The Experience of Time
Shortly after my 8th birthday my childhood days experienced a very unwelcome interruption to my time: piano lessons. I remember sitting on that stony bench practicing my A Major scale and thinking what A Major pain in my rear end it was. How come I was stuck inside while the rest of the running, climbing, whooping youth was out there where they should be? Those 30 minutes of time, to me as an 8-year-old, seemed like 30 gazillion years of time passing by.
Why is that? How come the most meager bit of time (to us) feels like a life sentence to a child? Or, looked at another way, why does time seem to fly as we get older?
I recently came across some answers. Some theorists say we perceive time on a mathematical scale, like a pie chart. To the kindergartner, one year represents a big, memorable slice of life: one-sixth. To his grandma, a year might only amount to a sliver, hardly significant at all. The problem with that theory, says psychologist Ronald E. Riggio, is that our memories aren’t all that reliable at math. Some fleeting moments in life figure largely while the vast majority we can’t even count because they recede into our subconscious.
The more unique or memorable the experience, the more time slows down, he says. Routine and repetition cause time to speed up. Think about the kindergartner again. To him, having only ever experienced a handful of Christmases, it takes forEVER for Santa to come. Grandma, by contrast, has grown a little weary of the holiday hoopla. She can’t believe she has only a few shopping days left.
If you accept that concept as I do, it makes sense for us to try to inject more novelty into our daily lives. We need to not only seize but savor each moment — to be fully conscious of the things we do and what’s happening around us. By breaking up our routine and creating more novel experiences, we grab life by the shirt and make sure time doesn’t rush by us.
Some suggestions to help you slow time and experience life:
- Get up early one morning and go watch the sunrise. Take a child, spouse or friend with you to share the experience.
- Change your route to work. Or sit on the other side of the church. You might be surprised how the new perspective changes your thought process that morning.
- Take a trip by yourself. I recommend reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a woman who walked the entire Pacific Crest Trail on her own.
- Invite someone new to your holiday dinner. Another voice at the table adds to the liveliness and festivity, and helps make the day more memorable.
- Create a meditation spot in your house. Somewhere you can go for a few minutes each day to focus on your level of awareness and connection to life and others around you. (Check out a beginner’s guide to meditation at the library.)
- Learn a new language or instrument. The challenge will help keep your brain cogs working smoothly; provide an important creative outlet; and may even give your ego a boost. Anytime someone asks you what’s new, you’ll have plenty to talk about!
I’m taking that advice myself. Even though decades have elapsed since those tortured sessions on the piano bench, and the experience hasn’t receded in my memory one bit, I recently decided to take up piano again. And I’m loving it! Training one hand to do something different from the other has helped me to think in a new way. I’ve also discovered how rewarding it feels to make my own music. Even when I’m away from the keys, I can hear my concerto playing all around me.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience
can never go back to its old dimensions.”
– Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr.
photo courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net/sattva,