I recently rediscovered an article clipped from Psychology Today, in which Stephan Rechtschaffen, director of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, delivered some intriguing observations about our modern sense of time.
"There are cultures on this planet that have no word for minute or hour," writes Rechtschaffen, "cultures where a moment can last a whole morning. We don't live in one of them."
Instead of savoring moments, our culture pushes us toward an ever more productive and efficient use of time.
But a curious thing happens as the pace of our lives grows faster and faster: Our definition of a "moment" grows shorter and shorter, moving our awareness of time into ever tinier increments.
"By cramming each moment so full of events, we leave ourselves no time to actually experience those moments in a meaningful way," argues Rechtschaffen.
As a result, the future arrives that much quicker, and the future (as opposed to the present moment) begins to predominate. We finish "this" so we can get to "that." We work for the weekend, rush through lunch to get back to work, and worry about next month's deadline before this month is completed.
We are so focused on what's ahead that we can't come alive in the here and now.
"The pace of our lives has created a chasm between our emotions and our thoughts, which operate at different speeds. Thoughts are processed electrically, communicating faster than our emotions, which are hormonal or chemical," says Rechtschaffen. "The demands of the modern world have required us to function more quickly, so we use what I call 'mind time' to mentally engage to our fullest in order to juggle upcoming events. There is no time to deal with or process our slower feelings - utilizing what I call 'emotional time' - so we repress them or stuff them down."
But these emotions don't disappear. The moment we begin slowing down, they come flooding back and we begin to feel again. Unfortunately, many of those feelings are uncomfortable, because they're about things that haven't been resolved. To avoid dealing with them, we crank up the activity level anew, hiding from ourselves behind a blur of busy-ness.
Rechtshaffen believes the cure "is to come into the present moment. Instead of rushing, take your time, let your rhythm slow down. You can rush later if you need to, but for now, simply perform the task that is in front of you, whether it's washing the dishes or commuting to work."
It's entirely possible to spend your whole life waiting for the important events to take place, all the while dismissing the "in-between" moments as being of no importance. But the reality is that the moment, the present, right now, is really all we ever have - or need - to live.
Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com