Bardo

BARDO—NOUN

  • (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.
  •  an indeterminate, transitional state: wandering adrift in a bardo of intense negativity, blame, disappointment, criticism, and denial

-Oxford Dictionary

“The Tibetan word bardo means literally “intermediate state” – also translated as ‘transitional state’ or ‘in-between state’ or ‘liminal state.'”

—Wikipedia

There are actually other topics I want to write about (my DIY cracklebox, a Hegel quote, a Song Dynasty painting) but alas, I won’t have time until the end of the month.  For now, I’m stealing an hour for reflection, and to thrust such introspection upon the world seems rather self-indulgent (according to Ace at least, and he is an expert on such matters) but really on days like this the only reason time exists is to be stolen in the small hours that live in between things.  In my current case, I’m stealing the bardo between my music theory final and what will be an inevitably stupid meeting with a school therapist.

There’s a scene in John Dies at the End by David Wong where one of the characters falls in and out of time literally, calling his friend from all manner of hours besides the present.  I feel the opposite: that time is flowing around me at different speeds, never leaving me enough time to be sleepy and half awake in the morning, or stretching individual moments until they break.

Yes, I know I’m not unique in this—the feeling that the present is just this illusory gulf between the insurmountable cliffs of the future and the past—but it’s been exacerbated lately until I find myself trying to steal moments by manipulating time in my own head.  Stretching fifteen minutes into enough time to catch up with a friend, or throwing away three hours with another one.

The universe is as transient and malleable as human thought, it seems.  But when you dwell beneath its canopy (the ebb and flow of existence) it is as crystalline and unforgiving as a night of cold stars.  And here, time is a solid presence, flowing from birth to death, counted by ticking atoms waiting like bombs in their bunkers.  (Aside: I’m pretty sure “bunker” is not the word I’l looking for, actually, but I couldn’t remember what the-place-where-you-store-bombs would be called and missiles in their silos doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…and now I have “Where do you store bombs?” in my Google search history which possibly just put me on three government watch lists.)

Anyway.  Time.  The movement of future to present to past.  This progression means if you dwell on the future, in the impossible possibilities of it, you eventually find yourself fixated on the past.  Events slip past you, you know: like thieves in the night, robbing the world of its boundless potential and leaving the irreversible in its place.

Perhaps, all this time, I’ve been cycling around regret, an emotion I may be slightly too familiar with for my age.  But the thing about regret is that it’s also something you do, not something that happens to you. Events, pasts, the end of infinite possibility: you regret things.

But then regret itself is also a thing.  You carry it with you.  With regrets… She sends her regrets… They are like so many rocks in my hands, weighing me down with their love of the earth.

I have to put them down.  And I have to stop doing this thing: regretting.  Because regret itself does as well: it is itself a thief of time, stealing the present from us as we dwell on the irreversible past.

And if I am capable at all of bending time the only thing I can move is the present: stretching each individual moment like taffy even as they flow into the past.  The future is some untouchable unknown, undefinable (undivinable, even) while the past is irreversible.  And only we who are in bardo (we transient, changing and changeable creatures) can decide what belongs in each.

(I know you didn’t ask, but in case you were wondering: Blade Runner is always relevant.)

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