I remember sitting in a coffee shop with friends in Eugene, Oregon when I was 25 years old. It was a beautiful Northwest summer day, much as we have had lately here in the Puget Sound. As I reflected on the future, I felt like there was a vast ocean in front of me, with unchartered waters. I felt as if my life had no limit, and no end.
At the same time, a day during that summer seemed to stretch endlessly before me. During that August, I hiked in the Trinity Alps in California with my future wife, Diane. Each day seemed endless, as I sat by a mountain stream, watching the water rush over tiny rocks down a steep hill. I lie in a field watching the slow moving clouds float by. It was heavenly. Time stood still.
Do you remember how long the last weeks of school stretched out before you when you were waiting for summer vacation? It seemed like time stood still. Do you remember looking at the clock during the last period of the day in High School? The seconds ticking by felt like hours.
But, I have noticed, as many others have, that with each passing decade my sense of time changes. While I used to anticipate trips and vacations with a sense of impatience (“I can’t wait until we leave”), I am far more relaxed today. I know before I snap my fingers, it will be time to pack up and leave! A day, a week, a month, and a season hurries by, like water rushing down a mountain stream in the spring. Where did all of that time go?
Several years ago, this speedy sense of time bothered me. I felt like my life was dashing by and I wanted to slow it down. I would arrive at work and turn around and it was time to leave! What happened to the day? I yearned for a slower passage of time. But ultimately, I had to accept that my life was a speeding train and I just needed to make sure that I remembered to look out the window and savor the scenery as it passes by. I needed to remember to smell the roses as I zoom past them. There is no way to slow it down.
In a recent article in The New York Times (July 20th, 2013), titled “Fast time and the aging mind,” the author Richard Friedman suggests that this phenomenon is actually an illusion. He notes that the passage of time seems to be slower when looking back than it actually is experienced when it is occurring. Why? According to the author, when you are younger you are learning and experiencing many new things, all of which require more attention, concentration, and mental effort. Apparently, it is the cognitive demands of acquiring new knowledge and experience that slows down our experience of time.
His antidote– continue to challenge yourself with new experiences and learning as you age. While this is good advice, I don’t think that this is the complete answer.
The Buddha is reputed to have said; “Your lifetime passes by like a flash of lightening in a summer sky.” Looking behind you, time is compressed, and you remember only the big events—the little moments are left behind. But as you grow older, the future is more finite. I recognize that if I want to do something, now is the time. Who knows what the future will bring?
But in the meantime, be here now. Take time to savor every experience. Each moment, fully experienced, is ripe and ready for you.
What do you think about the speeding sense of time as you age?