There’s a saying that goes something like, “when you’re young you have time and energy but no money, in mid-life you have money and energy but no time, and in later life, you have time and money, but no energy.” Maybe that’s the time of our life we’re in now, but many of us feel as if we’re time-poor; there’s always too much to do and not enough time, both at work and in our personal lives. We look back at old photos and see we’ve grown older and that our children or younger family members have transformed into young adults, in what seems like no time at all.
We have no sense, like taste or touch, with which to measure time. Although we think of time as the steady ticking of a clock, our experience of time is more elastic and depends on how focussed we are on what we’re doing. Time seems to slow down when we’re engaged in something new, something scary like paragliding, or when we’re really focussed on the detail of activity, like listening closely to a piece of music.
When we intentionally open our awareness and focus our attention, our brains process more information about our experience. When we’re not aware and focussed, our brains tend to label and filter the world around us as familiar and “already known”. This makes sense from a processing perspective; why spend energy processing the same things we come across every day? Although this mode is useful, it also means that we sometimes miss out on a richer experience of life. For instance, our brain may notice “flowers” in the vase we walk past and then quickly moves on. The difference when we walk past with awareness is that we’re more likely to notice and appreciate the beauty of the vivid purple tulip petals and enjoy their subtle fragrance. This mode is about experiencing the world in a more direct and connected way, rather than indirectly, when we skim over the surface of the world around us.