I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Contemplating time

Two sisters and the ocean

I don't get on Facebook often any more, but when I do, it regularly reminds me of pictures that I posted long ago. This one showed up that was taken exactly nine years ago yesterday, when I was visiting my sister Norma Jean in Florida. I sure do like to look at it and remember when it happened. We have passed through nine years of time, and today we are different but the same. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to travel to Florida for the past two years because of the pandemic and my unwillingness to expose myself to air travel and all its difficulties.

The entire concept of time has fascinated me lately. One morning when I was sitting in meditation it occurred to me that I have spent eight decades of life breathing in, breathing out, and most of the time it's completely unconscious. Breath, however, is one of those bodily functions that can be regulated through intention. Most of the time, however, it's not, it just flows in and out without ceasing. In my meditation, I count my breaths from one to ten and then begin again. When I first started this practice, I would often find myself thinking of something and forgetting about my breath, realizing that my mind had once again drifted into thought instead of concentrating on my breath. The technique I am using tells me not to worry about it, just return to the breath and start again, counting, pausing at the beginning and end of each breath. It's an amazingly simple but I have found it's a profound technique for centering oneself.

I have a morning routine, as most of us do, I suspect. The first thing I do after awakening (and using the bathroom) is to make myself a cup of tea, get my laptop and return to my bed, propping myself up with pillows and settling back down into my still-warm cozy comforter. SG usually is roused enough to visit the bathroom and then comes back to his side of the bed. He is so accustomed to my routine that it doesn't bother him at all and is soon back to sleep next to me as I check my email, read the morning news of the day, and read my friends' blog posts that have appeared since I last checked them. The only day that this routine varies is on Sunday, when I come back to bed with the task of writing a post, which is what I am doing now. 

One thing I also do every morning is check what's on the APOD website (Astronomy Picture of the Day), and today it's a picture taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 of Planet Earth. I think we have all seen this picture many times, but it never fails to awaken a sense of awe in me when I gaze at it. Often I see a distant galaxy that I am told is millions of light-years away. What the heck does that mean anyway? What is a light-year? Well, it's the time it takes for light to travel from the galaxy to Earth, and when something is 4.2 light-years away, for example, that means it takes more than four years for its image to reach our eyes.
A light-year is a measurement of distance and not time (as the name might imply). A light-year is the distance a beam of light travels in a single Earth year, which equates to approximately 6 trillion miles (9.7 trillion kilometers). (Space.com)

Philosophers and scholars have contemplated time and the meaning we ascribe to it ever since there have been, well, people. It's pretty fascinating to think of it, and lately it's been on my mind a lot. As I approach another decade of life on this planet, I think of who I was, who I am now, and who I want to become: past, present, future all at once. It's obvious I don't really know anything about it in an objective sense, because time is not objective. Linear time and subjective time are not the same. I found a fascinating link on Wikipedia called "time perception," and I got lost in reading about this concept, which I think is well worth your time (haha). It turns out that different species have different scales of time:

There is empirical evidence that metabolic rate has an impact on animals' ability to perceive time. In general, it is true within and across taxa that animals of smaller size (such as flies), which have a fast metabolic rate, experience time more slowly than animals of larger size, which have a slow metabolic rate.  Researchers suppose that this could be the reason why small-bodied animals are generally better at perceiving time on a small scale, and why they are more agile than larger animals.

Well, that explains why it's so hard to successfully swat a fly! And my ability to get engrossed in a story causes me to "lose track of time." I really didn't realize when I set out to write a post about time that I would end up getting mired down in all the different concepts and theories of what it is and whether it is even real at all. 

Ever since I was a kid, I've been interested in the concept of time travel and have read many of the sci-fi stories about it. There are words in my vocabulary that don't actually exist, such as an ansible. That is a fictional device capable of near-instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. It made perfect sense in the stories I read that it would exist, but then again, considering what we do know about time, it's about as likely to exist as time travel itself. Makes for a good story, though.

I suppose that since philosophers and religious scholars have spent eons studying time, it makes sense that I would get lost in discovery while trying to write a simple blog post about Time. That one link discusses the major concepts, fields of study, philosophy, religion, science, and much more. That might explain why every time I tried to find a simple description of it, I got bogged down in fascinating concepts.

And I do realize that there is so much more to know and study about it, and that I should just give up for now and spend some time doing my daily Wordle instead of trying to merge centuries of thought into something I can't explain. However, I certainly do enjoy being stretched like this, and learning something new about time and spacetime. But I've got a life to be lived, and I'm stuck in the circadian rhythm of everyday activities, some of which have gotten delayed by my endeavor to write about time.

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. — Michael Altshuler

Which means now that my tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and the post is written, such as it is. I will be spending some more time on those two links, about time and time perception, because I hardly scratched the surface of all that interesting discourse. And this time pilot is looking forward to spending the rest of my day in happy pursuits. Hopefully, you will too. Until we meet again next week, dear virtual family, I wish you the best and most timely of weeks.


Barbara Rogers said...

Great stretching of my own thoughts this Sunday morning. Thanks! I've certainly read other's posts of considering time/distance...and continue to marvel at APOD's beautiful renderings of space that is almost beyond comprehension. I'm off to blog about something else that's preying on the back of my head...have a great week!

John's Island said...

It’s so interesting to me that most humans don’t even know that the little voice they hear all the time in their head needs to be stilled (be quiet) before they can center themselves. This is an essential element of meditation and where focusing on breathing comes in. The truth is most humans are stuck with what they’ve learned from birth and have never had the thought that they could go deeper into their own consciousness/awareness to enlighten their lives. They usually believe everything is about birth to death and have no concept that this life is just a small portion of the journey. So happy for you that you are making progress in your own awareness and I love to see you writing about it in your posts.

Elephant's Child said...

Time, and our perception of it, is such a flexible beast. I am endlessly fascinated that we can remember moments (like that photo from nine years ago) so well. And yet, what did you have for dinner Monday three weeks ago?

Rian said...

Morning DJan! I'm trying to meditate a little each day... and your 'counting breaths' may help as I haven't gotten very far with it. And I also checked out both your 'time perception' site - which is interesting, but a bit over my head... and your wordle site. Thanks for that as I was wondering how it was played. Now I just need to know how to get it. When I checked online, it was a UK site. Is this safe? I imagine it must be since so many people seem to be playing it. If it wasn't, I imagine we'd hear about it on the news by now.
I love the idea of 'ansible', and time travel shows and books have also always interested me as has the way time passes so quickly when doing something one enjoys - like writing or sculpting for me. I think sometimes it's a way of telling us - this is what it's all about.

Linda Reeder said...

Time this morning is slipping away too fast. Got my grocery shopping done and put away. I arranged my new grocery store flowers. I did some other stuff, and then sat down to read your post. That was an hour ago and I am now just getting to your post. I have been following Deb's el Camino across Costa Rica, and that takes time. I edited some photos I want to use on my blog, and that takes time. Facebook always eats up time.
Now it's time to move on. I just turned on the Olympics on the tv next to my computer so I don't miss anything. I need to do a little work outside so I'll have to miss something.
So many ways to fill up time!

Tabor said...

I have not tried Wordle but might never once it become a fee. I have the new routine of feeding the dog and then taking her out in the dim light of a cold winter morning for a bathroom break. We do come back in and I settle down with my coffee. She like a snuggle and so we allow that. I look at you and your sister and think what healthy athletic women they are!

Arkansas Patti said...

Sometimes the simplest words can cut right through and make total sense and you think--"of course."
"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot." — Michael Altshuler
I will remember that when I feel time is slipping by. Hopefully it can make me try to take more control and encourage me to better use the time I have. After all, I am the pilot. Thanks.

John's Island said...

I like this: “One thing I also do every morning is check what's on the APOD website (Astronomy Picture of the Day)” I predict that soon the next thing you will do every morning is Wordle. I’ve been playing it every morning now for 16 days. It’s addictive if you enjoy word puzzles. Here’s a hint … Today’s word begins with S and ends with L. Enjoy!

William Kendall said...

I find myself wondering when I'll ever see my family.

Galen Pearl said...

That is fascinating. Time -- eternity in an instant. I didn't know that about animals and different perceptions of the passage of time. Yeah, Wordle -- one game and I was addicted. Good thing there is only one puzzle a day. I can imagine how much "time" I would spend playing one game after another if I could.

Linda Myers said...

"...I got bogged down in fascinating concepts."

Nothing better!

Glenda Beall said...

Time - such an interesting subject. Recently I realized that the years of my youth are now thought of as history, vintage, and many living today have no memory of those years. I hear people on TV speak of the eighties as a long time ago. Not to me. If it is in my lifetime, it can't be so old, can it? I now realize that life as I have known it is unbelievable to most of the population of today. It spurs my motivation to write more about those years, to tell the generations to come about how wonderful life was "back then." You always get my thinking going, DJan. Thanks again.

Red said...

I've forgotten how fast light travels. I'll have to look it up. You have some things about time in this post, that help to make more sense of other things. And to think you started this post out with counting breaths. Nice connection.

Betsy said...

Time seems to be going so fast these past few years. We have a new grandchild to be born next month on the other side of the ocean in England. Our children want us to be there either before or shortly after the birth. And of course we want to be there too. Unfortunately, this covid thing is still ramaging on. We were there last fall and it cost more for tests than it did for our tickets. Before and after flying and another set on day 2 and day 5. Who can afford all of that? Yet we want to see our new granddaughter before "time" gets away from us and it's too late.

Anvilcloud said...

Speaking of time travel, we are watching Manifest on Netflix. It was a network series that Netflix picked up. Season 1 is going pretty well, but I am not sure how well it will hold up for 3 seasons.

Also, I recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife if you haven’t read it. Which reminds me that I have also seen it.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

I used to meditate but now I just don't take the "time". I need to reevaluate. My morning routine is bathroom, large water, 1 hour walk along the beach, and then I come in and get on the Internet, read my blog comments, etc. One of my good friends wrote a novel that is sci-fi on time travel. I spend my winters in South Florida and am so grateful to be able to see the ocean everyday and enjoy it.

gigi-hawaii said...

This is a terrific post! I like that quote about time flying but you are the pilot. Is that really true, I wonder?

Marie Smith said...

We have all the time there is. Someone said that to me ages ago and if I ever feel strapped for time, I always go back to that thought. It puts everything in perspective really. There is no excuse because I have all the time there is…

Far Side of Fifty said...

Time passes! I am enjoying Wordle also! Have a good week!

Margaret said...

I also enjoy books about time travel although they feel like they're breaking my brain a little. My guy friend and I watched the German series, "Dark" and it was challenging but rewarding. It's a fascinating concept both from a scientific and an interpersonal standpoint. When you wrote about breathing I thought of that book (haven't read it) "When Breath Becomes Air." I find it a beautiful title although, for personal reasons, reading about lung cancer is too painful for me.