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Playing With Time Perspectives

We can alter how we feel about or how we experience life by choosing to see things from various perspectives. I offer no proof for this premise, because I assume that any reader can verify it for himself or herself with just a bit of reflection. In fact, we have probably all adopted both the "glass half full" and "glass half empty" perspectives at different times in our lives, and so we know that how we felt about a given situation changed accordingly.

Flickr photo by Myphotosshare

This particular essay/article is about choosing a time perspective. There are various ways to think about the passage of time and/or different ways to think in terms of time. The habitual approach one has to passing time or thinking about the concept constitute what might be called one's time perspective. But it is possible to choose a different way to think, and that's what I am inviting the reader to do.

We're going to change the time perspective from which you see life. Instead of thinking that your life is seventy or eighty years long, consider it as being composed of 36 to 42 million minutes. Make this more than an intellectual exercise though. Sit still (turn away from the screen and stop reading this in a moment), breathe deeply, and quietly observe your life and everything going on around you for an entire minute while simultaneously thinking about just how long that minute is. Do this now.

Now that you've done this mindfulness exercise for sixty seconds, think about how many tens of millions of these minutes you may have left. Doesn't that make it seem like life lasts a long time?

The thought that life is 36 to 42 million minutes in life versus 70 or 80 years changes one's mind a bit. But the exercise in observation makes it a much more significant change of perspective. This is in part because when we are conscious of the current moment time feels like it is going more slowly. When we are lost in the repetitive patterns of our daily existence--both existentially and internally--time flies by as it does during sleep. Perhaps this is because in a sense we are asleep.

(That relative aspect of our experience of time was addressed by Albert Einstein, who noted that "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity.")

Here are two questions to consider;

1. Does consciously cultivating a different time perspective actually change the way you think about things, and in what ways?

2. Can you purposely maintain a different perspective, or does your mind always slip back to its original way of seeing things?

I have another example of how we can change our experience by changing the way we think in terms of time. At a young age (around nine or ten as I recall) I discovered that if something bad happened to me, I could reduce the bad feelings. All I had to do was imagine what had just happened as though I was remembering it several years later. Immediately the power of the negativity was diminished.

In general, when we are "in the moment" we experience things as more real, and when our mind is "somewhere else" in time our current experience is muted. As my childhood experiment showed, we can choose where in time to think from. In other words we can see (and therefore feel) from a different time perspective.

We can also think about time in various ways. We see this in metaphors, like the passage of time being a river. But in fact, contrary to this view of time as a flowing process, some theoretical physicists have speculated that it is actually many discreet pieces, something like a a motion picture film, which looks like there is motion even though it is composed of many thousands of still pictures.

Does time exist at all as "something" or is it just our way of arranging specific events? We might feel differently if we chose to see each moment as complete unto itself, rather than as part of a story moving through something we call time. It is possible we would suffer less (at least mentally) from the changes that come with age.

Play around with perspectives and you'll find that you undergo some subtle changes in how you feel and think. This is true in many areas of life, and certainly with time.

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Time Perspective