The relationship between time and eternity that Eliot finds so essential to both an understanding of life and a means for coping with it has perhaps always been at the forefront of philosophical and scientific investigation, but perhaps at no time more so than the twentieth century. The great inroads that science made into the understanding of time, first with Einsteinian and later with quantum physics, fueled the imaginations of scientists and artists alike. From the field of literary criticism, Postmodernists, finding the timeless excursions of Moderns like Eliot idealistic and impractical, have temporally repositioned themselves, have discounted the knowability of eternity and thus left themselves only within the unreliable and destructive hands of time. Maharishi Vedic ScienceSM, however, coming to redress the limited vision of the Modernists and the cynical expectations of the Postmoderns offers a vision of time that supports the ideals of Eliot and the Moderns as well as the desire for practical solutions of the Postmoderns. The result is a concrete strategy for arresting the negative effects of time through an empirical methodology for reversing aging, a new standard for conceiving time as we approach and crossover into that temporal benchmark: the second millennium.
A Postmodern Assessment of Eliot
For many Eliot’s final rhetorical and spiritual unity in Little Gidding, its note of optimistic humanism, its vision of perfection amidst chaos, rings out not only hope for an otherwise futureless future, it also rings true. But amidst the present critical establishment such sentiments are out-dated, un-critical, and presumably invalid. The attempt by Eliot and his peers to locate transcendental “presence,” the so-called totalizing strategies of modernism, have been scathingly criticized as “profoundly ahistorical” by contemporary theorists. By this they mean that the search for transcendence has alienated modernist writers from the process of history and the relevance of their time. Although an established postmodern way of reading modernism for going on three decades, modernist ahistoricism is only true if we accept post-structuralist agendas, that is, if we read literature diachronically and relativistically. On the other hand, if we read Eliot and the other moderns synchronically, accusations made against them are more easily defended.
Postmodernists freely admit that formally modernists were not only not ahistorical, they in fact began one of the most radical formal revolutions in the history of western literature. Among the most severe experiments engendered among the moderns was the elliptical method of poetry adopted and perfected by Eliot and Ezra Pound for The Wasteland, a poetic technique so defamiliarizing that the poem’s first readers were lost without notes. The Wasteland came to be and still is the most influential poem of the twentieth century and can be said, at least in the field of literature, to have actually changed the direction of time. Joyce, Woolf, Proust, Faulkner, and others had a similar impact on the novel. Therefore, formally, rather than ahistorical, the moderns were both in and ahead of their time.
The argument postmodern theorists have picked with the moderns, however, is not with form but with the moderns’ treatment of subject. The postmoderns believe their predecessors possessed an overriding penchant for presence (transcendence) in such works as Eliot’s Four Quartets, and in so doing disassociated themselves with time and subsequent relevance. Finding the comforting order of one system-Judeo-Christianity-no longer intellectually viable, the moderns, say their critics, simply switched from an Occidental to an Oriental order lying outside the realm of ordinary phenomena. Given the horrors of this century, it is an order the postmoderns cannot accept. Such attempts to find transcendence they contend are not only irrelevant, they are elitist. According to postmodernists, few can comprehend transcendence and even fewer can say they have experienced it, if it exists at all.11 Because language, they argue, is the source of consciousness, and because language is simply a system of difference, no absolute relationship within the schizophrenic word, between signifier (symbol) and signified (meaning), can exist. Thus, transcendence in the eyes of postmodernism is an impossibility.
Interestingly enough, even on the level of subject, where Eliot above all poets is supposedly vulnerable to the claim of ahistoricism, he can be defended. The simplest argument in his favor is that the modernist search for transcendence, in opposition to middle-class realism, was representative of the modern period just as difference in the second half of this century is representative of postmodernism. In both cases, writers and critics are writing in response to the time in which they live. Secondly, Eliot does not, as he is often presently imputed, ignore the issues of his own era to exclusively stalk the ineffable. In truth, Eliot was one of the severest critics of his age, and one way of reading his literary oeuvre is as an unstinting attack on the bourgeois quest for materialism and sensual gratification in lieu of moral and spiritual values.
Thirdly, and this is the point most pertinent to this paper, Eliot did not simply, as he has been accused, withdraw into a search for the timeless (presence) at the expense of time (history). On this point he is in surprising agreement with Derrida and other contemporary theorists who state that nothing can be located beyond the realm of time, in this case even transcendence, the eternal, which has nothing to do with time. This is the paradox of time and eternity that Eliot grapples with throughout the Four Quartets. Time Eliot understands not only can be located within the field of time, it ultimately cannot be distinguished from it. And this is where he and the postmodernists part company. Time is the expression of the timeless in the phenomenal world, and the resolution of this paradox takes place in individual consciousness. If the consciousness of an individual remains time-bound, the fragmented world of the postmoderns is the reality; for the individual who knows Transcendental Consciousness, eternity pervades every changing element of temporal existence.
Eliot’s interest in the great scientific discoveries of his time demonstrates just how responsive he was to his age. The scientific conceptions of time that swept in with the new century held enormous importance for artists, Eliot among them; it was the passion of the modern world. We have only to think of Salvadore Dali’s melting clocks or the syncopated rhythms of American jazz to conceptualize time’s influence on aesthetics, but among artistic disciplines literature assuredly was the most bewitched by it. Such movements as impressionism, expressionism, stream-of-consciousness, elliptical poetry, and surrealism consciously distorted time in order to separate literature from the ordinary and conventional world depicted in literary realism. Writers who were seduced by the varieties of time are a Modernist Who’s Who: besides Eliot and Pound, such poets as Yeats, Lawrence, Crane,Stevens, and Moore embraced it, along with such novelists as Woolf, Joyce, Proust, Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe. Time monopolized the intellectual circles in the first decades of the century, but one scientific discovery in particular captured the imagination of both scientists and artists as nothing had since Copernicus, altering the temporal awareness of mankind forever.
Time changed in the year 1905. Or, at least, the way science thought about time changed. Until that decisive year, classical Newtonian physics operated as if time were absolute, although it had for centuries resigned itself that space was not (Hawking, 1988, p. 20). Long before Einstein’s theory of relativity, space was acknowledged to be relative. If you took two different observers looking at the same object, the object would look different from or relative to each observer. Time, however, before 1905 was accepted as a constant, as an absolute. But Einstein ended that comforting but erroneous notion, realizing that temporal considerations are also relative to the observer.
He postulated that observers moving at different speeds would affect the temporal ordering of events. If the speeds were not great, the differences would be difficult to notice, but at high speeds the changes would be significant. Two observers moving at different speeds, say one on earth and another in a spacecraft, would each in his/her own sphere experience time as “normal” relative to the speed of light, and their wrist watches would indicate as much. But relative to each other, time would be quite different. To the earthbound, time in the rocket ship would appear to be moving very slowly. What Einstein had realized was that time is different in different situations. One significance of this discovery was that it was no longer possible to talk about an event as though it were a single phenomenon. The same event could exist in the past, present, or future for different observers (Capra, 1975, pp. 165-166). As a result, science could no longer locate an event in relative space and absolute time. Space and time had become almost indistinguishable; therefore, four-dimensional space-time came into being as the new term for establishing the position of an event.
One of time’s most noteworthy features, observed by Eliot in the Four Quartets, has to do with its relationship to light. An event’s light, beginning at a specific point in space and time, spreads out three dimensionally into what science calls a light cone. When the first rays of that light reach a specific destination, that light begins a future light cone. The place which cannot be affected by the event is called elsewhere. What the light cone effectively demonstrates is that the past and future exist simultaneously, can actually be the same event depending upon the variable of the observer. An explosion on some star deep in the cosmos, for example, is the beginning of a light cone for that star. Thousands of years later when the light from that explosion can finally be seen on earth, only then does the event exist for us. Stephen Hawking explains:
the light that we see from distant galaxies left them millions of years ago, and in the case of the most distant object that we have seen, the light left some eight thousand million years ago. Thus, when we look at the universe, we are seeing it as it was in the past. (1988, p. 28)
What Hawking’s example demonstrates is that time exists only in relationship to consciousness. Time cannot be said to exist until someone witnesses it or feels its effects. To the observer on earth, however, the event seems to be happening as it is being seen. In The Dry Salvages Eliot considers this illusion of time as “mere sequence”:
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think “the past is finished”
Or “the future is before us.”
For those on board Eliot’s liner, time is the present and the shore is the past; but for those at the place of departure the shore is the present and it is the liner that is receding into the past; for those at the liner’s destination its arrival is the future, and yet, the liner on the ocean is a single event. It produces different experiences of time solely due to the various placements of its observers. Because past, present, and future have been scientifically proven to be what Maharishi calls a concept (1967, p. 253), time and its co-conspirator change are only an illusion of reality. The fact that life exists in spite of this cosmic conjuring trick demonstrates that what is constant in the absence of time and change is the timeless and non-change, or the field of pure, eternal intelligence that orchestrates this grand illusion. With the field of change at best completely undependable, at worst a total mirage, Eliot’s advice to place one’s life in the field of eternity is a thoroughly practical suggestion, and as has been demonstrated, most effectively accomplished through the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique.
Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 predicted the effect of gravity on time and provided an image of immortality. It demonstrates that light has energy and therefore mass. If light has mass then it must be affected by gravity. With this in mind, Einstein predicted that clocks running close to a body with a large mass like earth would run slower than clocks at high altitudes with less gravity. Although Einstein made this prediction in the century’s first decade, it was not until 1975 that lingering doubts about the prediction were dispelled. In that salient year the U.S. Navy flew over Chesapeake Bay for more than fifteen hours at an altitude of 30,000 feet. The clocks on board the airplane gained about three billionths of a second every hour compared to identical clocks on the ground (Calder, 1979, pp. 72-73).
The most remarkable effect of gravity on time takes place in the infamous black holes. When a star burns up all of its energy, it begins to collapse in upon itself forming a region in space with such a huge gravitational force that it pulls in any body in the vicinity. At the edge of a black hole’s circumference exists what is called the event horizon, and anything that enters it, including light, is its prey. Like an insect that falls into a doodle bug pit, nothing that trespasses returns, and because light or anything else cannot return, time stops, collapses inside the black hole. Ironically, in this image of time stopping, of total annihilation, exists an argument for immortality. Moreover, in consideration of black holes, Eliot’s statement “All time is unredeemable” makes literal sense.
Although by 1958 Bertrand Russell could still claim that Einstein’s theory of relativity had few philosophical implications (1958, p. 138), the growing importance of the observer in both science and philosophy is one indication that he was not correct. If time, space, or anything else can be affected by subjectivity, that is, the placement or perception of the observer, we are moving ever closer to a definition of not a single universe but of multiple universes structured in individual consciousness.
The effect of Einstein’s discovery on Eliot cannot be overestimated as both confirmation and stimulation of his poetry. The earlier Eliot was fascinated by time, but of a completely different order than that found in his most mature poetry such as The Wasteland and Four Quartets. In the poems that make up Prufrock and Other Observations, Eliot had adopted the theories of Bergsonian time, dur�e or duration, which presents the world as one of “constant flux, constant becoming without permanence or transcendence” (Gish, 1981, p. 3), qualitative time that is purely subjective in opposition to and with no connection to chronological or scientific time. In the Four Quartets, thanks in part to Einstein, Eliot’s conception of time becomes greatly ex-panded, taking in the full range of human existence, subject and object, from point to eternity.
Quantum Mechanical Time
No doubt influenced by the theory of relativity, Eliot derived one of his central philosophical positions in the Four Quartets, namely that time is not absolute and therefore must be inconstant and unreliable. From quantum mechanics, a system of physical inquiry that blurs the boundaries of objective science and subjective consciousness at the deepest levels of human existence, at a point where ordinary concepts of time are inappropriate, Eliot’s assertion that time and eternity are inseparable is validated.
This metaphysical side of the new physics can be seen in questions such as, when is a particle not a particle or a wave not a wave?-questions nonsensical in classical physics but commonplace in quantum mechanics. In the macroscopic world of pure Newtonian physics, the universe is made up of heavenly bodies and empty space, and the two shall not overlap. Einstein’s general theory of relativity changed that. It demonstrated that the gravitational pull of massive bodies produces a curvature of space. In quantum field theory this means we can no longer simply think of bodies of mass floating in empty space. We must now account for the interaction between physical objects and space, because a body’s gravitational mass curves space, and this curved space is the body’s field: “In Einstein’s theory, then, matter cannot be separated from its field of gravity, and the field of gravity cannot be separated from the curved space. Matter and space are thus seen to be inseparable and interdependent parts of a single whole” (Capra, 1975, p. 208).
The same kind of scientific logic applies to time. It can no longer be said that a person operates in a universal time anymore than it can be said that a planet operates in a universal space. Just as a planet creates its own field of space, people create their own fields of time.
In quantum mechanics, the antiquated idea of an objective observer witnessing a separate universe, “out there,” has been replaced by a new view of the universe in which participants interact with the environments that they have created (Zukav, 1979, pp. 53-54). Such surprising statements from the field of physics have stopped being surprising from the perspective of quantum mechanics. We are entering a new phase where the clear distinctions between the complete objectivity of science and the total subjectivity of metaphysics is disappearing.
In the famous summit of 1927, called the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, the new physicists came to the conclusion that “what we perceive to be physical reality is actually our cognitive construction of it.” Henry Pierce Stapp firmly states that there is no longer a “substantive physical world, in the usual sense of this term” (cited in Zukav, 1979, pp. 105); as an accepted unified field theory of physics becomes imminent, John Hagelin asks the question, “Is Consciousness the Unified Field?” (1993, pp. 29ff) and his own answer comes close to confirming that it is; and John Wheeler and others have gone so far as to suggest that we not only create our own individual universes from consciousness, but because of the existence of multiple possibilities, we may even create multiple universes (Zukav, 1979, pp. 106-108). In his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Maharishi states that it is essential to recognize that the “opposing forces [duality] on the battlefield of life are one’s own creation” (1967, p. 22). In other words, out of one’s own consciousness the entire universe is created, first perceptively, from how the universe is individually comprehended-from one’s state of consciousness-but also from one’s deepest Self, which is the universal source from which all creation springs.
Eliot’s layered rose garden in Burnt Norton is a supreme example of a multiple universe created out of consciousness. He begins the passage with the line, “My words echo / Thus in your mind,” indicating his awareness that what he is creating is not his alone, but rather a conspiracy between his thoughts at a specific point in his life and the thoughts of any reader who reads them at any time. The rose garden is a dynamic idea that belongs to Eliot, to any reader, the thrush who observes it, the mysterious “they” who make up the party, to the past, present, and future who own it. The rose garden, like a quantum mechanical wave, is pure potential. It does not become my or your idea of Eliot’s rose garden until one of us reads the passage and decides it means one thing or another. The swimming pool full of water made from light is also analogous to the potential quantum particle simultaneously illusion and reality, like all of the Burnt Norton garden, and by extension all of life.
How is it that physics has entered into this transcendent world of poetry and consciousness? The answer lies in quantum field theory where elementary particles sometimes behave as particles and sometimes as waves. When do they behave as which? Apparently, they behave as one or the other when we, the interactors, perceive them as one or the other. Otherwise, they exist in a state of pure potential to be either. When we decide to examine the activity of a particular subatomic particle, our decision limits what its wave capability can become. It causes it to collapse to a specific point in time and space. Previously the particle maintained a free flowing existence of timeless potential. These kinds of choices are not limited to the laboratory either; they are the common modes of functioning of all beings in what we call life. Hence, it is the choices made in consciousness that create time, activity, and matter as we normally understand them.
As we progress to subtler levels of existence, from matter to cells, from cells to molecules, from molecules to atoms, and from atoms to subatomic particles, our paradigm of reality must at each stage undergo a radical shift. At the quantum level our old beliefs in the tangible stuff of the world must be discarded: “[a]t the subatomic level there is no longer a clear distinction between what is and what happens . . . the world is fundamentally dancing energy” (Zukav, 1979, p. 212). At the quantum level, things, including time, do not behave the way they do on the perceptual level of the senses. Stephen Hawking says the potential exists for us to remember the future the way we remember the past, or even more radical to experience events backward, although on the sensual level of existence this will never happen because time moves in one direction, in the so-called “arrow of time” (1988, pp. 143-144), obeying the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy increases over time, and because disorder increases time cannot be reversed. According to this law, destruction, aging, and death, the negative effects of time, make a kind of morbid sense. This is the world of time as perceived by the unreliable senses, and given its limitations and its distortions of reality, living solely on this sensory level of life will undoubtedly prove Eliot correct that the only way to escape time is to enter into eternity, to transcend it.
From quantum mechanics, which is more and more being associated with the field of consciousness, particles move freely backwards and forwards in time as freely as physical bodies move backwards and forwards in space. If human beings could somehow operate from this deeper, more powerful, quantum level, or better yet from its source-what Maharishi terms the unified field of pure consciousness-we would know the temporal freedom the Rishis in ancient times describe as a common experience. We could avoid The Wasteland’s destructive effects of time, and live life in the direction of immortality that Eliot envisioned in the Four Quartets.
Eternity translates into immortality when it is lived. Life lived in immortality has long been held in the East to be the supreme goal of human existence. In the West, however, it has generally been scrutinized with suspicion. Christian theology, Greek myth, and western poetry are filled with cautionary tales of tragic mortals who try to steal immortality from the covetous gods and fail. Tennyson describes the agony of Tithonus, one such victim, to whom Zeus granted immortal life but not eternal youth, dooming him to endless aging without the release of death:
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms. (71)
The rare western work that treats human immortality benignly, such as Emerson’s “Brahma,”
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again,12
or Eliot’s Four Quartets, more often than not borrow their concept of immortality from the East.
However, whether eastern or western, human beings have always seen immortality as an intriguing possibility; without it individual life on earth faces annihilation. Vedic Literature not only proclaims immortality to be a possibility, it provides examples of those who have attained it. The doubting West, moreover, is not without its own precedents of longevity, which at least suggest the potential for immortality. Eliot without many practical examples of its existence to draw upon, renders immortality only in the abstract:
the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
But from science and the environment we can locate more specific examples, such as the one-celled amoeba which avoids extinction by dividing itself into two; certain fish and crocodiles with unlimited cell reproduction, who only succumb to death by becoming the prey of other species; the giant sequoias that live to five thousand years, and, most notably, genes which may alter over time, but are not destroyed.
Among human beings, societies exist in which people regularly live in excess of 130 years, hardly immortality, but a far cry from the life span of 70 something among affluent countries and as low as 45 in the third world. To a great degree life span can be attributed to behavioral and environmental factors, but many authorities believe it is also structured in individual DNA. If both conditioning and genes could be enhanced to increase life expectancy in a completely natural way, the world would possess an ideal technique for reversing the negative effects of time on the physiology. This is exactly what the Transcendental Meditation technique and its advanced Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi ProgramSM do by allowing stress to be released through deep rest, and by transforming the human nervous system, not through abnormal manipulation, but by refamiliarizing it with its deeper Self thereby allowing it to return to its most perfect state of functioning.
By taking the awareness to the source of the DNA, pure consciousness, which we have seen is that field fundamental to all existence, the DNA begins to rediscover its ground state of perfect orderliness, a condition which it in turn passes on to the physiology. Longevity studies on practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation technique and the Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi Program, led by Keith Wallace at Maharishi University of Management, found that the physiological age for Transcendental Meditation practitioners was, for those recently beginning the technique, five years less than their chronological age, and for longer Transcendental Meditation and Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi practitioners, twelve years less, compared to a decrease of 2.2 years from the norm for the control group (1986, p. 205).
Another interesting study showed that people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, in contrast to their control-group counterparts, produce significantly higher levels of the biochemical Serum dehydreopiandrosterone (DHEAS), an important inhibitor of aging. Hundreds of other studies on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique have demonstrated that Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Program practitioners maintain an overall lower metabolic functioning than non-practitioners, and for more than a hundred years now, lower metabolism has been associated with longer life-spans (Wallace, 1986, pp. 205-211). For the Four Quartets, such studies, along with the discoveries by Einstein and quantum mechanics, validate Eliot’s theories of time and immortality.
An ancient science that deals directly with immortality, Ayurveda, has recently been revitalized by Maharishi. Ayurveda is that area of knowledge concerned with perfect health which is essential for sustaining the highest state of consciousness, that state that upholds the immortal field of pure awareness on the level of consciousness and on the level of perception. In that state of consciousness a person is said to be truly invincible. However, prior to Maharishi’s revival of this science, Ayurveda had degenerated primarily into a system of herbal folk-medicine. But Maharishi has explained that its real purpose has always been to bring a person to enlightenment, to immortality, and for it to be effective, Ayurveda, like all branches of the Veda, must first be connected to the field of pure consciousness, the field of eternity, for only from that field will the discipline possess wholeness. In fact, the first healing component of the Maharishi Vedic Approach to HealthSM is the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation technique which restores the connection between the human physiology and its eternal source. Therefore, physicians who adhere to the Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health (vaidyas) and who diagnose and prescribe Ayur-Vedic remedies, in order to be most effective, must themselves be functioning from the deepest level of perfect health, and for best results so should the patient.
The value of such considerations as the philosophical history of immortality, environmental and genetic studies, and the ancient healing practice of Maharishi AyurvedaSM to Eliot’s Four Quartets is that they establish a framework for living eternity-immortality-that defies the idea of immortality as a fanciful illusion. When Eliot states that man should transcend time and live eternity, he is suggesting the most practical solution to the problems that plague mankind. This practical solution is what has been missing in past studies of Eliot which often see him as a dreamy intellectual whose idealism alienated him from ordinary human beings. Eliot was, in fact, a visionary in the best sense of the word. Seeing that the world was trapped in time and its cohorts change and entropy, Eliot understood and advocated non-change as the solution to cure human misery. However, only when Maharishi brought out the Transcendental Meditation technique, a universal technique through which all mankind might regularly experience this field of non-change, could Eliot’s vision reach fruition.
Maharishi describes this field of non-change that Eliot alludes to as the immortal field of pure consciousness, indestructible pure knowledge from which all manifest expressions of existence gain their intelligence and direction. This eternal field of perfection possesses limitless energy and intelligence, and is a field of all possibilities. From it the first sprouting of life into the field of time is free of problems because it maintains a direct connection to the field of pure intelligence. Problems, or fluctuations of disorder, then, are a secondary rather than a primary phenomenon. Maharishi says that problems creep in “illegally,” meaning that they are produced by violations of Natural Law. Problems which cause aging should not be part of human life but are.
Evolution is certainly a process of change, but change does not have to impede life, because change is structured in non-change. It is the non-change that appears as change, and non-change is just immortal. . . . Therefore the son of immortality does not have to be mortal. The cause of the immortal becoming mortal is simply loss of memory-Smriti. It is simply loss of awareness, which is not natural. It is an abnormality which is restored by the strokes of pure knowledge. (Maharishi, 1980, p. 18)
Problems, change, aging, and time are all dysfunctions of memory-that is, forgetting, producing a state of delusion in which one associates one’s self with unstable change rather than stable change. Hence, “‘delusion’ obscures the track of memory, and thereby one feels as if disconnected from the harmonious rhythm of life” (1967, p, 164). Fortunately, regularly transcendence of the field of change to the field of non-change, the eternal field of pure knowledge, reawakens memory and enables one to remember one’s own invincible, eternal nature.
Eliot says, “this [is] the use of memory: for liberation.” Being permanently established in this field of perfect order disallows such disorders as time and change to arise. Eliot says, “Time past and time future / Allow but a little consciousness. / [And] To be conscious is not to be in time.” To be conscious, to be fully awake in that unbounded state of eternity is the human birthright, life lived in immortality, and at its most eloquent this is the vision of Eliot’s Four Quartets.