I was staying in Istanbul in the fall of 2010 when I first encountered the notion of vertical time, though I had been aware of "vertical time" for some years, the occassional sensation of inhabiting a column or portal that extended from the ground below me up into the vastness. The notion of vertical time came from reading a passage in the book, Alone with the Alone by Henri Corbin, in particular this paragraph:
Prophetic philosophy looks for the meaning of history not in “horizons,” that is, not by orienting itself in the latitudinal sense of a linear development, but vertically, by a longitudinal orientation extending from the celestial pole to the earth, in the transparency of the heights or depths in which the spiritual individuality experiences the reality of its counterpart, its “lordly” dimension, its “second person,” its “Thou.”
By "prophetic philosophy," Corbin means the human ability - and one not restricted to the prophets religions hold as such - to directly perceive insight or wisdom that can help guide one's direction in life. The "lordly dimension" or "second person" or "Thou" he speaks of is what in my lineage might be called "drala," and in others is spoken of as "creative imagination" or "spirit" or "Holy Ghost" or simply God - though it hardly matters what one calls it; it is the experience of this "intangible" dimension becoming available to one that matters; that one begins to find meaning or guidance coming to one from this other that is so extraordinary, and a homecoming.
When I returned on a subsequent trip to Istanbul in March of 2011, I asked the hotel desk clerk if I could have a room with a view. He handed me the key to room number 6107. In fact, the window of room 6107 looked out out upon the Roman and two subsequent Western-world empires. To the left I could see traffic passing through the portals of Valen's Aqueduct, built in the 4th Century. Directly in front was the Şehzade Mosque, constructed in 1548 by the Ottomans, one in a series of the great mosques of Istanbul. Less obviously visible, but scattered all around in the form of crumbling walls or smaller churches converted into mosques were the remnants of the Byzantine Empire.
In the distance were the smog engulfed highrise towers of modern Istanbul, the current seats of power where new laws were being enacted or lobbied for and where history was being rewritten, just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Süleyman I and Constantine the Great had each rewritten it. The history still visible as stone and marble from my window had been rewritten for seventeen hundred years. This linear time has been described, argued and fought over; turned into chapters of school books, rules of conduct and religious dogma, but most of all turned into a story. Stories are as fluid and fleeting as a gust of wind. But gusts of wind can be turned into conventions and held fast to, even carved into stone.
It is possible to achieve a shift in consciousness, to escape the conventions of horizontal time and experience vertical time. In fact, this shift happens constantly, though fleetingly. Consciousness shifts from our discursive, story-line thought into a more direct perception. One moment lost in thought, the next seeing the red traffic light. It happens automatically and if it didn't we couldn't cook a meal, much less walk down the street or drive a car. But we generally don't stay with direct perception long enough to begin to perceive to the degree our own bodies are capable of, to perceive the world's intellegence or guidance. If we examine the stones, walk through an arch, see the moss or crumbling masonry, really see it, our inventions of linear time dissolve in this direct perception, a language of perceptions without words; inclusive of words but also much more. Then the stones become alive. Who is to say the stones are not also experiencing us?
Similarly, if we perceive memory with the same direct perception, linearity collapses, since all remembered experiences are equally close. I can remember a fish I caught when I was ten years old just as well as I can remember this morning’s breakfast (perhaps better). Memories arise independent of linear development (though if you dig around certain memories, as in writing, others from that “time” will also arise). Conversely, all memories are equally far away. When my father was alive I would think about him after our visits, I would remember his failing gait and the way he said goodbye to me. My father died in August of 2010, but in terms of memory he is no further away from me now that he was when I last said goodbye to him. If we examine the phenomenology of memory we see that it is a transient event (in ourselves) but not a “different” time. It is through adding interpretation that the memory becomes increasing conceptual (and conventional), drawing us further and further into beliefs about it.
Valens Aqueduct, Istanbul.
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