Time seems to move quickly or slowly.
And sometimes it does both at once – it seems to move quickly, but somehow the past gets more distant. We go on holiday, and suddenly find the week at an end; but when we’re back at work, pre-holiday time seems ages ago.
Scientists are not entirely clear as to how we perceive time. There is still some disagreement about how our brains monitor it.
But what seems clearer, is that every person’s experience of time differs, depending on mood, cognition, and environment.
So you will have a different experience of time, depending on whether you are out on a date, or at a factory conveyor belt; motivated, or bored; focused, or distracted.
In this sense, time can be regarded as a subjective thing.
There is also the time of measurement. We invented clocks, so that we could all agree when to meet, when to work, when to play.
This division of time into hours has encouraged us to commoditise it. Once something has been chopped into proveable segments, we can go about buying and selling it. This is how we know that the minimum hourly wage for a person in the UK, as at today’s date, is £7.83.
Measuring time is an attempt to make an objective truth of it, to give its structure and nature some permanence. A clock is a symbol of control, of order, of agreement. We check clocks and watches, somewhat comforted that, in one respect at least, we all share the same reality.
In this sense, time can be regarded as an objective thing.
So what happens when you meditate?
I suggest that something special happens during meditation. Sometimes, it is as though time disappears, and you are just there with your focus.
The disappearance of time might be explained in a few ways, but one way is to think of meditation as loss of attachment to, or repulsion from, the present moment.
Usually time feels fast or slow depending on our attachment to the moment. So, if we are bored, we are repelled by the present moment, and it never seems to progress fast enough. In contrast, if we fear losing an experience soon, then we are obsessively attached to the present moment, and it seems to disappear too fast. This experience of time is relative to our preferences. In meditation, however, we learn to accept the passage of time as it is. It will, at these times, seem to disappear, since we have no investment in hurrying it or slowing it: we are simply following it.
We become it, and, being it, we have no need to measure it.
Next time you meditate, pay attention to your experience of time. Notice whether time seems, to you, to be passing too quickly or too slowly. Reflect on whether you are wishing time to move on faster (perhaps you are bored by meditation time), or more slowly (perhaps you are enjoying meditation time).
Practice becoming the same pace as time itself. This is the same thing as learning to be patient. The patient person is happy with the flow of things, and does not need to change it. Ultimately, patience has no need to hurry things along, nor to hang on to things.
Looking more widely, during your day, you could pay attention to your experience of time as a shortcut to seeing how you are. Generally, you may find that, if you are wanting to hurry things along, and to push things and people, then you are disliking where you are. Conversely, if you are wanting to slow things down, and to cling to things and people, then you are liking where you are. Wise moderation is somewhere in the middle.
So, in general, you can use your observations to guide yourself. Notice you are wanting to hurry? Then maybe be more patient and slow yourself down. Notice you are being clingy and reluctant to move? Then maybe apply some energy and flow.
It’s all about balance.
We all experience time differently. We have tried to control time with clocks and timetables. But perhaps, when we are at our wisest and most patient, time simply disappears. We don’t need to hurry, and we don’t need to cling. Our flow is just right.
Try observing yourself. When you feel frustrated and pushy, then let go of your need to hurry, and relax. When you feel obsessive and clingy, then let go of your need to keep things as they are, and go with the flow.
In all cases, you are learning patience. You may just find, at these moments of perfect flow, that time disappears.