I love it when life hands me an unexpected lesson in awakening, especially following a silly situation.
A few weeks back, after a lengthy commentary about politics, I was told to quit the diatribe. In response, I half-jokingly gestured zipping my mouth shut so I wouldn’t be talking any more.
I wasn’t serious in the beginning. But after a few moments, I decided to actually do it and stop talking. I felt more motivated and determined when my partner challenged me and bet that I couldn’t do it.
The moment I got into silence, I felt different. I felt as if time and space expanded around me. I spent three hours in total and they were amazing. I felt calmer. I didn’t have to say anything and I wasn’t concerned about what others would say or do.
Creating space with silence was predictable. But I didn’t expect it to change my perception of time.
How can a few hours of silence expand our awareness of time?
The only occasions that I experienced such expansion in the past were the days when I was offline. I didn’t check email, twitter, or anything else. And I felt so much vastness in both time and spatial awareness.
My conclusion is: Our perception of space and time changes when we consciously choose to do things differently—usually when we choose to do or experience less.
We all have access to the same 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds each day. Yet, our perception of time changes based on what we’re experiencing.
A lot of the time, when we’re on automatic, our sense of time wavers between these two states:
Time flying by: This happens when we’re immersed in something we truly enjoy, or sadly, when we’re heavily distracted. Also time seems to accelerate when we’re overwhelmed with too much to do.
Time moving in painfully slow motion: We experience this state when we’re dealing with undesirable situations.
So in effect we want time to slow down when we’re having fun or need to get things done, and we want time to speed up when we’re feeling miserable.
Our perception of time is relative to how we’re feeling.
Instead of wanting time to shift gears based on our moods, we can focus on our awareness of time, and consciously change our view by making different choices.
How can we have more time?
The simple answer is to create space around your time so you can spend it the way you want. Consider the following areas.
Now I truly see the benefit of being silent and not talking for a while. It does heighten our awareness by taking away the need to say something.
When we stop talking, we stop thinking about what we need to say, what we need to defend, or what we need to prove.
This awareness reduces mental chatter and helps us focus our attention on this moment and what we’re experiencing, not what we need to say about it.
Give yourself some time to be completely quiet and let others around you know that you’re going to be silent for a short while. See how you feel about it. It’s not something you may want to do all the time, but it’s a good exercise every now and then to get out of the reactive ego and step into stillness.
And it doesn’t have to be an exercise in discipline and willpower. Make it a fun and curious experience and see what happens. There is no success or failure, just something to try.
Doing and spending less
It goes without saying that when we consciously eliminate certain activities, we will have more time to do other stuff, or to do nothing at all.
If you can’t determine what you have changed in the past or can change right now, look into where you spend your time and money for clues.
A couple of days ago I was going through some of my old financial records. I couldn’t believe how much better off I am today than a few years back. I’ve cut down on membership programs, buying new stuff, or attending events.
What activities can you stop doing today that won’t matter to you?
I have yet to give up something and regret it later. It feels liberating and expansive to reduce stuff and activities—by conscious choice.
We’re more distracted now than ever. We’re surrounded by noise and a whole lot of new and shiny updates that tug at our attention and pull us in so many directions.
Being mindful of our distractions and limiting exposure will improve our perception of time.
To me, digital distractions and constant connectivity are big mind numbing activities that make me lose my sense of time, without any benefit (unless one considers mental fatigue a bonus).
To distract myself less, I use a blocking extension on my browser that’s active between 9AM to 5PM. Also I’ve been disabling wireless access when I don’t need to be online. The extra step of having to connect gives me enough pause to not compulsively jump right into checking something.
What is your distraction weakness? Think of websites, social sites, images, video, text or anything else that you spend your time doing, but don’t get any meaningful benefit from it.
You don’t need to go to extremes. Just choose to consciously switch off your smart phone, or step away from the computer and do something else. Take a nap, or daydream, or go for a walk and reflect on how it feels to not want to impulsively check your device for new updates.
The most important thing I want to emphasize about distraction is this:
The distractions of today are not innate tendencies. They do feed on our evolutionary impulse of wanting to know what’s happening around us, but without any real benefit. We turned distractions into habits and compulsions through one repetition after another, till they became unconscious.
And if we can automate something, we have the ability to un-automate it.
All of the above are common sense and simple. But how often do we heed this knowledge and put it into action?
The best time is now. I invite you to do one or all of the following:
- Spend an hour not talking. If it feels too much, do 15 minutes.
- Turn off your devices for an hour, or less if you want.
- Take an hour and reflect on what you do (or feel you have to do) and think about what you can eliminate.
Just like we can get rid of physical clutter, we can make a choice to reduce mental and emotional clutter.
We can choose to do less, speak less, and escape less. And when we do that, we awaken, we expand, and we open up to the flow of life through us and around us.