Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life
By Marney K. Makridakis
New World Library Copyright © 2012 Marney K. Makridakis
All rights reserved.
WHAT IS TIME?
Time as sunflowers
Facing the light in worship
The subject of time covers everything from how long something takes to how old we are, how long we will live, and decisions about the "right time" to make choices or take action. Time is familiar to everyone, and yet it's quite challenging to define and identify.
Modern science defines time within the term space-time in an effort to explain that coordinates in time do not exist without the corresponding coordinates in space. Space-time may therefore reference a scientific interpretation of time. To fully explain the personal experience of time, however, there are an endless number of "coordinates" that locate us in a certain moment, such as emotions, expectations, relationships, and values.
We do not live in purely sequential time, where any moment consists of the moment and that moment only. In fact, the true "present" is so brief that it can't even be perceived. So, naturally, even when we are completely focused in the present, our awareness extends both to the past and to the future. To illustrate the brief temporality of the present, Leonardo da Vinci said, "The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present."
The term specious present, coined by E. Robert Kelly (aka E. R. Clay) in 1882, refers to the period that we tend to think of as the present, though it also includes the near past and upcoming future. Specious present indicates the overlap between the circles of past, present, and future. In actuality, though, our perception extends beyond the overlap of three defined circles. We can feel the fabric of time folding itself over us, or perhaps folding itself within us, at every given moment.
By way of example, I identified a few of the time continua that we use to measure and define time, and asked artist Michelle Berlin to illustrate them as linear timelines. As you can see, each one is represented here by an arrow facing in one direction.
The Linear Time Continua graphs indicate a variety of quantitative continua. However, qualitative continua are more multidimensional, allowing us to measure time in an infinite number of ways. Here are some examples that come to my mind, again illustrated by Michelle:
Any given moment can be plotted on any combination of the above timelines, as a way to "measure" it. However, when we do so, the measurement consists not only of the "dot" itself but also of the very continuum it lies upon. No matter how we choose to measure time, any moment includes the entire time continuum. Time is not something outside of us; it is an element of everything.
The Problem with Time
I asked some ACT trainees why we have time, and here are a few of their responses:
"Time allows us to see, to witness the unfolding of free will." — Tanya Laurin
"We use time to categorize our moments, by year, era, or timeline. Time is a backdrop to place our memories in order, to make sense of the happenings that take us from here to there." — Amy Heil
"Time makes life's 'little gifts' bigger. Time is here for us to learn and heal and discover." — Peggy Lynn
As all the statements above indicate, the structure of time allows us to see and experience life. And yet time also can blind us to greater truths, as our time-based consciousness can greatly limit our worldview.
The concept of time management is very new, just as "stress" is a modern phenomenon. Time management can improve what we accomplish but often at the peril of what we experience. As a result, the more we try to manage our time, the more fragmented we feel. If you pay attention to the conversations all around you, it's startling how often the subject of time comes up.
"How are you?"
"Oh fine, just crazy busy ..."
"You should come check it out ..."
"Yeah, I know; I just don't know when I can find the time ..."
"How are you?"
"I can't really talk now, I'm running late ..."
People used to be tied to things like families, communities, rituals, worship, curiosity, and beauty. Now we are tied to schedules, watches, datebooks, computers, gadgets that start with i, the media, and exercising on treadmills that don't go anywhere.
ARTbundance Coach Amy Heil expressed it nicely: "When we become a slave to the system of measuring time, when we are focused on too much or not enough, we are not serving our best interests. This instant is truly endangered, so the only time to focus on is now!"
Somehow the tendencies of our society make it acceptable and even expected that we fall into patterns of being worried and stressed about time. And while worrying about time seems to be part of our humanity, I wonder ... does it really need to be?
Measurement and Perception
One second is officially defined in atomic time as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the "undisturbed" cesium atom. However, even with this precise number of oscillations, time is surprisingly nonuniform. There is not perfect unity between the rotation of the earth (which measures a day) and atomic time. In fact, official time often has to be put back or forward a bit to compensate.
We measure time in a variety of units, from seconds, hours, and minutes to beginning, middle, end. We also measure time according to our needs ("Is it time to eat yet?"), external demands ("When is it due?"), and anticipations ("Are we there yet?"). Regardless of how we measure time, however, that measurement is always trumped by perception. While so many of us are controlled by time, the interesting thing is that we're rarely aware of time itself. We usually don't know how long something takes in the moment, and yet its length is how we end up measuring it.
I was stunned at my own inability to correctly perceive time when recently I was having an MRI and was situated so that I could see a countdown timer of the scan, which I presume is there so that the patient knows how much longer she needs to stay still. I played a game of closing my eyes and opening them when I thought a minute had passed. The first time, I opened my eyes after only forty seconds. I tried again, and it had been forty-one seconds. I continued to try for each minute, and each time I was "accurate" within my own perception: I always opened my eyes at around forty seconds. It was only when I pushed myself to wait a little longer that I came closer to a minute, and I was still under sixty seconds.
Naturally, lying still in an MRI machine would qualify as one of those instances when time perception is slowed, the antithesis of "Time flies when you're having fun." Still, I was surprised at my experience. I suppose I shouldn't have been; many scientific experiments have proved that individuals have a varying sense of perception of time passing. Psychochronometry is the study of the psychology of time estimation. Many studies have explored the various factors that affect time perception, including environment, emotions, and age. Studies of the Logtime Hypothesis, for example, have found that perception of the passage of time increases by the square root of one's age, and at age sixty, time is perceived about two and a half times faster than it was at age ten.
I decided to conduct my own experiment, a casual way of estimating time perception during a creative activity. I asked fifty-two people to create a word collage for what they perceived to be one minute. Here are the instructions they were given; I invite you to try this yourself.
1. Grab a piece of paper and a marker or colored pen, and have a clock or watch with a second hand nearby.
2. Without looking at the timer/clock, create a word collage on the topic of time for what you think is one minute. Note the time when you begin, and start when the second hand is on the 12, so that you can easily track your timing.
3. Create a word collage by filling the page with all the words you think of when you think about time. Do not look at the clock, count, or use any other way to keep track of your timing.
4. When you intuitively think that one minute has passed, check the clock and make note of your actual time.
The following pie chart illustrates the results:
As these results show, the vast majority were off by a significant amount: 54 percent were off by more than ten seconds. One look at the extremes on the chart gives a good idea of how differently "one minute" is perceived!
Here are a few of the comments of the individuals who completed the exercise: "This minute went really fast. It's funny to compare that with the 'slow speed' of a watched minute."
"It took twice as long as I intended. I think this correlates to the many times when it takes twice as long to do something than what my optimistic nature anticipates."
"I felt rushed because I knew I only had a minute, and was surprised that I stopped so early, so I actually had more time left than I thought."
Interestingly, we are unaware of not only the time itself but also the very effect that time has on us. For example, we've all had the experience of seeing someone that we haven't seen in years and remarking at how much the person has changed. Yet physical changes are almost imperceptible in people we live with or see every day.
Why are we so obsessed with ordering our lives around something we can't even accurately perceive? Perhaps it's our attempt to create order out of the apparent chaos of our lives on this planet. If so, then as far as human evolution has brought us, especially in the past few decades, we would be well served to incorporate new, fresh measuring tools for the ever-more-important concept of time.
Given the inconsistency in our perception of time, it's no wonder, then, that we are anxious about time. The discrepancy between the extent to which measured time controls our lives and the actual abstract quality of time leads to an inherent disconnect. I experienced this profoundly when I followed a bit of time management advice and recorded a time estimate beside each item in my daily to-do list (for example, call to schedule appointment — five minutes; write an article — one hour; and so on). As the book predicted, this did in fact increase my productivity and effectiveness. Even more staggering, however, was what I uncovered when I reevaluated my past daily lists using this criterion. When I went back to recent daily lists and applied time estimates to the tasks I had put on my lists, I realized that I had been expecting myself to do as much as thirty hours of tasks in a single workday. This discovery was life changing for me. No wonder I always felt like there wasn't enough time. No wonder each and every day had a gauzy sense of failure around it. My perception of "the time in the day" was so unrealistic that I was constantly filled with a deep sense of lack and overwhelm.
Of course, being overwhelmed about time leads to feeling overwhelmed about the things we do with time: not only our responsibilities and commitments but also our opportunities, projects, ideas, and dreams. This is why so many people stop themselves from pursuing a goal with a simple catchall excuse: "There's not enough time." Ironically, when I looked at time in a more limited way (that is, I became more aware of how much time my tasks actually took), I was opened to a more expansive view of time. I realized how attuned I had become to a perceived lack of time. Time is a valuable resource that is far more infinite than we tend to think it is. We worry so much about not having enough time, when time is, in fact, one resource that is always present, for as long as we are living. Much like oxygen, time is there for us. While the finite amount of time we have is real, the occasions when we feel it lacking, drifting, or lost are largely a matter of perception only.
It's a human paradox, because we often want to escape ourselves and lose track of time, and yet it is when we become fully aware of the gift of time that we become more present and in touch. I believe that a solution lies in the state in which we become less aware of time but more aware of the present moment. What we need are more tools to support this blissful state.
We measure time in linear fashion, with numbers on a clock and squares on a calendar to represent the forward arrow of time. But what if we could interpret time as a qualitative entity instead of something just measured by quantity? For example, instead of measuring how long something takes, why not measure it by how much we learn by doing it? We might experiment with forgoing a measurement of minutes and instead think about how much we can be in it. How deeply can you extend your awareness to be truly present, conscious, and connected to everything around you right now? What effect does this extension of meaning have on time?
Of course we traditionally think of time as quantitative. We know how long something takes. We know when our deadlines are. We know what time we have to show up at the appointment. Yet if we allow ourselves to think about time qualitatively, then we open up opportunities to measure time by something less arbitrary, and far more meaningful, than cesium I-23 atoms.
This shift is actually something we have all experienced before. Think about the moments in your life that have meant the most to you. Those moments are not viewed linearly at all, but through a plethora of other measurements, such as intensity of experience, emotional depth, and even quality of color or the particular scent of the moment. Our minds seem to automatically assign nonlinear associations to the "important times." We can learn from these experiences by applying a similar free-form perception in our everyday moments.
For example, instead of measuring how long something takes, why not measure it by things like:
How much you learn
How much joy you feel
How relaxed you feel
How connected you are to your passion
How much you are affected by another person
How "right" you feel
Incorporating these new "measurements" doesn't mean that we are forgoing the linear methods entirely. Rather, we are aware of both kinds of time, but it is the qualitative measurements that are, in the long run, more important. Our sleeping hours are a great example of this duality. Most of us would prefer to get six hours of deep, restful sleep rather than nine hours of tossing and turning. While we can be aware of the number of hours we sleep and even plan our schedule to ensure that we sleep a certain number of hours, we are far more focused on the quality of the sleep that we have achieved. Similarly, when evaluating our time, we can be aware of the hours and minutes passed, but the quality of those moments is what really matters.
This book presents new time-tracking alternatives and invites you to try different mechanisms and media for measuring time. The mind-sets and tools presented are both practical and philosophical. On the practical level, this book will help you to make tangible choices and changes about how you use and perceive time, while on the philosophical level, the tools are geared to work deeply within, unearthing new, uplifting beliefs and ideas about time and life itself.
ARTsignment: ARTernity Box
This book will guide you to create time to be anything you want it to be: to feel it, experience it, and use it in ways that improve your life. You'll discover your own inner eternity as you use creativity to design new visions and expansions of time. But before you venture into new time territory, it's helpful to examine your current relationship with time. For this project, you'll be examining your beliefs about time as you create a special ARTernity Box that provides a holding place for these beliefs.
Step 1: Your first step is to gather your supplies to create your ARTernity Box: a box or container decorated in a time motif. It can be any shape or size, provided that it can hold several slips of paper. You can create your box using any supplies or media that you like — ideally, supplies that you have on hand. For inspiration and ideas, refer to the ARTsignment Gallery below.
Step 2: Begin working on your box. As you work, reflect on your thoughts and feelings about time. Often, having our hands busy, such as when creating art, allows our minds to open and thoughts to flow more freely. So just relax and allow your mind to wander freely on the subject of time. Feel free to incorporate into the design of the box any thoughts, feelings, or images that come to mind.
Step 3: When the box is complete, gather some small pieces of paper and a pen. Answer each of the following questions on a different slip of paper. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Creating Time by Marney K. Makridakis. Copyright © 2012 Marney K. Makridakis. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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