The past is mental accumulated content. The future is mental imagination.
If there was no thought, now is the only time. “Now” implies other times that are not now, but for lack of better word there is only the timeless “now.” Time is purely a mental construct and a story we tell ourselves based on perceived motion (particularly repeating patterns) and memory/future imaginations. For example, let’s say I see a cat walking. I remember the cat being there a minute ago, but now it is here, and at the rate it is walking in its current direction – it will be there in a minute. This is all in the mind. There is simply a cat walking…now. Mentally we tell a story about where it has been and where it will be.
Of course, “a minute” is just an agreed upon fiction. Like a yard or any other form of measurement. Without this agreed upon measuring stick of time (second, minutes, hours, etc.)…how long ago is anything? Without synced clocks, we would not all agree. The sense of time is subjective…not objective. We try to make it objective by having clocks around…but that is an illusion within an illusion.
Obviously, in this day and age, clocks and planning are helpful. But we often get caught up in our own mental illusions and then suffer. I am only pointing out that past and future are illusions of the mind.
As I said, the sense of time is subjective. We have all heard that time flies when you are having fun. We can do something we really enjoy for hours or all day and not realize that much time has passed. However, if it is something we dread and don’t want to do, something that takes an hour can feel like an eternity.
We have all heard that time moves faster when you are older…likewise time move slower when younger. You tell a young child to wait until next week, you will see a look on the face that makes it seem like you said next month. You tell an old man to wait until next week, you will likely see that a week is nothing to an old man.
I suspect our sense of time is in relation to how long we have been alive. For example, a month to a 4 year old is over 2% (1/48) of their lifetime…but a month to a 70 year old is 1/840 or 0.119% of their lifetime. This is why I suspect time seems to move faster as you age. The sense of time is self referencing how much time you have experienced thus far.
Back to clocks. If there were no standardization on the measurement of time and devices to tell you how much time has passed…how distant in the future or past is anything really? Even more so, if you spend days or weeks in a cave (like some spelunkers do)…without even the constant movement of the day and night…how long is anything in a time sense?
Time is an interesting concept we have come up with. At one time, the debate was linear time versus cyclic time. If you are interested, I will leave it to you to delve in that further. But it is enough to say that our ideas of time have evolved…and sometimes we forget time itself is just an idea – a concept.
There is only here and now. That is all that you will ever truly experience – and every object you experience is also now. You can’t experience drinking last week’s milkshake in the now…you have to go get another milkshake to experience something similar (again in the now). Last week’s milkshake is a memory and a story we tell about it. You can’t experience next week’s meeting right now…you have to wait until next week. Next week’s meeting is an imagination and a story we tell about it. The only thing we ever experience is here and now. The rest is in our minds.