by Nathalie Kelly

If time could melt, the clock that ran my universe had the hands dissolved right off it. My sense of time was lost. The empty clock face staring blankly at me was completely meaningless. The endless flow of one moment connected to another moment in an infinite linear string of time had disappeared.

What was left after the rattling and twisting of my brain on that stormy day sailing, was the present moment, an infinite non-linear experience of now.

I only knew it was light out or it was dark out. Each day flowing into the one before it without any distinction. It was either time to eat or time to sleep, and the boundaries we usually call time ceased to exist. Hours were irrelevant, days of the week and months even more so. Something that had once felt so real was now a meaningless concept to this damaged brain.

Living in the right hemisphere of the brain, without access to the left, abstractions were embarrassingly incomprehensible. If I couldn’t see, hear or sense it, I could not imagine it, meaning create an image of it. So it didn’t exist. If it was in front of me, it did. You can’t see time, or politics or faraway places, so they didn’t exist. They felt like a vague memory, like something I had once experienced in a dream that had now slipped away.

While scientists study the “connectome” and are creating an exciting map of the connections and wiring in our brains, I became an avid student of this amazing “dis-connectome” I was living in. A foreigner inside myself, I had to become familiar with the new territory. Survival depended upon paying attention and learning this strange place I had landed in.

You never notice the super highway of seamless high-speed driving that is your brain until it becomes a dirt road full of potholes and dead ends. Most of the time, you just couldn’t get there from here.

The breaking of neural connections in my brain gave me an experience of the world where everything felt disconnected from everything else. Just like my brain, everything became fragmented. Consciousness was mirroring biology in a fascinating way. It was as if the neural connections themselves were the strings that tied the experience of the world together in a nice neat package.

A reality that was once experienced as a whole now became separate puzzle pieces. Only this was a massive, million-piece puzzle, and putting the pieces back together became the daunting task that would likely take the rest of my life. It’s a good thing I liked puzzles.

The dis-connectome was so pervasive, I didn’t even feel connected to myself. When I looked into a mirror, a complete stranger looked back.

“You are me. I am supposed to know you. I think I am supposed to know you really well. But I don’t even recognize you. Odd.” I would think each time I passed my reflection in the bathroom. I would occasionally stop and look deeply into the eyes looking back at me trying to find myself. But “I” wasn’t anywhere in there. Odd.

In the same disconnected way, moments of time were no longer connected to each other in a linear fashion. While I luckily kept my long-term memories, I couldn’t form new short-term memories. I could not remember the recent past and could not imagine the future. Those abilities were gone. What was left was a depth of the present I had never known before.

Timelessness became a problem when it came time for one of my countless doctor appointments. I had to interpret a number that someone on the phone had given me. But I couldn’t understand numbers because numbers only make sense in relation to each other. In a world of puzzle pieces where nothing is connected to anything, a number is meaningless. Three means nothing without comparing it to another number. It is just a word.

Then it had to go another step because the number had to be transferred to a chart called a calendar, and this calendar was a lot of lines that made no sense either. I could see it, but my brain could not read or translate what I saw into a meaning.

And then you had to take all of that and translate it somehow into the correct moment of now.  And how do you capture a “now”? So many steps were involved and at any step, the translation could all get completely lost. I was so grateful for the smartphone, which when it came to time, was way smarter than I was.

Then there was the problem of the “future”. To my mind, it did not exist any more than a fistful of water. So how do you anticipate something that is slipping through your fingers?

Christmas was a problem.  We would have to skip it. I had always loved making the holidays magical for my children. I excelled at it. But now I didn’t know how to plan something for a time that did not exist in my mind. How do you figure out how to plan a meal or buy gifts for a time that does not exist? I could probably figure it out if it were happening right now, but gifting is not a present moment activity. Gifts are for a time in the future. I thought about it until it made my head hurt and still couldn’t understand it. We would have to skip Christmas.

Einstein probably would have agreed with me on this elusiveness of time. “For us convinced physicists the distinction between the past, the present, and the future is only an illusion, albeit a persistent one,” he said. I was now free from this trick of the mind. What if this new reality was the more accurate one?

In a twist of fate, the wild storm had thrown me through the air with a flick of a sailboat. I defied gravity and landed in the eternal present. Is this what I had been looking for in 25 years of yoga and meditation? Perhaps getting knocked on the head was a shortcut to enlightenment. There had to be a pony in here somewhere. I was living in a more organic way, free of cultural constructs. I was more fully present without being pulled into the past or the future. In the endless stillness away from the busyness, there was a richness of being that had not existed before.

Now, if only I could figure out Christmas.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

by Nathalie Kelly — If time could melt...

Philip Brautigam
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