Time has a wonderful way to show us what really matters. ~ Anonymous
If you are like most folks I know over the age of 30 or so, it sure feels as if time is moving rather quickly, isn’t it? And the older we get the faster that clock seems to go. What gives? One of the greatest challenges we have as we move along that chronological line known as aging, is figuring out how to slow down our perception of time. How to eek out each experience we can so that we have many, many memories to draw upon.
Someone I heard on the radio, years ago, was asked how he had spent his day prior to the interview and he replied, “I had planned to go to the zoo with my son, he’s just over 3 years old, but instead we spent the entire morning in the driveway watching the ants move around the stones. We moved the stones to see where the ants would go and before I knew it, it was lunch time. Who knew ants were so much fun to watch?” This experience speaks to exactly how it is that our perception of time changes over the course of our lives.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has spent his career studying time and how we take it in from a neurological point of view. The brain is apparently a picky task master and part of what it does when we take in experiences, is to decide how much priority should be given to an event/feeling/situation. Experiences that have a great deal of ‘new to us’ quality require a great deal of brain power, if for no other reason than because the brain needs to sort it out, decide where to put it and how to interpret it. Routine events or sequences, such as driving to work or tying our shoelaces, lack novel components to them and are therefore less intriguing to the brain. The result? We don’t sense the time passing as much as we do when a situation or event has a great deal of ‘new to us’ involved.
When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated. – David Eagleman
What does this mean for us as we age? It means in order to slow down time, if you will, we must take in novel, stimulating information our brains haven’t previously encountered before. The taking in of such stimulus will in turn force our brains to work a bit harder and that will slow down time! Very nifty.
Practicing mindfulness is one way in which we can present our brains with this experience. At its most basic practice, mindfulness is merely asking us to be in the moment, to take in what we see, touch, smell, hear and feel. Just letting it be without judgement is in itself an opportunity for our brains to juggle the event around, sort it out and in the process elongate time. I can’t help but remind you that mindfulness meditation also improves immune function, decreases stress, enables deeper sleep and helps manage both depression and anxiety. (You knew I’d get that in there, right?!)
Here’s an exercise for you; go out into nature and see how much you notice those ants or the bird building a nest or how the bees go back and forth to their favorite pollen source. I’d be willing to bet time will feel different to you.
Wishing you all the best ~