, it occurred to me: my experience is a curve, while each moment is the tangent line of that curve. In trigonometry and calculus, a tangent line is the line that touches a curve at just one point (or, if you prefer, it is the straight line between two points infinitely close together on the curve). Each tangent line is defined by an infinitesimal, and yet continues infinitely. Our experience is the same way: it changes from moment to moment, with each infinitesimal of experience we change and move on to a new thing, propelled by anxiety and desire, and yet at each point of experience we also encounter an infinite experience, stretching forever, from long before we had it to long after our mind has moved on to other things.
I don't know if this is that original of an idea (or that original of a metaphor for an idea), and I can't say that having it has dispelled all my anxieties about the passage of time (looking out the window into the street lights of the dark Green River valley, I wonder what happens after this train pulls into the station), but it has honestly been a transformative idea upon my consciousness, letting me know that my current ego's awareness and experience does not define what happens in the moment.