Time Warp

I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving! The impending holiday has me thinking about the way we experience time — speeding up sometimes, slowing down at other times. For example, it drag when I am standing on line for a movie, especially when it’s cold, but it flies by when I’m stuck in traffic and trying to get to an important meeting. Remember when we were children how time passed during summer vacation? At first those long free months seems to stretch on forever. Then, sometime around early August, the date for our return to school came at us like a runaway locomotive.

This time warp seems to be the rule with vacations — slow at the beginning and fast at the end. I suspect this is partly due to the fact that our minds return to work before our bodies do. Two days before the end of vacation and I’m already thinking about my “to do” list and what’s waiting for my return. I wonder if this rehearsal actually helps with my transition or just robs me of the last few precious moments of time off. When I actually do get home, I immediately start to unpack my suitcase, sort the mail, listen to phone messages and check the plants. What is this rushing about? It’s almost as if I’m trying to erase any evidence of having been away. Is this vacation guilt?

I recall one occasion when I actually managed to stop this speed-up effect at the end of a trip. I had been visiting a friend in Barcelona for about a week. On our last day together, we visited to an old Spanish village, the type with red roofs tiles, white stucco walls, and laundry blowing in the breeze. It was as though we had stepped back in time. Next we headed out to the shore for a skinny dip in the Mediterranean Ocean. It was a Navajo turquoise blue and warm like bath water. This was followed by a light picnic lunch, on the beach, of apples and salad. Finally, we took a leisurely drive on a tree-canopied back road, past old farmhouses to a remote train station in the middle of nowhere. Everything was novel, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the quality of the light. I held on to each precious moment resisting my mind’s impulse to get on that train before it arrived. Even on the platform, I took time to taste the sea air and feel the afternoon wind on my cheeks. I had no camera. I had accidentally broken mine in Paris and I had to return the one I had been borrowing from my friend. So I photographed the images in my mind. When the train arrived, I said good-bye and went through the door. No tears, no regrets, no thoughts of what lay ahead, or what was left behind, just wide open.

I wish I could be like that more often. Usually, when I take my morning walks through the Hillside cemetery; I am listening to coaching tapes on my iPod. I think it’s an excellent use of time. I’m multitasking! But because of this, I often miss the beauty of the morning light as it catches the edges of the tombstones and washes across the grass. I might fail to notice the brave bouquets of flowers resting on the graves or the tiny veteran flags proudly flapping in the breeze. I am plugged in and tuned out. My workday has begun and it’s not even 8.

Consciousness is a way to slow time down. By attending to all the lovely details of our experience — the smells, the flavors, the colors, and the sounds — we can open the moment and expand the time. This is what meditation is really about. Meditation is not just sitting in one place and emptying our minds. It is what we do when we are fully conscious of our selves and our surroundings. It’s “mindful meditation.”

At the beginning of a vacation, things are new. We navigating new places and pay attention lest we lose our way. So the time goes by more slowly. It is a little like watching the frames on a strip of movie film. If you attend to each and every frame the movie runs by slowly, but if you skip frames, if you blink, the pace speeds up. Routine is the enemy of our attention. When we are used to things, we stop seeing them, we blink, our eyes glaze, and we live more in our thoughts then in the physical world. The present disappears and time speeds past.

There are several strategies we can use to tame the rush of time. We can, for example, TAKE MORE VACATIONS!! Even though we may be buried under an avalanche of work when we return, time off is still beneficial. It allows us to be in the present and experience the world around us. We gain a larger perspective. That is, if we don’t run our vacations like we do everyday life – so jam-packed with events that we don’t have time to think. A good rule of thumb for a relaxing vacation is one day of doing nothing for every day of sightseeing. If it’s a stay-cation, you can have the same time-slowing results if you do new or unexpected things every other day and break your routine. Don’t forget to included “do nothing” days.

Slowing down your pace will also help slow time. And it has extra benefits — like you might eat less food at Thanksgiving dinner! You might, for example, take only one plate of food and slow the pace of your eating so it last the whole meal. If you eat with consciousness, savoring every bite you are more likely to notice when you are full and less likely to eat too much.
This kind of food focus, however, is not so easily done when engaged in conversation, which is often the case at Thanksgiving dinner. What would it be like to stop eating while your talking and completely focus on the person who is speaking? Really be present. Or conversely, what would it be like to stop talking while you are eating? Completely attend to the food. You might suggest that everyone at the table observe at least ten minutes of silence to enjoy the food. Listen to the sounds and try not to laugh.

Here are a few more strategies for slowing down time:

Fasting – Strange how that comes to my mind on the heels of writing about Thanksgiving dinner! At a Sufi retreat in New Mexico, we were often encouraged to fast at least part of the day. I discovered that when you don’t eat you open up big swaths of time for doing other things, because you are not spending time preparing and eating food. More time, slower time. And when you are hunger, time really slows down!

A number of times, I fasted for two or three days consuming nothing but a bowl of broth or cup of watered-down apple juice. Oh my, what flavors I would experience! I could almost feel the biochemical reactions in my body as I swallowed this small amount of nourishment. I also noticed that the “eaters,” those not fasting, seemed to move faster, talk faster and almost live in a parallel universe. I didn’t hang out with them. I stayed with other fasters or went to my tent. Faster? Hah. We should really be called a “slower”, doing a “slow” or “slowing” because fasting certainly slows you down.

Unfortunately, when I finally broke the fast, my body cells went into panic mode from what they thought was starvation. Experts on fasting advise that you take as many days to break a fast as the number of days you are on the fast. Impossible! My cells implored me to eat everything in sight! Once started, I had no idea of stopping until my belly literally began to hurt. Breaking a fast is one of those times when I realize that I am not in charge. “Biological imperative” takes on a visceral meaning. Note: you do not get this food panic attack after a single day of fasting. Well, you might, but it is more psychological than physical.

Walking/hikingwithout the iPod. Another strategy is to take a walk or hike — a good thing to do after Thanksgiving dinner. By choosing a new location, you have to pay attention so you don’t get lost. Presto! You are in the moment. However, the constant looking at maps and checking road signs can distract from the sensory delight of the walk. So you might want to go with someone who knows the way. Or you could allow yourself to get lost and put yourself into a whole new adventure. But this may have the reverse effect of speeding up time while you frantically search for home as the sun plunges towards the horizon. It is well known that the sun moves more rapidly when you are lost. Once the sun is down, however, time slows again and it will take about a decade for morning to come. The last couple of hours before dawn, when it’s the coldest, time will almost stop.
If you decide to walk in a familiar place, notice all the things you like best or imagine you are a space alien taking this walk for the first time. See with baby eyes.

Visit a Museum — Two hours in a museum can feel like a week. There is so much stimulation in such a short time. And it’s all so new. Take the time to read the descriptions next to each exhibit. Really see what you are looking at. Then take a walk in a park afterward to let your mind digest. You will feel like you have done a lot and it will only be 2 pm in the afternoon.

Meditate — This is something we can do everyday. It trains the mind to stay in the present and to control the monkey mind that likes to jump all over the place. This discipline will serve you when you are trying to write a blog and the monkey mind wants to check your email.

Stand on one foot. I’m not kidding. Try this for thirty seconds. It does some sort of positive rewiring in the brain and definitely improves your balance. Try doing it with your eyes closed. Now notice how slowly time passes. Do you remember in the Beatles’ movie, The Yellow Submarine, the part where they show just how long 60 second is by having a new animation for each second? It’s slow like that.

Instead of a food fast, take a fast from multitasking — We do so many things at once that are minds are scattered every which way. We lose track of what we are doing and often don’t accomplish much because we lose our concentration and have to refocus each time we return to a task. For me this means not checking my email every few minutes. Close down the email program and finish each task (like writing this blog) before checking email. That goes for answering phone calls too. I don’t get that many calls, so when the phone rings, I just grab it. More times than not, it’s a call for money or political action. Skip it!

Hang out with friends without any agenda. Shoot the breeze! Catch up on news. This activity takes me back to my college days of hanging out in the student center drinking coffee and exchanging ideas. It is one of my favorite pastimes. Time does slip away but you feel very refreshed. Caution: make sure you choose friends who know how to share the talk time. Long-winded talkers can slow down time, but they do not necessarily leave you feeling refreshed

Read an engaging book for an afternoon. This is a lovely way to take a trip without moving a muscle. Use discernment when choosing your book. The idea is to feel refreshed and re-energized, not depressed or sad. I suggest light reading with good writing, some character development and a happy ending. But that’s just my preference.

Dance.  We have a lovely dance event in Berkeley called Barefoot Boogie that happens once a week on Sunday evenings. For $8 or $10 bucks you can dance all night without shoes, smoke, drink or food. Two hours is a long time when all you are doing is dancing. It’s fun, good exercise and you feel great afterwards.

Tale a Hot tub.  This can be at a commercial bathhouse or in your own bathtub. Hang out for an hour with relaxing music or that engaging book. You’re muscles will relax and so will your brain. One hour will feel like ages and you will feel like a new person.

Sit Vigil with the Dying. People do die during the winter holidays. Death goes with the season. And it is not unusual for the dying to set milestones like making it to a granddaughter’s wedding, or one more family holiday. Thanksgiving and Christmas are favorites. It’s amazing how well they do at keeping these appointments.

Sitting vigil with the dying will not only slow down time, it will also teach you a thing or two about life and death, or at least get you thinking about them. Read Sacred Dying, by Megory Anderson for ideas on how to make the dying space feel sacred. If you stay present and aware, time will move like molasses in January. Sometimes it can get a little boring so you could try reading out loud, singing, playing music, holding the dying person’s hand and matching your breath rhythms. See if you can hear the other person’s thoughts in your mind. See if you can send calming thoughts back. Have a mental conversation. Send lots of love. Magic can happen.

These are my favorite strategies for slowing down time, what are your? Try a few over the Thanksgiving holiday and give us a report.

Have a relaxing, replenishing vacation and don’t forget to “breathe” especially when you return to work at the end. On the last day see if you can make time slow down.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at www.secretsoflifeanddeath.com

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