Slowing Down the Perception of Time

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I’ve made a mistake.

I look behind me but there is no turning back, I’ve past the point of no return.

The chill of frost has seeped further into my bones; the other side of the frozen lake appears just as far away as it did an hour ago. Or was it only a few minutes ago?

With snow blowing around I bow my head and take a seat, lost in time.

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Earlier today I met up with a friend, a theoretical physicist who has one of the best minds I’ve ever known. Her head is often in the clouds and her optimism makes her irresistible in conversation.

The day started out as it often does, walking along a path with coffee in hand amid a group of monkeys. Today, she brought up the infinite monkey theorem: given an infinite amount of time, a monkey at a typewriter would almost surely produce a piece of work such as the complete writings of Shakespeare.

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Based on the low energy level of the group, we agreed today no such masterpiece would be delivered by our friends.

However, this did get us talking about time and the few fleeting hours remaining in 2015 before the New Year arrived. As if on cue, we both said “time has flown by faster this year than ever before…” and with this our discussion of time began.

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A topic very dear to her heart is the question of how our brain sees the world ~ how our brain organizes what we experience, sorts through the chaos and creates a perception of reality so we can function effectively in this world.

Her enthusiasm is contagious.  I remember the first time she looked over her coffee and breathlessly whispered, “The only reality we know is what our brain manufactures…how we experience and feel time – it all happens within the mind” followed by her smile and a mad-scientist laugh.

Mother & Child

“When I was a young kid; summer days seemed to go on forever. Every second of the day had something new to explore, my mind racing to understand and learn. Time did not matter.” She sat back and mused, her eyes on a baby monkey being cared for by her mother.

“A young child has no understanding of time, they live in the moment…being time as there is so much happening in their world, their brain is in the now doing all it can to make sense of life.”

She is lost in thought but adds, “The adult interpretation of time is irrelevant to a child.”

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I’ve always been fascinated by time, from the view of a physicist and the existence of time to the neuroscientist and our perception of time.

One early memory I have, I was a young kid floating in a pool of water thinking about time. Thinking about why adults always said, “time goes by faster and faster as they get older…” I had no idea what this meant.

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When I grew older, I began experiencing this feeling of time speeding up, but did not take it seriously until recently when I sensed time flying past at an increasing rate. It is alarming.

The honking of the geese above signal the alarm as well, time speeding away out of reach. The bite of the cold wind sends shivers down my spine. Strangely, it is a feeling I am relishing – this rush of a new experience.

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“This is the frustrating thing about life,” she nodded at me, eyes sparkling again, “when we were young, our minds were spinning. Our brain receiving so much information, often out of order, that it needed time to process and reorganize all the new ideas so we could understand the reality we were living in.”

She paused wistfully, “Our brains needed time to sort and organize reality, so our perception of time was longer when we were young. We extended time. This may be the key to extending life today.”

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“Fast forward to us as adults, and the world is familiar.  Information can be processed quickly,” and with a sigh she took another drink of coffee. “Thus our perception of time is shorter. Time flies by.”

“Add to this our repetitive routines, modern technology efficiently processing information and time begins to pass quicker every year.  We continue to provide the fuel by getting in a rut, spiraling quickly downward with time.”

Her gaze landed on the far side of the lake, and she added, “Days quickly turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years until one day *poof* we look back and it is over.”

She paused, and I was surprised to see tears welled up in her eyes. “I feel as if time has tricked me and I am spinning out of control.”

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Her tears slowly rolled down her cheek, each representing a dream disappearing into the annals of time.

She wiped the tears away and exclaimed, “It is sad, we get older and our brain becomes efficient because we are boring!” she laughs. “Without adventure, life will fly right on by.”

Her eyes lock in on mine, and I am surprised how a discussion of physics can increase my heart rate and make my palms sweaty. “We need to find a way to extend our time…”

“We need to explore new sensations, overload the brain and perhaps then we can stretch out time just like we did when we were young,” the glimmer in her eyes not seeking approval.

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We walked a few more steps before her words hit me like a wave of cold water.

She whispered, “Let’s be spontaneous.” Pointing across the lake, she added, “Your adventure begins with a trek across the lake, I’ll wait for you at the hot springs on the other side…and together we’ll try to stop time, at least for tonight.”

Stunned by her words, my mind went blank and I looked toward a monkey for help. Fortunately, he was a wise one, and seemed to understand my situation.  He nodded his head, so I looked at her and did the same.

With a quick peck on my cheek, she grabbed her keys and headed out to the car leaving me stranded.

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This is how I find myself in this predicament, lost on Lake Mashu-ko. I look ahead where I believe the hot springs lie and sigh…it seems I’ve been out here forever and the other side is still so far away.

Time, a concept impossible to define, but definitely worth contemplating as 2015 comes to an end.  My goal for the New Year, to slow down time.

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I looked at my watch and realize I’ve been out here for only 10 minutes.  Yes, this is a good sign and my laughter echoes off the surrounding mountains.

With my heart beating and my brain working overtime – I pick up the pace.  I figure, whether or not she is there waiting for me does not really matter.  The adventure has begun.  From across the lake, a cry from a white-tailed sea eagle reminds me of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

I look ahead, and no one has to tell me, life is short, getting shorter.  Make time in 2016 to explore.  To slow down and take in all life has to offer.

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Happy New Year!

Being Time in Kenya with Heidegger

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The concept of time is fascinating. From physics to philosophy, the notion of time is difficult to define.

From our normal existence in the world, we often define time as ‘fleeting’ in the sense there is never enough. Frustration builds as the majority of time is spent catching up on work…work that is always running further and further away.

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The more worry about time, the less there is.

This has been the script for me this year.  Just as I am ready to celebrate and enjoy autumn, this great season is fading fast.

Back in September, I noticed the leaves turning color. But instead of picking up my coat and heading out, I dropped my head for a quick analysis of work and business only to look up a couple of months later to find winter staring me in the face.

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Pushing open the window, a gust of cold wind sends my work flying and a bunch of dry leaves swirling at my feet.

Where did time go?

With my work and leaves lying scattered at my feet, I realized I lost the best season of the year.

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Autumn is usually the season when time slows down.  Time to take in nature, people and the simple appreciation of life.

Hunting, fishing, football, photography, cycling or spending time on Hood Canal with family and friends; not existing in time, but actually “being time”.

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The thought of “being time” is refreshing: to reflect on memories, create new memories and actively live and project our expectations of the future in ‘the now’ the moment when time stands still. This is what autumn has always provided.

To be with somebody, to be somewhere, to be doing something you love…these are the moments, a perfect understanding of our place in time, space and the universe.

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Being Time, this is a feeling I envy right now. Sitting on the floor, sorting my papers…seeing nothing but incoherent words and riddles on these sheets of white reflecting past months of work, my eyes fall to a wooden carving I picked up in Kenya many years ago.

Autumn. Kenya. The trip when I first began defining time in a different manner.

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Prior to leaving for the Kenyan city of Nairobi, I was out with friends and they all talked about the culture shock that I would experience, jumping from the modern city of Hong Kong to the much less developed world of the Maasai Mara.

There was some truth to that, jumping into the life of Nairobi was something different, but once into the countryside time slowed down and I synchronized with the culture around me. It was as if I had returned to a forgotten home. Being where I should be. Feeling alive.

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As it turned out, I did experience culture shock, but it happened upon returning from Kenya to the modern world.

Back in the USA, amid the muck of company politics, petty jealousies and listening to the linear definition of time: the loud tick-tock of the clock signaling life is growing shorter.

Fortunately, I kept the rhythm I had found in Kenya and fell into a groove back in Seattle and later Hong Kong. Good friends, good work and listening to how time flowed naturally, rather than how it was measured on the clock made the days mine.

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This ‘Kenyan groove’ took me back to my college days where my roommate, who was a brilliant philosophy major, introduced me to the works of German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.

It took Kenya for me to fully ‘get’ what Heidegger was saying, but he was correct: “we do not exist inside time, we are time.”

The only time we have is now, this nano-second of the present to live, where all we were and will be is defined within this perfect moment to shine. As Heidegger called it: “the moment of vision”

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This concept of time is one of many theories, and helps me define the idea of being lost in a moment and having time stand still. Time is not this one-way sequential path to the end: a tick-tock of doom.

Time, instead, allows us to relive memories, actively experience and create expectations and dreams with which we float between the past, present and future. As silly as it sounds, time becomes what we want to be.

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When I am lost in a daydream…or when a beautiful girl shyly smiles and nods her head, a sensation is created that alters time. It brings into play another dimension I could not begin to define, other than a perfect, subjective component of time that I would not change for the world.

Everything stops and goes, and I want to embrace all that I can get my arms around. Time simply does not exist in linear terms at these moments. It is emotional; the mind can run free, open up memories and take me places I can only dream. In a sense, I am manipulating time. I can do no wrong.

Kenya Maasai Mara Africa-23Kenya provided an important piece in defining time and its place in nature for me. Time is what you make of it and it only blooms with loyalty and honesty to yourself, to family, to friends and to your work. In this sense, it is the simple philosophy of nature.

There may not be a better place to appreciate time, autumn or nature than in my hometown of Pendleton, Oregon.

Autumn in Pendleton means the end of the harvest season, the beauty of putting in a hard day’s work. You look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, and see the dirt and character: badges of honor, to be worn proudly.

Kenya Maasai Mara Africa-10Pendleton, too, reminds me of Kenya…a place where standing out on the plains as the morning breaks, time stands still. Silence along with the electricity of the day that makes me aware I am flowing as one with time.

Time waits for no one, so to understand its value and embrace it for the potential it holds is key: the “moment of vision”.

Kenya Maasai Mara Africa-5And as I continue to stare out my window, smiling with my thoughts of Kenya, Pendleton and Heidegger, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Dr. Seuss:

“How did it get so late so soon?  It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”

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Pre-Dawn Coffee ~ Best Campsite I've Experienced :-)

Pre-Dawn Coffee ~ Best Campsite I’ve Experienced 🙂

 

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