I’ve written about time here before. About a year ago, I decided that time was a messy scribble. I still think that time is a messy scribble. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that time exists only in my head. It also only exists in your head, in my mum’s head, in the heads of all of my children and in the head of the lady who served me my small Americano with skimmed milk this morning (poor thing only had four hours sleep last night, her time at work was dragging).
Time as a scientific construct is meaningless. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this. In fact, I know I’m not. Even scientists have said this. As that eminent philosopher Emmanuel Kant pointed out, time (and space) aren’t physical things, they are modes of understanding, part of our mental software that shapes sensations into something tangible. Time, in reality, is just the tool of our intuition. It isn’t real. Can you touch it? No. Can you measure it? Yes, sort of.
I notice that when I’m happy, enjoying my time, engaged in something pleasurable, such as writing this blog, time is rapid. When I am anxious, worried, sad, down, or waiting for something to happen or for some important news, time is incredibly, painfully, tortuously slow. During those times, the gaps between meals, events, or moments between being asleep and awake seems to drag through the treacle of my mind. The thoughts race but time is slow. I hate time when I’m anxious. I truly hate it with a passion. Time is my enemy. We are opposites. It hates me. I hate it. The rational part of me will say to myself: ‘this won’t last forever’. However, the time to get to the time beyond the now seems beyond my reach. I have to keep telling myself, that cognitive oft-repeated phrase: This Too Shall Pass. It does, of course. Eventually. It isn’t just emotional pain that slows time, physical pain does as well. When I was in labour giving birth to my three babies, the time between each contraction and the times of the contraction itself seemed a lifetime (a common cliche – an exaggeration for sure but it makes sense). In actual fact, that time was seconds.
So conversely, when I am happy, joyous and relaxed, I forget time. It can be 11am one minute, and 1pm the next minute and I’m late (a minute, of course, in the perceptive metaphoric sense). I am late because I’ve lost track of time (another cliche which makes perfect sense). I am lazy because of happy time. Happy time skips by me, it glides effortlessly through my creative mind. It is my enemy again. I hate it because it doesn’t last long enough. I want more time but time betrays me and says ‘you must stop this now’.
Time, also, quickens as I get older. That is not an unknown phenomena. It has often been commented on that time to a small child is perceived very differently to time to a much older person. Time to animals, also, is perceived differently to time to humans. A day in the life of a fly is not the same as a day in the life of my eight year old.
So although we measure time, and we find comfort in that measurement of time, I think we should give that sort of ‘time’ a different name. Or perhaps give the sort of ‘time” of perception I’m talking about a different name. They aren’t the same thing. The time of measurement grounds us to the here and now. I think we would feel extremely anxious without this measured time. We can rely to a certain extent on the movement of the sun, the rumbles of our bellies, the yawns we start to emit late at night but we still need some precision to the measurements of our activities so that we don’t get too out of routine. People may say they hate routine but they are all lying, or kidding themselves.
As for perceived time, we both love it and hate it, depending on how old we are and how happy we are. Or perhaps we always hate it – we either want less or more of it.
Today, time for me is chugging along at a gentle speed. Ergo I must be having a relatively good day, its not my birthday so I’m not joyously happy, but equally I’m not anxious or stressed. And as I type that, I realise by looking at measured time and listening to the rumbles below that it must be lunchtime.