This is how time works – an explanation

Time mindfulHas anyone ever wondered why, as children, time went SOOOO slowly?! The school holidays seemed to take forever to arrive, the Christmas countdown was interminably long, and don’t even talk to me about how long Easter Saturday took. What is the point in being on holidays and not being able to eat your chocolate eggs until the Sunday? I seemed to languish in primary school until at LAST I could start high school. Then it took an eternity to reach the coveted position of a Grade 12. Time was a commodity, that handed out tiny bits of value, and we couldn’t wait for the next thing!

And now, as an adult, time goes more quickly than I can think. The months pass by in a flash, and before I know it, I’m doing Christmas shopping. When was Easter? Is it summer already? I’m pretty sure my summer clothes are still out from last summer – I don’t think I had time to put them away (well, living in Australia, we do have an advantage with this…). I have always wondered, but never understood it. I practice meditation which helps a lot, and recently, I have been reading about mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s book called “Coming to our Senses”. It is full of wisdom about how to be more mindful, and this morning I came across a fantastic piece on time, and it answered all my questions. Kabat-Zinn explains that according to Ray Kurzweil, our internal, subjective sense of time passing is calibrated by the interval between what we feel are our “milestones” or noteworthy events, and the “degree of chaos” in the system.

Time and Chaos

It is called the ¬†Law of Time and Chaos: When order decreases, and chaos (the quantity of disordered events relative to the process) increases in a system, time slows down. When order increases and chaos decreases in a system, time speeds up. As children, we have lots of milestone events happening (everything is new too!), and as we get older the spaced intervals (time) between noteworthy developmental milestones seems to stretch out more and more, and according to Kabat-Zinn, “the present moment often seems empty and unfulfilling, always the same”. So time feels like it is going faster as our reference frame is growing longer.

So, if you want to slow down time (and don’t we all? Don’t leave me on my own with this…), you can choose to fill up your life full of “milestone” experiences such as big holidays, fancy gadgets, extreme sports etc. This sounds stressful and can be addictive. But wait…

There is a better way…

Kabat-Zinn explains that another way to slow down time is to “make more of your ordinary moments notable and noteworthy by taking note of them”. This also reduces the chaos in your mind and ensures you are really present with each moment as it unfolds. The richer each moment, and the shorter the intervals between them, the slower the passage of time from your point of view. Every moment passes, and if we can choose to linger in that moment, really take it in, we can be fully present and appreciative of the fullness of time.

I think it is almost easier to choose the first way – fill your life full of dinners out, parties, holidays and adventures. And I agree, having lots of things to look forward to is great. But is it sustainable? Being more mindful is definitely the more sustainable and simple solution. However, it is not easy. Even the act of sitting still can be challenging for many. How can we possibly embrace every moment?

The answer is Practice. Practice every day, every moment you think of it, be mindful to that moment. It might a walk outside in the sunshine. It might be an insect walking across a leaf. It might be a clock’s second hand ticking. It could be as simple as choosing to eat your lunch without doing a million other things at the same time. Simple. But not easy…

What can you notice today that you can experience fully that will help slow down time?