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Perception of Time: Press Pause

A year ago, I was rushing headlong to the end of a two year contract. I had signed the contract to save for a new life, start a business and leave the safety of the institution of education I had been happily ensconced in since starting school at the age of five. These two years felt like a life-sentence, yet when they had passed, it felt as though the time had run away in a flash! The impact of this perplexingly contextual perception of time during this period has stayed with me, and got me thinking…


For as long as beings have been conscious on this planet, there has been witness to the passing of time. Whether through observation of changing seasons, passing of day and night, tidal movement, interplanetary movement or stars, each and every civilisation has found a way to measure, record, navigate and ‘manage’ time. We divide days into hours, lives into years, history into eras, evolution into periods. Our own lives we ‘chapter’ and bookmark by pivotal moments, decisions made (for better or seemingly worse), achievements and disappointments. Each has a rhythm, duration, demarkation and definitive beginning and end.


Perception of time however, is unique to each and every situation and individual, ebbing and flowing as we go about our daily tasks. A conversation with a good friend can last an hour and feel like minutes, yet a dreaded meeting or unwanted task can last minutes and feel like hours. As a teacher of 14 years, I struggled with how slowly weeks of term time would pass in anticipation of the holidays, yet when they arrived, the holidays would pass in a heartbeat. We note this in our phraseology… “Wow! Time flies when you’re having fun”, or “My goodness, that took an eternity”.

In the same way that weather forecasters predict the weather based on patterns of systems, we subconsciously extrapolate from our personal pasts to predict the future. Past events, stored away as implicit memory are drawn on as definitive predictions of future repercussions. When patterns have been repeated in relationships for example, we expect or anticipate that any relationship will result in the same outcome – we ‘know’ something is going to happen.


These feelings of anticipation, worry, anxiety and fear are generally future focused emotions revolving around a predicted possibility of what might be, triggered from our subconscious storage of the past. Conversely, regret, anger, shame and hurt relate to past events often unresolved in the mind and held unreleased in the body (for more information, read The Body Keeps the Score – Bessel van Der Kolk).

When healing from our own journeys, we are often told to ‘let go’ of stories which implies an action that can be taken, a ‘thing’ that can be ‘done’. The process is however, far more subtle and needs to be undertaken at a physical level as well as a psychological one. Through body focused practices such as yoga, TRE, energy or sound healing we are able to release the past and find a physical place of peace, which in turn enables our energetic and physical bodies to flow freely, unencumbered by held, somatic memory.


When we allow ourselves to release what is held and ‘feel’ whatever emotions arise with acceptance not criticism, in tandem with the action of daily meditation, affirmation, gratitude or mindful practices, it brings about gentle acceptance, compassion, forgiveness and even gratitude for all that has been, both for self and other. Healing does take time, but though time can remove harsh edges, time in itself is not the ‘healer’. The healer is the courage it takes to tread the path to the present, face our whole selves, good and bad, and in turn allow the past to fall away, not forgotten, but no-longer held as a burden or shackle and chains.


Releasing the past to be present in the ‘now’ also sheds fear of the future. It allows us to be present in our bodies, and experience the ‘now’ as it is happening, guided by our felt sense of intuition and awareness. In this state, we are able to ‘act’ rather than ‘react’ (or abreact!) and make conscious decisions that are authentic to our higher selves as opposed to the subconscious ‘truth’ of our past. It allows us to consciously form new habits, new patterns of behaviour. Whilst time provides us with ‘experience’, it is awareness of ‘the now’ that truly allows us to live with integrity.


Press pause for a moment, close your eyes and return inside. Become aware of your senses and how your body and mind ‘are’ in this moment.

Now look up and glance around to find something that brings you joy. Focus entirely on this for the next minute. Now close your eyes again and re-evaluate your internal world. How much calmer is your mind? Does your body feel different?

As a society we invest so much energy in predicting the future or living in the past that it is easy to forget that the only moment we can truly experience is ‘now’.


Whether savouring a moment of joy or experiencing the intensity of sadness or grief, every moment passes. Humanity is obsessed with wasting, having, making or needing more time, treating it as a commodity that has monetary value by the hour. The pressure of endless lists of ‘things to do’ often overpowers our ability to enjoy the moment and we often consider time spent just ‘being’ as wasted, but if we are doing something we love, is it wrong to just be… not be doing something? After all we are human beings, not human doings!

Pay attention to your monkey-mind!

I would like to leave you with one final thought. It only takes one second for our bodies and monkey-minds to register and react to a negative event, and sixty seconds to do the same with a positive one. Time is, and always will be. It passes and always will. Choose where you focus your energy carefully, have awareness of the media you consume – and if you find something that brings you joy, love or gratitude, take at least a minute to truly appreciate and allow that experience to resound in your being. Time itself is illusive, fleeting and abstract. It is how we choose to spend it ‘now’ that counts.


With gratitude and love,


“What is life if full of care, we take no time to stop and stare…?” William Henry Davies

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Gratitude Vietnam

Retreat Centre,

Lane 486

Nguyen Tri Phuong,

Cam Nam,

Hoi An,

Vietnam

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