19 Sep The passing of time
Time – does it even exist? For thousands of years, devices have been used to measure and keep track of time. The system of time measurement that we use today, the clock and the calendar, dates to approximately 2000 BCE (according to wikipedia).
Every day, people are in a hurry. We often tell ourselves and others that we don’t have time, or that we wish we had more time. In a way, time rules our lives. We wake up at a specific time in the morning, hurry to be in a specific place at another specific time. Count the hours until we’ve been there for about eight hours, then hurry to go about the rest of the things we need to do before it’s too late, before it’s bedtime. Bedtime should be (but seldom is) about 8 hours before that time when we wake up again to face another day of chasing the clock. Our grandparents usually tell us that time goes faster and faster the longer we’ve lived. Like the longer we run inside the wheel of the clock, the faster it appears to move. It seems to me as if we’re spending our days running a race that we cannot win, chasing something that’s constantly ahead of us. Something that can never stay with us because it cannot stop.
So what is it really that we’re chasing? To understand this I’ve tried to break it down:
This morning, on Thursday the 8th of September 2016, I caught a train from the central station in Gothenburg at 11.05 am. Being there on time, which meant being at the central station today before 11.05, enabled me to get on that train before it moved. This meant being aware of today’s date and constantly keeping track on time as I moved myself towards the central station.
When time first started to become a thing, it was the shadow of a stick, moving in a kind of circular, continuous, even and seemingly predictable way (clockwise, as we would say today). The shadow could move like this because the earth spins around the sun and its own axis in a circular, continuous, even and predictable way due to physical laws such as gravitation. This predictable movement was then compared to other movement that occurred on the planet. Two people could now decide to move to a specific place, let’s say the plaza, when our planet would have moved to be in a specific place in our solar system, and at a specific angle, compared to the sun. This meant that they could be sure to both meet at the plaza “at the same time” – appearing at the same place simultaneously, without having to wait for each other.
Did you follow? Well it’s okay if you didn’t, as long as you get my point – what I’m trying to tell you is that what we perceive as time is just movement, position and comparison (according to me, at least). A predictable movement and position of our planet compared to the sun, which is then compared to the seemingly unpredictable movements and positions of physical things in our lives here on planet earth. With the concept of time, all of a sudden the unpredictable movements can be somewhat more predictable and synchronised, because we compare these movements to something that is exactly that. This is why time is so popular and frequently used and constantly referred to. It gives us a sense of control, because we think that we can predict parts of the future. And sometimes it works. Our whole society is built around time, built around the clock. Time has enabled us to accomplish amazing things, like building functional cities, public transport, making sure people have food on their tables, meeting up with friends, celebrating things and catching the train on time. But is time always good for us? Do we always need it?
When we speak of the concept of time, we often speak of past, present and future. We think of all these three things as something that exists. But do they really?
A past event, let’s say when you broke up with your ex, is movement that happened when the planet and your bodies were in certain positions. That park in town, on that Thursday afternoon. Movement inside you (thoughts and emotions), the movement of your bodies (talking) and the physical movement in different directions (going different directions after deciding you will not spend more time together). It happened, but we often don’t remember all the details from it. We can never go back and experience that exact event again.
A future event, let’s say the thought of bumping into your ex again, is something that has not yet happened. It is an anticipation, created in your mind. In a way we could say that the concept of “future” is our way of trying to foresee unpredictable movements. But we can never be certain that these movements will happen, simply because they are not yet happening and they are all dependent on other movements on this planet (and in space) that we cannot control or foresee.
The present moment, what you’re experiencing right now as you are reading this, the movements that occur inside your body and around you right now, is the only thing that we can really be certain of. The past is just a memory or perhaps a photo, the future is uncertain. In fact, even clock time is uncertain. Since clock time is a comparison – movement of the earth around the sun compared to other movement, would time even exist without an observer? Let’s say a gigantic black hole swallowed and completely destroyed us and our solar system today. What would be left of time as we know it? No predictable movement and position. No observer. No comparison, no time. Nothing but movement?
Now, zooming back into our lives here on planet earth… No matter what time it is, or what time really is, we’re all bound to live by it because that’s the way that we’ve built the system that enables us to live together (society). But next time you’re chasing the clock, ask yourself what it really is that you’re chasing. Next time you’re feeling sad about a breakup or worrying you’ll bump into your ex again, ask yourself if you really need to worry? I bet 90% of the time you don’t. In fact, you’ll never get to the train on time in the future, if you don’t focus on what happens right now in the present moment. Because it is this movement that happens right now that enables you to get to the next one.
There are probably shitloads of black holes in space that could erase time and tomorrow in just a second. So I’ve decided to stop chasing time, lingering on to the past or waiting for the future, because usually all I get out of it is stress. Instead, I try to focus on the movements that occur right now. As I do so, the present moment becomes more and more exciting, even now that I’m just sitting on this train. Right now, there are probably trillions of tiny movements going on inside me (billions of interconnected nerve cells sending signals to each other, creating thoughts, my digestive system taking up some energy from the chocolate bar I just ate, and some hormones swimming around that make me feel a certain way, just to mention a few). At times it’s hard to be present. Yesterday I completely failed a driver’s test to get my drivers license. I cried about the past like a baby for an hour. But then life goes on because at the end of the day, failing that test is nothing but a memory. All I can do is focus on the present and do things to make sure I don’t fail the test next time.
If all we ever have is the physical movements that occur right now in this moment, why not make the most out of it? Now, look up from your electronic device and observe the miracle that goes on around and inside you – all those big and small movements that together create the dance we call life. The dance of the present moment.
PS. This is how I perceive time today, feel free to add your own thoughts 😉