Friday, March 24, 2017

Perception of the Passage of Time is Subjective

Several blog posts ago, I was discussing the topic of "tourist mind" versus "city-dweller mind." "Tourist mind," if you'll allow me these terms, is wide open. Eyes are open, ears are open, camera is at the ready. "City-dweller mind" is significantly more closed. Eyes are often shielded in some way, ears are also often occupied by headphones. This is not a mindset of absorption, but rather one of protection. And to be honest, I can understand it. Cities can be hard. Christina is having a slightly harder time living amongst all these bipedal animals than I am, but even I occasionally get fed up with the piss, the vomit, the drunks, the homeless, the police, the prostitutes, the tourists, the unfriendly shopkeepers, and the obnoxious loud-mouthed soccer-playing Turks who took over our plaza for a while there. Yes, sure, there are life-affirming and uplifting moments sprinkled in there, but having a few self-protective tools at your disposal is usually a good idea.

As documented in this blog, I felt the shift from "tourist mind" to "city-dweller mind" begin to happen to me after about 2 or 3 months here. And here is the punchline of today's post... the thing I have noticed recently and find extremely interesting: My perception of time shifted radically, also at the 2 - 3 month mark. Those first 2 or 3 months, in which everything was new and my observational capacities were turned up to eleven, moved very slowly. On any given day, I knew what I had done the day before, the week before, even the month before. I knew what I wanted to do next. I felt the days were richly full of new experience, and that time was crawling. And then... slowly... it sped up. And now it's a blur, like it usually is. What did I do yesterday? Not sure, I'll have to check my blog, or my texts.  Weird.

They say that meditation can affect the perception of time. This feels to me as if it must be related, as one of the claimed benefits of a meditation practice is an increased awareness, an enhanced perception. I can imagine that if one were to walk around perceiving everything, that time really would feel richly full and would move comparatively slowly. But can you run the gauntlet of city-center low-lives with your eyes and ears wide open, and come out the other side unscathed? My guess is that you can, but that it would require some advanced form of compassion, or perspective, or some other gift bestowed on few of us. Maybe this is why monasteries are always in the mountains.

This morning Kodiak and I were riding the metro to school. The metro is a great place to see a wide swath of humanity, and also a great place to see "city-dweller mind" on full display. Lots of sunglasses, earbuds, and closed faces. But something caught Kodiak's eye, and I looked over with him to see a young girl, perhaps 9 or 10, in a surfing stance, trying to "ride" the tumultuously moving train without holding onto anything. And she had a huge smile on her face. I told Kodiak that I love how happiness is contagious. Sure enough, he and I were smiling just watching her.

Child mind.


  1. Sweet observation ......leave it to kodiak to " see " life ! He never misses anything !

  2. Hello from Taos!

    Your post reminded me of a thought a dear friend of mine recently sent along. Cheers to catching up to the packets like the smile of your sweet son on the metro.

    Dingbat's Theory of Parental Relativity: Growing as a parent has meant developing not just the theory but the awareness that the flow of time, mercilessly forward as it is, is perpetually of a rate at odds with our perception of it. In some stretches its progress lags behind our consciousness, creating a frustrated state. And in other streams it advances faster than we can possibly measure, limiting us to fragments of memories -- snapshots. If time is discretized, and travels in packets, then a single packet must be key to preserving or reconstructing a single moment in its entirety. Alas, we as scientists or parents have not, to my knowledge, achieved such a skill.
    So instead I record a list of moments I'd reconstruct and relive, had I only the resources and the wherewithal to accomplish such a feat. Pictures help, and I cling to the hope that one day I can catch back up to those packets.


  3. I really enjoyed this post! Keep up the good work. I recently spent a week in Barcelona (back in October) and while there, I attempted to imagine what it would be like to live there. As such, I'm really enjoying the thrust of this new take on the blog. It's such an amazing city, but I don' t know as I'd have what it takes to live there. Better than reality, I get to vicariously do it through you.