Making peace with passing time
When I was in middle school, I remember watching the big clock in the classroom. Five minutes to the end of the period seemed like an eternity. The second hand inched around the clock face so slowly, I wanted to scream.
On Monday morning, Friday seemed like a lifetime away. Each day crawled towards the weekend. And then, finally, Saturday would arrive. After delivering newspapers, I would lay in my backyard watching the clouds move across the sky, listening to the birds sing. Sleeping over at my best friend’s house seemed to last for days, even though it was just hours. We played ping pong until we dropped and then Monopoly into the night. We stayed up until the wee hours laughing and talking while his parents told us to quiet down and go to sleep.
In the spring, summer vacation was a lifetime away. Why did the weeks pass so slowly? I waited forever for my birthday to arrive every year.
When I was 25, I remember sitting at a coffee house with friends talking about our future. My life spread out in front of me like a vast ocean—it’s shores were too far away to behold. I felt such a sense of possibility.
But over the years, as you no doubt have experienced too, this sense of time has become more condensed. I first noticed this in my 40’s, but it continues to shrink over time. And now, in my late 60s, days whiz by like a rocket ship. Friday arrives like a speeding bullet. And the weekend goes by in a flash. What happened? While time has remained constant, my experience of it has radically changed.
The Buddha said— “A lifetime is like a flash of lightening in a summer sky.” I never understood this until now. Looking back, life zooms by—we only remember the big events. Where did it go? How did the bus get to 68 years so quickly?
When I was in my 50s, I thought about this a lot. It bothered me how quickly time passed. If I had a vacation in a month, I wasn't inpatient with anticipation. I knew that the day for departure would arrive before I snapped my fingers.
This change in perspective, that seems to come with age, is difficult to understand. It’s something of a mystery. Some philosophers think that it comes from how much time we have lived and the sense of sameness that occurs over time. Brain researchers note that only new experiences are encoded into memory and therefore we tend to recall our childhood differently than adulthood. Looking back is different than looking forward. And certainly when we are fully engaged in what we are doing, time seems to pass more quickly than when we are bored or dis-engaged.
So how do we make peace with father time?
Savor the moment. Shift your awareness from the future and the past into the present. Really taste that crisp autumn apple. Walk a little slower—forget about where you’re going and when you’ll get there. Hold that kiss with your beloved a little longer. Take a long slow deep breath and let the air out slowly. When you wake up, enjoy the sleepy cozy feeling before you jump out of bed. Pause.
If you want to do something, do it sooner rather than later. Our lives do speed along. If there is something that you have always wanted to do, find a way of doing it. As the Buddha observed—life is short.
So live it to the fullest.