Time Is Back On My Side

They say that the older you get, the faster time goes by. It makes sense. When you’re ten, a year lasts forever. It’s a different story at forty. This is related to theoretical physics, which holds that time increases with distance. The distance in this case has to do with years, not feet or miles. The greater the distance in years from the original “Big Bang” of your conception, the faster time goes by. But is this relativity at work in daily experience, or is something else going on?

I think it’s the latter. You can blame the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant said that we experience and describe reality–what’s out there–in terms of our subjectivity–what’s in the noggin. Objective reality exists, but the greater part of what we take for the real world is simply a construction of our minds. For both Kant and Einstein, this included time.

What counts regarding time and the passing of it is the quality of our experience. In other words, as Mark Twain wrote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter.” The problem is that most of us do mind, and so it matters a great deal whether we are old or young. Actually, it matters whether we are perceived as old or young. I shouldn’t have to go through how this plays out in popular culture and corporate America, both of which glorify youth and consumption. The industries, companies, celebrities, and movements are all too familiar by now. The irony is that the call to live life to the fullest is the same thing that kills youth by speeding up time. It creates a gap between where we were and where we want to be that increases dramatically with each new experience.

Think about it. When you are young every new experience, whether a person or event, presents itself as a marvel, a thing of awe and wonder. Can you remember the first time you tasted ice cream, rode a bus, played a violin? These things demanded your full attention and absorbed you. You had to be present to them and encounter them on their own terms rather than on yours. They probably made you laugh with joy. And it’s not just the “firsts” in life that count but the way we participate in every experience.

I wouldn’t say that we become jaded when we age. It’s not that. It’s more about becoming accustomed to things and expecting certain outcomes rather than anticipating what lies ahead when we wake up in the morning. We lose the joy that comes with uncertainty and the unknown. If you think that is a remarkable statement, even foolish, consider Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to become like little children or they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3). And consider the Our Father, which includes a petition for “daily bread” as opposed to the next day, month, or year. Jesus wanted his disciples to rely on God, not themselves.

I like to think I am learning this lesson; that is, learning to unplug and turn off the distractions that prevent me from being present and seeing the marvel in front of me. I am not there yet, but then age has a way of pulling us out of our egos. It slows us down and gives us perspective. Being out of the game, or nearly out of it, we are able to see what is really going on and maybe get closer to that objective reality we are always searching for.

In addition, an amazing thing happens. Time begins to slow down again, to resume its former pace and return us to an age when we took nothing for granted and wondered about everything that crossed our path, good and bad.

So, my wish for everyone and my pledge to myself for the new year is to slow down the clock, to return to my youth in this one way. Who knows? I may even end up a better human being. God knows, it won’t be easy.

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  1. ahh yes..”slow down the pace…return to a time when we took nothing for granted….wondering about everything that crossed our path, good and bad” — words of wisdom.. .I like the way you put words together , Robert — at our age, I think we’re all striving for these things… to feel that way again—–I enjoy reading your stories


  2. You who seek the mystery,
    In daylight or in the shadows of night;
    Do not throw away your time.

    Coming to the Gathering
    Translated by Joan Sutherland and John Tarrant

    1. 謹白參玄人 光陰莫虚度

      Sincerely, I say to people who participate in the profound depths,

      From brightness and shadow, there are none who have ferried across in vain.

  3. Robert, thank you for your post. Your words were simple, clear, and powerful. After I read the post the first time, I knew that I would be returning to it many, many times.

    I appreciate the way that you provide the spaces and welcome for us to come in, listen deeply, reflect, and share. I feel like we are sitting around a table with a cup of tea, listening and sharing about things that matter; everything! Everything that relates to living our human lives, in various worlds on one planet. Thank you for your hospitality and generosity, Robert.

    Time. Yes, I too, have been thinking and feeling time. I am living in a bit of time and space that provides minute to minute opportunities for observation, interaction, and reflection on the gifts and sorrows of time. The gifts and sorrows through the eyes of my 90 year-old aunt who lives with me. The gifts and sorrows of time through my own eyes, as I listen and respond to my aunt and to the path we walk together.

    This is precious time. It is mostly slow time. My aunt talks to me of all that matters to her; whether in the moment (Did I mail that bill?) the middle distance (While watching PBS Great Performances; Susan, you could play like that if you practiced.) or the far, far away (Stories about nurse’s training in a General Hospital.)

    Some of this time is spent in questions and responses, existential questions around; “Why am I still alive?” “Why are two of my sons dead?” Responses tend to be silent, but touching, both physically and heart fully.

    Yes, Robert, it is good to reflect on time, on our side:). I have been studying ancient Chinese poems, stories, and koans to see possible connections between the parables and questions of Jesus, and the Chinese wisdom literature. Also looking at the Book of Psalms in this way.

    As you know, time is all over these landscapes. I am studying a Chinese poem that was spoken at the winter solstice. The final verse of the poem walks around with me these days. I will send you the two sentences in the next comment, hoping to avoid losing this post. I am very “high tech.” This the third time I’ve written this post!
    Blessings and appreciation, Robert.

    1. Thank you for your poetic reflection. I enjoyed it. Also, I saw the last two lines of the poem. I assume it cautions against misusing time by running around doing things rather than appreciating time as a medium in which to rest and be. You might want to see Kim Dramer‘s Chinese poem in the same vein. Greetings to your aunt.

      1. Good Morning, Robert. The last sentence, “…Do not throw away your time” reminds me to inquire ; How am I spending this precious, not to be repeated moment ?

        I am sensing the passing and preciousness of time these days. Cheers:)

  4. I try to live my life in the moment one day at a time without putting very little energy in fantasizing where I want to be in the future and dwelling on where I should have could have done in the past without little resentment or guilt on what moves I have made in the past. Time has no perspective or sense of comprhension in that modality. I look at the man made Roman Calander not as a barometer for cycles and tradition but I look it as a meter of progression without actually having an end in sight.
    Jesus sais that he was the ” Alpha and The Omega”. I carry that with me, I dont reinvent or redefine myself. Thats why if I see you tomorrow Robert, Ill sense that you are you and no time has elapsed.
    One of the books of John states that there is no greater love in the world than the individual Christ thats in me.
    Glory be.. As it was in the beginning, IS NOW and EVER SHALL BE, world without end….There is a double edged duplicity always existent in life as I see it. On the one hand our existence depends on immersion into the world. Loving others as oneself. But on the other hand we are a self contained unit that experiences the world subjectively without absolute no reality of objectivity. Like we are in our own bubble… Period.. Happy New Year Branco. Speaking from one that maybe 62, 9 or 78 infinadum.

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