All my life, I have heard people say, “Time flies, especially as you get older.” But for me, time always seemed to pass about the same. Sometimes it even felt like the month of April when I was twelve–seemingly interminable, but usually time just passed, neither fast nor slow; it just went. Carpe Diem wasn’t on my mind until after the movie, “The Dead Poets’ Society.” Then, it was on everyone’s lips. But as far as Carpe Diem went, I already had.
In my twenties, I was a big fan of one of the early self-help book writers, Hugh Prather. In his book, “It’s not that “today is the first day of the rest of my life,” but that “now” is all there is of my life.” The fact that now is all anyone has resonated with my philosophical bent. But it makes sense even to my everyday experience. The past does not exist outside of memory, and the future is nonexistent, having not occurred yet. Which leaves humanity submerged in the ever-changing present, flowing around us. As I saw it, if I was to live, I had to seize what was going by before it was gone forever.
But Prather’s books didn’t only teach me to “seize the day” they also taught me something about how to stay centered, no matter what I was doing. In one passage, Prather describes going to the Post office and his infant son being fascinated with the bushes along the way. This lodged in my brain, and has become like a dedication to me. On Crete, when I walked down the sidewalks, I made it a point to notice the color and scent of the oleanders. On the way home, I gazed out across the island’s vineyards at the blue Mediterranean Sea and the island of Dia. No matter how insignificant a place I am in or how mundane a place I am going to–I focus on where I am and it keeps me centered in the moment.
Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to Brendon Burchard, renowned writer and creator of the High Performance Academy, and he agrees that one slows time by being mindful and focused. He talks about how, “People are doing everything and yet life feels like it’s just spinning by. Matter of fact, for many people, every week just feels like they didn’t sense or feel any of it. Or if they did, it was frenetic energy. They don’t feel like life has depth, meaning or beauty.”
So, people can have a “full” life, filled with softball games, ballet class for the kids, volunteering at the church social, etc, and still feel like life is going by too fast because they took on too much, and ironically, because they’re simultaneously moving on to the next thing. What happens here is that life goes by like the landscape outside your car at sixty miles per hour; There’s no sensory or emotional connection and it’s all an unremembered blur. And even though they feel like they’re busy, and working, it’s not their life’s work they’re busy with—it’s just busy work. So their moments are actually crammed with obligation and distraction.
And don’t think that obligation and distraction have to be things like TV or Harlequin Romances. Distractions are dangerous because they can seem important. This is where individuals need to examine their Life’s Mission and be very clear about what it entails. Set some time aside, sit down, and write out what your vision of life is and what it will take to get there. And to protect that vision, set up some guidelines. Like, as a general rule, at first, every draw on your time gets a “no, ” or at least a “let me think about it.” That way you can have some time to give it some serious thought instead of an immediate, unconsidered “yes.” Without a clear idea of what you want out of your life and some rules to keep life on track, life can slip away one distraction at a time.
Burchard points out an excellent example of how attention and focus affect our perception of time. He asks if you’ve ever been in a car accident or a situation where there was an emergency, and it seemed like everything went in slow motion? The reason that happened is because your awareness was heightened and you started taking all this information in because maybe in that situation you felt like you were in danger and were hyper attentive. Or have you watched your kid walk across the graduation stage and it looked like it was in slow motion because that moment meant something to you and you were focused. So, the challenge in experiencing slow time, is deciding to focus our attention and heighten our senses.
There are many efforts one can make to remain focused in the moment. Centering yourself through a short meditation or focusing on your breathing is one way. Setting an alarm on your phone that reminds you, “Stop a moment and take in what’s around you with at least three senses.” Another is just to make it a point to pay attention to something other than visually. Slow down and savor every bite at meal time. Drink your wine and wallow your tongue in the flavor of it. The next time you go to the mailbox, really listen to the sounds around you.
This will take daily practice to do, as anything worth doing does, and it will take being more critical of how you allow your time to be spent. Life will remain a speeding merry-go-round unless you cut back on obligations that do not fit into your vision for life. Not anyone else’s and not society’s idea of a good life. Your life, or at least your experience of it, is at stake. Isn’t that worth it?