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In this episode, Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod describes the nature and spiritual significance of time, how the knowledge of your own death is a source of great power, and how to make a spiritual plan.
Living the Tao, a Spiritual Podcast explores how ancient wisdom, a practical perspective, and deep truth can empower you to live your best life.
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Taoist Topics Covered:
Taoists and Time
Taoists and Strategy
Taoism and the Death Limit
Time and Death
Death as a Bludgeon of Religion
The Poison of Immortality.
Welcome to Living the Tao, a spiritual podcast that explores how ancient
wisdom, a practical perspective
and deep truth, can empower you to live your best life.
In this episode,
Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod describes the nature and spiritual
significance of time,
how the knowledge of your own death
is a source of great power
and how to make a spiritual plan.
Let’s deal with this whole thought of time being an absolute limiting condition.
First let’s deal with the thought that time is linear.
Because, to start with, time is linear.
It’s only when you reach a point where time is not linear, that time is not linear.
Taoists in general believe that time is not linear.
What does that mean?
Well, just we’ll jump over this to the side.
The reason I’m pointing this out
is just so that you understand both models exist.
So if you’re reading the texts, and you see somebody say, well, the fact that
blah blah blah, and you begin to realize that what they’re talking about is time
is not linear,
you’ll know that that exists as a standard theory.
However, having this piece of knowledge is completely useless to you
as a factor.
I absolutely believe that time is not linear
for many different reasons, and those reasons all have to do with my own practice.
And by what, time is not linear means, it means that all moments in time exist forever.
So every single thing that you have done, good, bad, neutral,
every interaction you have had, every person you have ever
had a relationship with, transferred resources with, engaged in personal
development with that moment of doing that exists right now.
And so it’s going on.
Even as you talk.
It will be going on forever.
And it will be going on.
That everything that you’re going to do is going to be going on forever.
That doesn’t mean that change can’t occur.
It just means that time is not linear.
So you can contemplate that for a while, and it’s an interesting little
contemplation device. Later on
it becomes useful for certain practices.
But let’s deal with the fact that time is linear.
So we’ll make this presumption because, as far as you know, time is linear.
And mostly the reason that we assume time is linear is because we have to
remember things that we have already done.
If you had absolute memory of things in the past, your concept that time is
linear would begin to erode.
And I know this because I have seen it done many many times.
As you meditate, your memory starts to increase dramatically in events that
were years ago,
or it can be as if they are occurring.
And so you begin to think,
maybe the only reason I think time is linear is because I have a hard time
remembering the past.
If I didn’t have a hard time remembering the past, maybe I wouldn’t
think that time was linear.
And really so, based on our assumptions of how we experience the world, we
begin to think, “Oh, there is a past.”
And what we really think of something being past is what?
Not so much that we can’t influence it, it’s that we can’t remember it
well. That’s what something
And of course, since you can’t remember the future, it must not have been done
that’s kind of weird.
So don’t think about it too much.
So, time being linear, what this boils down to
you only have so much time.
So linear and finite for a human.
These go together, by the way. It’s only finite if it is, in fact, linear.
By limiting condition,
there’s a reason that Taoists have written all these things about strategy
and tactics and stuff.
Your ability to do anything
has certain limits associated to it.
Those limits are usually resources,
in the environment, or what’s known as
So how much stuff you have,
what your surroundings will let you do.
One of these factors, that is either considered usually a resource or a
circumstance, is time.
These are things that you cannot change
at the start point.
So you are given these things.
You have a certain.
So let’s say, as I sit here, magically,. I have…
ok, this wad of paper in my pocket,
This is all I have.
These are my resources that are available to me.
Now my plan can be to acquire more resources, using these resources.
So I take my paper clip and I make it sharp and pointy, and I rob somebody-
so that I have more resources.
That could be my plan.
But at any given point in time, I have a limited quantity of resources.
I must absolutely
accept that those are my resources.
Because any plan I undertake
to move from point a,
whatever point a is, the origin, to point b, the destination,
is going to
be dependent upon the resources that I have and
what my surroundings and what my surroundings are. One of the big
resources that we have that we are trained to ignore,
and that is very limited, is time.
If I have enough time, I can accomplish almost anything using this piece of paper
and this paper clip.
Now, directly, with these things? No, but I can create a chain from these
things that would allow me to do something else.
So I take whatever start resources I have, I look at my destination,
because a plan is always the bridging of a gap from point a to point b,
whatever those things happen to be.
And I design,
using whatever I have at the start, a way of getting from point a to point b.
Many times plans are flawed
by not knowing what your origin is, what your start point is.
And in fact, spiritually,
you spend a lot of time discovering what your point a is.
What am I at this particular time?
That can be quite consuming.
Then, of course, you have whatever your goal state is, what do I want to
And that…just defining A
and B can be a process of
some outrageous period of time that you’re sitting back–
because if you sit back and say, “Oh, I want to go to Phoenix.” Oh, that’s
assuming you’re leaving from Flagstaff.
What if you don’t know where you are?
So I designed a plan while I’m going to journey out two and a half hours in
And you find out, “Oh, the problem is,. I’m in Hawaii. Now I’m in the
middle of the ocean.
I guess I couldn’t do that.”
So how you plan to get somewhere is hugely dependent on this here.
And of course, if you don’t have any destination, you’re just heading in a
Those are two critical factors for the formation of a plan.
Well, what is your surrounding?
again, this has to do with your point a, but it also has to do with a terrain
that’s going to be covered going from point a to point b.
those are dramatically different plans.
So if I’m going from Hawaii to Phoenix, besides it being a different starting
point, I have to deal with water.
what I’m going to use my paperclip for, and my receipt for is going to be
different than if I’m going from. Flagstaff to Phoenix,
because the terrain that I’m passing through, the surroundings, or the
circumstance, are different.
What limits all of this?
The thing that limits the plan that I can make the most
is usually time.
It is not always time.
And we had to go into a big study of strategy in order to truly explore
But the primary limiting condition is time.
Humans rarely think of time being a limiting condition for what reason?
Because you die,
you’re train to ignore the death limit.
Any plan that you have has to take into consideration.
If you ignore the possibility of death, you will automatically ignore the
possibility of time.
And you’ll not just ignore it for yourself.
You will ignore it in the plans that you make for everything else, because
you’re eliminating time from your thought process.
As soon as you start thinking about the limitation of time, the limitation of
death becomes inevitable in thinking.
It is impossible to avoid the thought because you’re sitting here while I
only have as much time to do blahbaba.
And then one day when you’re just sitting there, “You go, oh, I only have
as much time to do blahbleblo.”
So then you must address this issue.
If you’re looking at spirituality or enlightenment systems,
it doesn’t take a huge amount of time to make a dramatic amount of spiritual
progress, and it doesn’t, in fact, in any spiritual system.
But you have to sit back and realistically look at the amount of
time you have in order to do something as you go along, because if your plans
for life, or your actions for life
in the three areas: relationships
If you make an assumption that you have infinite time, the behavior that you
engage in is dramatically different
then the assumption that
the behaviors you engage in, if you sit back and think, “Well, I only have this
amount of time.”
suddenly, if it’s three days, your behavioral set is going to be different
than if it’s
forty years, whatever amount of time.
And there is a presumption that underlies all behavior when you’re
working these things.
And presumption is, I have this much more time, or I don’t have this much
I could tell you straightforward from an adept standpoint,
if you want to go into advanced practice, is absolutely grilled into
It’s grilled into every single thing you do.
And you wake up with it and go to sleep with it every single day.
And you do it to the point where it doesn’t bother you anymore.
You simply go,”Well, it is inevitable that this occur.”
So I must undertake these actions here.
For a lot of other people that’s freaky.
So it’s like, why are you doing blahblahblah?
Well, I’m going to die.
As soon as you say that to them, it’s like (look of fear and incredulity)/
Now, do I mean this in a negative way?
Now am I sitting here possessed with the fear of this or that?
No, I’ve spent decades
with the intimate knowledge of my own death.
bother me in the sense of *gasp*
and it’s a more amount of, “Well, I can’t do that because I’m going to die.”
And what do you mean you’re going to die?
It’s like, well, you are too.
What you have to accept is you’re going to die.
So doing these things over here is just completely foolish given those conditions.
And as soon as you sit back and begin to realize, well, I’m mortal.
There’s no reason for me to do this or do that or do that, you start
You begin realizing that certain attachments are foolish because you’re
going to die.
And there is a great strength in that.. There’s a strength in knowing that
there is an end to what you’re going to set out to do.
And you can either control that strength, or you can let it overwhelm
of the fear that’s associated with it.
When you realize that, well, the advantage of this is that there’s an
end game, and I don’t really have to worry about that.
And you just go, well, since I’m going to die, I don’t have to worry about that.
And it’s a matter of, well, you know, because you’re presuming that you’re
immortal, you have to worry about that quite a bit.
Because I’m presuming that I’m done within this period of time, even if
it’s a huge period of time, or if it’s a short period of time,
I don’t really have to worry about that too much.
so this becomes a comparison point as you go along.
If you don’t think that the knowledge or ignoring death influences you, you
your behaviors by a simple statement.
“Is this important,
considering that I’m going to die?”
And as soon as you start checking things against it, certain things will
And the reason those things that drop away are those things that you are
presuming you are immortal, so hence, they are important.
As soon as you start presuming that you are, in fact, mortal,
and you go, well, that’s not at all important, I guess.
Because I’m going to die,
and as soon as I’m dead that’s done.
All sorts of little things drop away.
Worry, in fact, is oftentimes the presumption that you are a mortal.
Strangely enough, there’s an underlying thought.
The reason you worry about things is because you’re sitting back thinking,
So this is worth worrying about, or this is worth occupying my resources
It’s not worrying, worth worrying about because of what you’re going to die.
So don’t worry about it.
And that’s a strange comfort to people that I have periodically given without
even thinking about this.
Why you’re worrying about that you’re going to die?
What do you mean?
I shouldn’t worry about my test scores because I’m going to die?
It’s like, yeah.
It’s really not that important, because you’re going to die.
This can be a strange thing to deal with, but it’s ultimately something
that you must deal with because it is a factual condition of the environment.
Now you also have the means of addressing those factors easily.
It is within your human capacity to do so,
because generally, you are designed to address normal occurrences within the environment.
You’re designed to address
that you look at in the environment and go, well, you can tolerate getting wet
because of what? You get rained on.
You can tolerate being hot because of what? It gets hot.
You can tolerate being cold because of what? It gets cold.
If you couldn’t tolerate those things,
then you couldn’t survive over time as a species.
And we are certainly capable of addressing these issues here, and
you’re certainly capable of living with those issues.
Now, if you’ve been very distant
from the reality of your own existence… so if death has not really been in your
mind much, then you will have to struggle in order to get to a point of
However, you’re built for acceptance.
You can do the struggle, and you can get to that point
been done certainly by everybody that came before you.
So you can certainly do it in one way or another.
the comforting thing about time is not linear.
And the reason we don’t really spend a lot of time with it initially, is it
actually means you’re going to exist forever,
but it also means that you’re going to exist forever doing some really stupid stuff.
So you said,”Oh, yeah, that it’s going to exist forever, isn’t it?”
So, time being not linear is oftentimes avoided, as a thought,
simply because it can be used as a dodge to reality.
And it doesn’t need to be that way.
But the fact is that it’s also true.
Ah, those moments and people that you have interacted with will always have a
presence within the great expanse of the universe.
Is there going to be a time where you, in some other cluster of time, where
you are unimportant and don’t exist?
Yes, as there was before you became important and existed.
That is simply the structure of things as they go along.
Because the nature of all things being equal, which is the presumption of
Taoism, is that everything has its time period.
Those time periods are all of equal importance.
One doesn’t dominate another one
one doesn’t completely just disappear
from the facet of the universe.
It’s built to have that whatever portion of awareness within it and
absorbed into the greater and divine things around it.
So why is this important?
It’s important because it needs to influence behavior.
if you… I don’t like to drag out
what I really consider the bludgeon of death, because it’s been used
for that purpose in religion
you need to engage in this belief system because you’re going to die.
And so it becomes a huge bludgeon that can be used for that.
You need to engage in whatever belief system, because it leads you to a
and allows you to address the circumstances of your environment
in a better way.
The fact that this exists within your environment
If anything, it gives the human the ability to be noble.
Whereas if the lifespan was infinite at this juncture, all we would have would
be infinite pettiness,
because you would have no reason to develop forward.
Assumptions of being
immortality always lead to bad behavior.
And while I would like to say it in a different way,…
that’s the nature of it-that’s what humans choose to do with the thought of being infinite.
Being infinite generally means being infinitely stupid.
When do humans achieve their greatest nobility? When they’re dealing with death.
That’s when they actually stop being stupid.
And that’s when they start dealing with fundamental reality, as when they sit
back and go, well, here’s this issue over here.
What does it do?
It magnifies the human experience and makes them something besides being
petty and shallow.
And any sort of pursuit based along those lines results in that type of behavior.
I mean, anything that’s based with the knowledge of life and death, when it
generally makes a human more noble,
because they’re actually dealing with the environment, because they can’t
get caught up into things which are essentially foolish.
If you deal with children, this is bad.
Well, it’s going to be.
I guess we’ll just let it be whatever it is.
children have a presumption of life going on forever
and for that reason, behave foolishly.
As they start to become more aware of the limitations of the environment
from a strategic standpoint,
they start to reduce their foolish behavior.
It is the presumption of immortality that leads to foolish behavior,
It is the thing that makes humans
And it is the thing that
leads to indulging
in all sorts of illusions. You can only afford illusion if something’s not
going to end.
If it is, in fact going to end, you can no longer afford illusion.
You start to abandon it as you go along.
And you see that very clearly in situations of war and conflict.
As a person goes into a war situation, what happens? Very steadily, illusions
are stripped away from them.
They reduce down to the basic fundamental realities of human truth,
and they start dealing with each other directly.
And part of that, dealing with each other is not necessarily the most
desirable dealing with each other, but it is, in fact, truthful.
And so a truthful foundation is formed under the pressure of life and death.
you would really have infinite stupidity.
My teacher, Soon,
is probably a more modern school, physical or immortalitis, meaning that
he believes that
in a simplified way, the death of the human as a body is the death of the
There is nothing that continues.
So that’s actually very old school. Taoism.
He believes in a variant of that that he is
gradually centered upon over many years of study.
That variant is pretty complicated.
his point is that the human life can be extended dramatically if a human
actually wants to extend the human life.
And that’s the big problem with achieving great lifespan.
And I say this about a person that in his 50s, looks younger, or looked
younger than I do now.
And that was, of course, some time ago, but even now among, I haven’t seen him
since, I think 97,
among his students that still travel or interact with him–
All of us who have now aged
he’s oftentimes mistaken as their younger brother,
and he’s in his 70s now.
And so, but physically appears much, much younger than them. What he says is
basically, is that while the reason that people have trouble with extending
their lifespan is they actually don’t want to extend their lifespan.
What they’re afraid of is dying.
But they don’t have a great positive desire to extend life.
If they do, they live longer.
If the only thing that keeps them in life is the fear of death, they die.
And because fear is not that strong of a compulsive force when it comes to
the issue of life and death
What has to be your strong compulsive force is really
knowing the balance of things and then choosing life,
choosing the behaviors that lead to life,
and finding joy within the process of life.
If you don’t have joy within that process, then you’re not going to
pursue it, are
You’re just going to wait until the time limit runs out and you can’t make
any other decision but to die.
Now if you think that’s an exaggeration, think about how many
decisions you make by simply letting the time limit run out.
If there is anything that defines human strategy, that’s it.
You just let the time limit run out, and then the decisions made for you.
You don’t have to actually do anything.
Let me tell you, from a marketing perspective, that’s actually the
fundamental marketing thing that underlies a huge amount of marketing.
Marketing is about human behavior.
So you sit back and go, well, you know, you have to compel action before the
time limit runs out.
And most people will let the time limit run out.
And no matter what they do.
There is an adept practice–
and I’m mentioning this so you can avoid it–
where you come to the realization that everything you do is futile
without a doubt.
And the reason it’s an adept practice is you, is, if you do it prior to then,
you just simply end up paralyzed, going,”Everything I do is futile.”
Meaning, it will not matter at all.
It’s not going to change the course of events.
It’s not going to do this.
It’s not going to do that.
But what you really realize
is that if everything is futile, you have tremendous power,
and you can do pretty much anything
and achieve great things as a result, which is a strange conclusion from
everything being futile.
That’s why it’s an adept practice.
So if you think about death, and you start thinking that everything is
futile, I’m saying, stay away from that thought,
unless you want to go through the complete process of reasoning all the
way around to realize that that’s a source of power.
The knowledge of death is a source of power.
It’s not a source of weakness.
It doesn’t have to paralyze you.
It can move you forward.
galvanize or harden you for action.
And so if you have a concern of this, or of that go, “Well, is this important
if I’m going to die?”
And you know, suddenly
you stop caring about this.
You stop caring about that.
The things you act on, you act with great commitment.
And without attachment.
Suddenly we’re all the way back.
Well, if we want to really want to dive into the non linear time model,
basically the you that was you two years ago is currently doing exactly
what it was doing two years ago.
So let’s say, two years ago, you opened the can of Pepsi.
Right now, in that time, which still exists, you are still opening a can of
And so really, the division into past, present and future
a linear time thing. It’s that all moments of time are simultaneous.
So simultaneously, the future you, or the you, that’s actually there at that
location, is, in fact doing whatever it’s going to do.
now, if you look at that, you can sit back and go, well, that means that
everything is static and change is impossible.
Well, what it really means is that the you, at any given point in time, all of
which exists simultaneously, can make different decisions at those times.
So the past you can suddenly choose not to open that can of Pepsi.
And what it really means is that change is independent of the movement of time.
Well, it’s going to do whatever it’s going to do, because that’s that person
at that time.
So you’re the person right now sitting in this chair,
and you will always be that person sitting in that chair.
Whoever is in the future, from a linear perspective, is going to be the person
doing whatever. You, as a person, are a composite of everything that you ever
You are not the past. You’re not the future. You’re not the present. Not
different people at any given time.
There is no magic
differentiation between the past and the present.
The key for thinking about nonlinear time is that you can’t even refer to
linear time in order to conceive of it.
Because as soon as you start thinking past, present and future, what you’re
really thinking about is linear time.
The words past, present and future were created to describe
basically changes in memory,
as soon as you abandon that, and you ask yourself, well, what does this
What am I?
So you’re all those particular movements composed at any one
So I told you, you didn’t want to think about this.
Time is a factor that must be considered in choice.
Until you reach the point where perception is capable of extending
you have no control over that.
So it’s outside of your range of influence.
If you deal with the whole concept of lineage, the argument of lineage is a
non linear time argument. It’s that every point of lineage currently
So every holder that came before me and every holder that will come after me
And the whole concept of being in touch with a lineage
is the fact that you can tap into the power and knowledge of everybody that
is currently existing.
That’s the reason that, in the eastern systems, there’s an alignment to a lineage,
because you get the benefit of being part of that lineage.
By the way, this also eliminates…
Only in linear time,
does reincarnation exist.
Outside of linear time, reincarnation does not exist.
Yes, if all points in time exist simultaneously,
change can occur independent of time.
And that’s a big factor because our scientific definition of change is
relative to time.
That is the variable that is always in every single thing when you are
change–is what happens across time.
If you eliminate that, then you eliminate the concept of change
as being bound to time.
So if you eliminate change being bound to time,
it means that any point in time can change
independent of time.
And in fact, you can tap into all of your nesses, and you can tap into the
nesses of any other individual existing at any particular time.
If you really want to get into the whole nonlinear time thing.
And that’s what the aspect of lineage is.
It means that all things are capable of interacting across time.
So the whole human collection
is capable of an interaction that they’re just unaware of.
Non linear time model emerged from experience.
So as a person
proceeds into advanced adept training, linear time model actually
breaks down, and you begin to realize something very spooky,
it’s just a model.
And then you begin to realize that, holy crap, the nonlinear time model is correct.
That starts to change things.
But the fact is that you use the model that’s accessible to you and is
effective for action at any given time.
we can’t completely and absolutely perceive the universe as it is from all
So we use models of them because that guides are action.
If your experience is linear, then certainly you want to use a model
that’s truthful for your experience.
As that experience starts to be not truthful with that model,
then you start to abandon that model and switch to something else.
So initially, the concept of nonlinear time can be fascinating, because it
will start to explain small things in the back of your head. You’ll start
going, oh, yeah, that would make perfect sense in non linear time, I
just won’t talk about it.
And, but that’s all it’ll be. It’ll be that and a fantasy.
But effective action will come from
the linear time model.
as a person engages a linear time model and makes changes according to the
it will be effective, and it will change them enough.
So they begin to realize that,
“Oh, this is actually
completely functional in the non linear time model.”
But what happened if you started to become completely aware of the future
That would be all the proof you would need to really reach the point of
That means, I exist in the future already.”
*Screams* And then you start running around doing the crazy stuff.
But it also means, because we like to think of like the past us…
there’s an underlying assumption that the past us is somehow inferior.
And there is also the underlying assumption that the future us is better,
or sometimes inferior as well, because you’re located at this particular time.
What if you were located all across that time?
if the future you were active and the past yous were inferior,
that would mean that the present you was inferior, because it’s the past of
And so you would have to sit back and think, “Well, I’m the inferior model of me.”
And only when you get to the point where you don’t have any of those
presumptions of inferiority or superiority across the timeline–
you make gains towards linear and nonlinear time, but it also has some
dramatic implications as for
action and what can change and stuff like that.
But initially it’s going to be a fantasy, and it’s an interesting thing
to make yourself crazy with, too.