By Sophie Becker
Meaning in Mindfulness
I hate time. Recently I feel like I’ve been spending my days at its mercy, crushed by violent waves of both regret and fear for the future (dramatic but true).
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.”
Makes sense. But I’ve never been able to feel too much about the saviour middle ground “living in the present”, or rather mindfulness.
I used to loathe the word “mindfulness”. It’s become a meaningless buzzword to me. While I wholeheartedly believe in its profound benefit, mindfulness has never helped me in a time of need. Mostly because it’s not a quick-fix solution in a crisis unless you’re already well rehearsed in the practice. The suggestion of mindfulness used to feel patronising, as if whoever mentioned it was belittling or compounding whatever problem was going on at that moment. Like many others, both the lows and highs hit in waves too powerful to be affected by a trickle of inexperienced meditation. And when the waves dissipate, I always fail to find the motivation to start up this new habit, keen to get as much done in my transient state of calm while I’m able to.
Recently the waves have revolved around an intense desire to turn back time and revisit every decision I regret in my life, as well as panic about my current lack of control over the time I do have left. Predictably this isn’t a good cocktail for mental health. Two things have triggered this: my birthday and the realisation of how fast this year is going. I’m terrified SCA will pass in the blink of an eye and I’ll miss it (and regret that too).
The problem is that time is just going too quickly. I can’t help but feel I’d be absolutely fine if I could just slow it down. Turns out, it’s possible.
I’d just accepted that time gets faster as we get older. It makes sense – each year’s a smaller percentage of our overall lifespan. But according to ye ol’ Google, that’s not true. Time’s obviously going at the same rate. The problem is that as we age, we notice less and less and this changes our perception.
The more familiar the world becomes, the less information our brains record and the more quickly time seems to pass. A cognitive phenomenon called ‘repetition suppression’ creates a time warp when the brain is exposed repeatedly to the same stimuli – making it seem much faster in retrospect. Mundane activities seem long in the moment, but when we look back it’s almost as if they never happened. However, when we we do something new time expands in our perception. Time stretched on forever in our childhood because we were learning about the world and regularly engaging in ‘firsts.’ Our minds formed rich, dense memories that stretched out the perception of time.
So the solution is to inject novelty into our lives as regularly as possible. While having revelatory new experiences everyday may not be possible in a school or work routine, I’m going to try and do some new things to change up my day – whether that’s taking a new route in the morning, talking to someone I don’t usually or sitting in a new seat in town hall.
Luckily, the solution is not only the do more but to notice more. And mindfulness means paying more attention to the experience of every moment. This is advice Marc has already given us. It’s nothing new. But framing it with the motivation of making time pass more slowly this year gives it a new meaning.
So this is my pledge to give mindfulness a proper chance.