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Time Perception

While staring at the stars one night I marvelled at the vastness of space, as you do...

The stars seemed unmoving and peaceful, just happily twinkling away in the night’s sky. It then occurred to me that they were, in actual fact, all hurtling through space at great force, and if sped up in a time-lapse over millions or billions of years it might look like living, moving organisms whose functions will only be clear when observed in their own time.

It made me wonder about our experience of life and time’s effect on our perception.

Take a fly for example, we experience it living a very fast life because it buzzes around at speed, where as it’s experience might in reality be in very slow motion to ours. Flies see at 250 frames a second, where we see about 24. So for the fly, perhaps our 24 hour day feels more like 250 hours (that’s just over 10 days). And to them we may seem to move as slowly as the clouds in the sky. Could our perception of the cosmos may be, in a way, like a fly's perception of us - times a million? And to the cosmos we are the fly, only infinitesimally smaller and existing in just a blip of all time. It begs the question, are there things around us right now that move so fast that we can't perceive them? That to them we are the unmoving star?

For our bodies, time is a constant, but our mind can perceive time that has past and can also imagine time that is still to come.

We can essentially live outside our time. In this day and age where phrases like ‘move fast and break things’ is boasted about by the leading companies of our era. Companies that greatly influence how we think, and in turn feel. It’s no surprise that we are moving so fast that we end up missing what’s important. We can’t physically change our frame rate (yet) so we are moving faster but still only have 24 frames a second to perceive. What does this mean for the human mind and for our experience of life?

I find myself scrolling through my feeds faster and faster these days.

People are urged by these media companies to produce as much content as possible, but who has the time to watch it all and give each creator the attention their work deserves? I find myself speeding up my process videos more and more so that viewers can devour my hours or days of work in a few seconds just so that they won’t scroll on to the next thing before my video ends. I don’t want my work to be influenced by these things, but if you don’t adapt you get left behind… But how true is this type of thinking?

One thing I’ve learnt is that living outside of your time (rushing) doesn’t yield the best results.

It is a gamble. You might get lucky and hit your target by taking as many shots as possible and you might not, but if you take the time to learn and practice the technique, aim and most importantly breathe a steady breath you will hit more targets long term and you will hit them consistently.

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to take your time.

The gravitational pull is strong when things move at speed. The rushed mindset creates greater resistance to do focused and patient work. When everything around you is ‘urgent’ and demands your time, pulling you toward the someone else's star - how do you stay true to your own natural orbit?

The first step is awareness, recognising the turbulent energy. Recognising that you may unconsciously be governed by immediately reacting instead of first watching, considering and then responding. Try taking a step outside of your perceived time, zoom out and maybe think of all time and space and how your current task’s ‘urgency’ relates to the grand scheme of your life. In as little as a year’s time, would it still matter? How would you respond to the situation from this perspective? This concept is nothing new and yet we stress ourselves out daily for made-up deadlines and other urgencies. That’s because it’s something that takes lots of practice. And I feel like my practice is only beginning.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you have any thoughts on time perception, urgencies, staying true to your own path or anything along these lines, please share them in the comments. I'd love to hear them.

If you are struggling to do deep work, I have some lovely book recommendations for you (which is not an ad, I just enjoyed them or found them helpful).

1. Deep work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

2. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Take good care of yourself, Salma