Inner Landscape Symbols and Our Experience of Time


I am writing this note because I happened to realize, there was even more being represented by the Inner Landscape symbols, than I recognized at first. Beyond representing our internal states of experience, I noticed that Inner Landscape symbols were also representing something about our experience of time. Once you see this, they actually can depict how we relate to the past, present, and future, on the different levels of experience.

What is interesting, is that like so much of Primary Scenes, it was not explicitly designed this way. This is just another example of how many concepts just seemed to be represented by Primary Scenes, as a consequence of some very fundamental decisions, constraints, and contingencies, that influenced the creation of Primary Scenes.

There is a kind of “naturalness” and uncommon “effortlessness” that can sometimes occur when systems are set up, just the right way. It is not necessarily because the people who set them up are geniuses or prodigies. If people were more introspective and honest, about their greatest creative breakthroughs and so-called “eureka moments”, their stories would feature less ego and more humility. They would admit that sometimes the clouds of confusion open up for some unknowable reason, and you just catch lightning in a bottle, full stop. Now, you can certainly put in work, to set the conditions and to be ready for the rain, but in truth you don’t know when or in what manner it will happen. Sometimes things come together in a way you never could have planned so well, in a million years. This note is just shinning a light on one tiny little example of that. Try to keep this in mind, as you go through your days, and your life.

The Inner Landscape and Our Experience of Time

Here is a brief introduction or refresher, for the Inner Landscape of Primary Scenes, depending on your familiarity.

Primary Scenes is just a way of representing, and talking, about the human experience. It utilizes both detailed and sometimes technical descriptions, along with techniques from various art forms. Ultimately, Primary Scenes exists to say something about our world and our place in it, that goes beyond what can be represented by art or science alone.

Each “Scene” in Primary Scenes is a vertical grouping of symbols, denoted by a color, Blue, Red, or Green. Our focus here is on the Inner Landscape Scene, “The Landscape” for short, which is Blue.

The Landscape represents the internal states of the mind and body, that we perceive in awareness. Moving up in the Landscape, generally corresponds to more positive internal states, while moving down in the Landscape is generally more negative internally.

The color of the Landscape Scene is blue, as this is a tight fit with the real life landscapes in nature, which are inspirations for this Scene.

How Landscape Symbols Show The Experience of Time


The Sky symbol consists of a bird in the sky with little to no extension in space. This can represent how when we are in the Sky state, we are glued to the present moment.

Notice how we intuitively use expressions that evoke the Sky symbol, when talking about positive internal states.

In casual conversations, people often remark that “time flies when you’re having fun”.

On a slightly more technical level, we have the psychological concept of “Flow”1, which naturally lends itself to a flying and gliding kind of representation.



The Mountain symbol, is pointed at the top, and gets wider and wider towards the bottom. This is obviously meant to evoke the shape of an actual mountain in nature. That said, it can also show something about our experience of time, when in the Mountain state.

Thinks about how time feels, when you are highly aware, and orienting to the world deliberately. In that state, our minds are not racing into wild stories about the past and future, but are, instead, confined to a small region of thought.

The apex, at the top of the Mountain symbol, represents this. It shows that we are present and able to direct our fixed awareness to view the world and orient to what we observe.

The sloping sides of the Mountain symbol, indicate that we are also having some limited projections and simulations, of past and future, in the form of thoughts and narratives.

So as we go higher on the Mountain symbol, we can think of this as getting more and more focused on the present moment.


The Ground symbol shows that when we are in this state, time does not register very much to us.

The almost flat line of the Ground symbol, is showing that there is not much change when we are in the Ground state.

Our perception of time, is largely a product of the asymmetry of entropy, coarse grained at the human scale. In other words, when we speak of time at the human scale, we are largely marking the asymmetry of changes we remember, compared to what we observe.

When we are in the Ground state, which is the state in which we rest, recover, and reset, we do not pay much attention to changes in the world. As a result, our experience of time in the Ground state, is very imprecise, and it often feels like there has been no change at all. A good example of this is if you are so tired that you just fall into dreamless sleep as soon as you hit the bed. If you don’t remember any dreams when you wake up in the morning, you will not have any perception that time was passing while you were asleep.

The slight curve in the line, and the small sprout at the end of the Ground symbol, can represent how eventually there is some change, once enough rest and recovery has occurred, even though it may be slow and subtle.


The Storm symbol is visually the opposite of the Sky symbol, as well as being conceptually opposite.

The bird in the Sky symbol, has little to no spatial extension. This represents that when we are in the Sky state, awareness is glued to that single present moment, right where the point of the bird is located.

In contrast, the Storm symbol, has little to nothing in the middle, yet is spatially extended.

Compare the two symbols and concepts for a moment. The Sky symbol is concentrated in one place with nothing around it. The Storm symbol exists on the periphery, but is empty in the center.

This lack of a concentrated center in the Storm symbol, can represent that we are spending almost no time aware of the present moment, when we are in the Storm state. Instead, we are whipping around the perimeter, spiraling down into past and future simulations, we call narratives.

Closing Thoughts

In this brief note, we took a look at how the symbols of the Inner Landscape, can not only suggest how we feel at different levels of experience, but crucially, also how we perceive time at each level.

One of the main values that Primary Scenes has to offer, is the ability to compress and represent a tremendous amount of information and insight, into a few minimal symbols and colors.

Hopefully, thinking about time with regard to the Inner Landscape symbols, makes them even more valuable to you. Try using them to help contemplate your own human experience, and that which we create as a whole civilization and ecosystem.

  1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term Flow in 1975, to characterize optimal internal states that were experienced by people he studied as a psychologist. It was his conclusion, that people who are able to find and cultivate Flow states, tend to have much higher degrees of moment to moment satisfaction, and also a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their lives in general. ↩︎