In which we suggest that an instinctive dialogue with nature can help us exercise our own free will.
The Road of Time is a little mountain road which winds endlessly through the Geological Reserve of Haute-Provence, from the medieval city of Sisteron down to the Asse Valley, passing close to the city of Digne. Apart from its geological value, and the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding landscape, it is a road of particular interest, because historians think that it leads to the city of Theopolis, otherwise known as the "City of God", St Augustin's famous city which despite the numerous archeological explorations which have been carried out in the area, remains undiscovered to this day: their conjecture is based upon information contained in a 5th century Roman inscription carved into one of the rocks on the "Pierre Ecrite" mountain pass, which forms a sort of "entrance hall" into the Geological Reserve.
The mystery surrounding the Road of Time is only one of many attractive features of its enchanting landscape: the stunning fossils, mysterious rock formations, "magic" stones, hidden yourts high up in the hills, its astonishing wildlife and enigmatic natives whose personality is thrown into sharp relief by the area's outstanding natural light – each has its own peculiarity which lends a sense of mystery to the path. And this is all the more marked because the rare encounters we make seem to contain some sort of meaning, as if we were in a role-playing game where each actor had clues to offer us for our onward journey.
This low range of mountains, where the altitude varies from five hundred to two thousand metres, is exceptional because of the huge wealth of possible routes it offers through the reserve, confronting us with a multiplicity of paths from which to choose. Hiking here, I have felt how one's inner strength is restored by these kinds of walks, where you never quite know where you're going, or what you're going to find.
Generally, by taking the steepest way up, and after several hours of climbing, during which my mind finally managed to free itself from all physical tension, I would at last find myself becoming receptive to the nature around me. And then nature itself would take over from my body to answer my inner questions, like a sort of echo of my mind. This new-found sensitivity would prove ample reward for all the effort required for getting up there, and each time it would come over me quite unexpectedly. We often forget the virtues of hill-walking, which go far beyond the mere physical exercise of it, for it helps the mind to refocus in a sane and liberated environment. Inside and out, altitude lifts us and broadens our vision: the meaning of our life becomes clearer, or may even reappear, as if, by nourishing our intuition in this way, we can allow it to take over our mental reins once more. Nature offers us a way of learning how to circumvent difficulties, both the inner and outer kind, by revealing an entirely unsuspected range of possibilities to the "living beings" we are; like some challenge we must seek within ourselves before testing it upon the training ground of intuition, as we search for the right attitude to adopt on our progress through real life.
To an even greater extent than altitude and visibility, the characteristic solitude and difficulty of hill-walking have the effect of making us refocus on ourselves, lending the sort of nobility to our inner life that is gained through initiatory journeys. Of all the difficulties, the uphill climb is the one which best compensates for the effort it demands. Other obstacles symbolise eternal problems, from the most commonplace to those that take the longest to overcome: and yet here in nature the rocks, thorns, dense forest, waterfalls, rocky outcrops and ambiguous paths all offer unhoped-for possibilities for overcoming them – as long as we look for them. Thus they act as so many invitations to find new methods of adapting in real life. This low-lying mountainous country teaches us an unexpected lesson, no doubt through its richness and diversity: nature shows us that every problem contains its own solution, as soon as we are ready to admit that the problem exists and listen to what it means, so that we can then serenely contemplate the other possible paths open to us.
Is this, then, the true virtue of the mountain range, that it constantly offers us the gentleness of multiple compromise from within its large spectrum of nuances? Or is it the majesty of the place and its profound silence which make us feel that a third person is watching our progress, always ready to suggest a new direction? In the worst or best of situations, an unexpected encounter sometimes invites itself into our reflexions, seeming to act as a signal that one phase is coming to an end, and another must be overcome. During this encounter, our plans may suddenly alter, or see ahead to some future evolution, or merely absorb information which will be useful at the next fork in the path. And then, almost like confirmation that the encounter was planned in advance by the universe, the choice to be made at the next fork in the path will appear obvious, as if someone had changed the points at the junction. Sometimes, it may simply be the weather which either guides or restricts us through encouragement or dissuasion, simulating the conditions for our decision according to our mood. Or else "signs" are sent directly by nature, optical illusions made up of shadow and light or dynamic effects, noise made by the wind or passing animals, appearing to us like warnings, invariably exerting an influence over our journey, although we would never seriously admit as much to ourselves.
And so it is often these chance meetings which direct us along the Road of Time, encounters with talking stones (17), natural phenomena or living beings. The same chance which is responsible for altering our real lives, when we meet our future partner, employer or friend. But why is it that we have to wait until we're wandering through the countryside to discern the hidden meaning of the most significant encounters of our lives, those meetings which lend a new meaning to chance? Could it be that it is easier to comprehend things when we are involved in a lighter, more detached sort of way?
Having experienced all these encounters and adventures on the Road of Time as so many symbols or signs which helped me better to understand my entire life, while at the same time feeling that I had completed a stage of personal evolution, I gradually came to realise unexpected potential in terms of my own free will. Was it the transposition of ordinary existence, in which I seemed to be confronted with major choices almost every day? Whatever the case, I developed an ability to observe elements of my surroundings which had nothing to do with my own problems, but which nonetheless allowed me to reach a state of awareness which helped make them disperse. Sometimes it happened quite simply, as soon as the critical aspect of them disappeared. More than this, though, whenever these elements appeared to act as an assembly of constituent parts talking in the same voice, conversing in the language of coincidence, I would reap a harvest of suggestions that would help me create my own life-map.
Just as nature's marvels and obstacles invited me to listen to them as I walked, forming a mirror to my inner questions or even an extension of my actual being, so I discovered that by listening to the events in my real life, rather than merely submitting to them as if they were constraints, new and unsuspected paths would then open up before me. Was this an alternative practice to rational but dubious choices, or heightened personal intuition? I couldn't say – except that the experiences I went on to have as a result went far beyond everything I might have hoped for in terms of benefit, and it was then that I realised that I had to share my good luck.
The first manifestation of this good luck came in the form of a series of extraordinary coincidences which happened to me on the Road of Time, seeming to act as confirmation that I had taken the right path. They led me to think long and hard about the meaning of time, something I had been thinking of for many decades, bringing me to an intuitive sensation of communing with the elements of the universe, as if my brain were reaching far beyond the limits of my own self. I went on to understand how this sensation, which is a source of happiness and confidence in life, might well come from something other than a mere illusion. And so, little by little, I began to take apart the mechanics of things as mysterious as the phenomenon of synchronicity* (see glossary). In this book, I will be exposing these mechanisms using a double-edged scientific and philosophical approach, underpinned by what is intended to be implacable logic. The reader may be surprised to observe that science, poetry and spirituality can be excellent bedfellows.
The Road of Time is such an effective and natural model that I cannot but make liberal use of it to explain the fundamental things in life which it has helped me to understand, culminating above all in the ability to reconcile science and faith. The Geological Reserve will provide us with metaphorical and symbolic terrain on which to express our mental environment, so that we may explain and exercise our inner potential, thanks to a collection of powerful analogies corresponding to mental properties: not just the altitude, frequentation or difficulty of the walk, but also the presence of water, direction, temperature and weather conditions, as we will be seeing later on.
In this book, we will reveal unheard-of mechanisms for exerting the freedom we possess for "programming" our future, a freedom which exploits little-known intellectual properties and which it is infinitely more judicious to understand using this type of metaphor than by any pre-established psycho-scientific approach.
We will show that we have unexploited potential deep inside us, in particular an ability immediately to activate that future which best corresponds to our intentions, from among the multiple possible paths of our life. And yet, imprisoned as we are within our everyday conditioning, we are generally unable to exploit this potential, because our decisions are hampered by all sorts of mistaken conceptions – about our minds and the idea we have of ourselves – and suffer interference from various determinisms, notably habit.
Thus the choice of countless paths we can follow through the Geological Reserve will serve as a metaphor to mimic, comprehend and even experiment on the mechanisms we are about to reveal. First of all, to simplify, I will sum up these possibilities using the model of the "Tree of Life"*. We will see that most of the time in our lives, we don't experiment with the wealth of our potential choices, and even that we seldom venture off the beaten track, assailed as we are by pre-conceived ideas (clichés, fixations and all sorts of pre-conditioning): most of the time we keep to the tarmac, the "main trunk" of our life.
In this essay on time, I will be introducing, in a completely rational manner and for the price of a first, steep section about the reversal of time and non-causal logic, the astonishingly little-known mechanism of a truly magical element of life, by suggesting a new Theory of Time, called the "Theory of Double Causality*". This theory will then be put into practice and tested against experience, the Road of Time having been chosen not only as a testing ground for metaphorical simulation, but also for real-life experiments.
I will not be calling on any esoteric references, but simply on pure logic and the latest scientific progress, modern physics in particular.
For the Theory of Double Causality is primarily one of scientific interest, because of the way it casts light on the oddest results of the Theory of Relativity*, Statistical Physics*, Chaos Theory* and Quantum Mechanics*.
Each of these peculiar branches of physics will bring its own light to the subject of time, based on the principles of irreversibility*, causality* or determinism*, the philosophical reaches of which are essential to allow man to find his place in the universe. From this point of view, it must be admitted that these principles have always played a reductionist role, even going as far as to deny the existence of free will*.
And yet the authenticity of free will is the most fundamental hypothesis of the Theory of Double Causality, to which we will add a second and no less fundamental hypothesis, which is that the universe has already happened.
This immediately raises the following question: how can we remain free to act in a universe where our future has already happened?
The answer on which the Theory of Double Causality rests is that of the "Tree of Life"*: our future already exists in multiple versions, or branches, all coexisting simultaneously and ubiquitously, but as "potentials*" which haven't yet been lived.
On the strength of these two fundamental hypotheses, which are summed up by this unavoidable consequence, we will demonstrate in this book that time possesses virtues which we can in all honesty qualify as "magical".
This reference to "magic*" that I employ when talking about "mechanisms" of time may well cause some surprise, but considering its extraordinary properties, no more accurate term could be chosen to qualify the marvellous potential of the adventure of our life as the universe invites us to live it, if only we are willing to bring our sensitivity and our minds up to the level of its own subtle laws, and thus consent to become the magicians of our own lives.