How changing perception of time in crisis changes the understanding of who we are
I do not know about you. My life has slowed down drastically. A friend the other day sent me a picture of a snail: “That is my pace right now,” he wrote. I could relate. I have been home like everybody else. Moving slowly with little external demands, mostly savouring these ‘shell’ moments as all my engagements kept falling away.
This month I was supposed to attend a retreat, teach a training in Berlin, and check out a beautiful nature space for us to hold future courses. The April I had envisioned certainly was nothing to be apprehensive about, quite the contrary, much to look forward to.
It is difficult to see your worth when you are stressed
Am I disappointed none of this happened as planned? No, I am not. Because what you can plan is too small for you to live. Not, that I haven’t known that before. Actually, this very realisation has been key in breaking patterns of stress and exhaustion. It helped me create structure without giving into the pressure of circumstances, allowing other people’s agendas to dictate my day, my life.
The more I’ve learned how difficult it is to see my own worth in a permanent state of heightened alert and busyness, the more I’ve been able to find new enriching paths. I find this interesting. Because mostly we do determine our worth by how busy we are, how much we are in demand.
These days, every time I sense a feeling of being driven and a need to arrive somewhere, I stop. I literally listen to my heart beating and reconnect to my own rhythm.
So far, so good, I am sure a lot of you have traveled down similar roads and have come to similar conclusions. But what is happening right now or rather not happening, opens up a whole new dimension of how to relate to time, choice and uncertainty. Let me explain what I mean.
We build an identity around what happens to us
We’ve all been stopped in our tracks. Time out. Gone are the days where Mondays kicked off the week, Tuesdays had their own agenda, Wednesdays came along with different activities followed by Thursdays, then Fridays, both with their own particularities, pleasant or not. And eventually, the weekend…free at last.
We perceive time mostly as a sequence of linear events, starting with birth, ending with death. In between we move from incident to incident – milestones of what we call our lives. These successions of singular points in time provide us with a sense of cohesion. Birthdays, marriages, holidays, exams, divorces — to just name a few — make up the sum total of our lives. We carry our past into the future and build an identity based on what happens to us. Linear time hardwires our experiences.
The older we get the fewer choices we have. Or so we think. Decisions have been made. The clock cannot be turned back. We experience ourselves in time and through time while time is something profoundly external to us. Some of us become happy pensioners. Some of us fight age with everything the industry has to offer. And ‘Going back into the future’ only takes place at the movies. Time takes its toll…
Certainly there is a beginning and an end to life in the linear. And this is our reality on one level. We need to learn how to move in time. But is relating to it as something that works against us the right approach? As something that determines who you are? As something you never have enough of, and which creates a density you cannot escape?
Our relationship with time is twisted, to say the least. We crave more and the moment it is freely offered, we get lost. What makes free time attractive is that there is stuff to do. Who wants to sit at home for weeks on end, if you could be out and about, traveling, partying or whatever is your favourite ‘pass-time’.
What to do with our lives without external stimuli? Cupboards have been cleaned, flowers have been planted, series have been (binge-)watched and walks have been taken. Back to normal, please!
When time loosens its grip it turns into spaciousness
We’ve become experts in exploiting time. Because until now we’ve perceived it as a rare good. Who has not bought a copy of the 4-hour-work-week? Output optimisation has been the order of the day.
The so called Work-Life-Balance keeps us preoccupied. This is what we know, work hard and party. What we’re not so good at, is in relating to time when it lacks structure. And that is what we’re experiencing right now: Time loosing its grip, time turning into spaciousness. The time continuum has been broken open.
How things look “in time” is not necessarily what they are. This has always been the case. Now, however, this truth asks for our undivided attention. How things present themselves is how we understand them through time – as a progression of events. How things are, is different.
To touch the reality of things we must dare to expand our perception and our awareness. Through perception we can sense what is true, we can feel into the truth. Through awareness we know what is true despite what we see as a sequence of events in linear time.
And here the notion of choice comes in: We tend to believe that we have a choice between different options presented to us. And that is our freedom. Some people are actually good at setting their own agendas and they strive under lockdown. Others struggle the more they recognise – maybe for the first time – that they never had a vision for their lives – just a long list of to do’s.
In the end, it does not matter. Eventually, everything happens in that space of non-happening. Do not give away your power by making choices and acting on them based on what you see. Lean into what is already unfolding. Move with gratitude and wonder.