New Year, New You
As we are about to enter the second decade of the 21st century (where did the FIRST one go????), it is good to get a little perspective on things. For example, will radio DJs continue to exhort us to listen to the hits of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and now the “00’s?” How will they say it? The “Zeroes?” These are the kinds of things I wonder about.
In the 70s, there was a famous “Counterclockwise” study done by social-psychologist Ellen Langer. In this study, Langer and her team created a historically accurate physical environment typical of the year 1959, and then got a group of elderly men to live exactly as if it was 1959. For a whole week, they cooked, ate, slept, and lived in 1959, listening to the music and discussing the issues of the day.
There was also a control group that spent a week together just reminiscing about 1959 but not acting as if it really was that time.
The control group had a very lovely time together, but that was about it.
But, and this is truly amazing, the group of guys who put themselves into a 1959 state of mind experienced profound changes. Their memory, physical flexibility, dexterity, vision, hearing, and general well-being all improved dramatically.
Most important, after just one week of living as if they were younger,
Langer’s old fellas showed improvements in finger length!
Yes!!! Shriveled arthritic fingers got LONGER as they released and embraced a younger, 1959 perspective.
And if arthritis can be un-bent, this “living as-if” technique holds tremendous, albeit complicated, promise for wrinkles in 2011.
Most everyone (in the Western world, at least) has surely heard by now that to live our best life, we should BE HERE NOW, be in the POWER OF NOW, try to LIVE IN THE NOW, and not worry about the past or the future. It just makes sense, if you think about it.
The thing is, there really is no NOW.
I can prove it. Right now, take a moment to try to measure the RIGHT-NOW-THIS-VERY-SECOND moment you are currently experiencing. The instant you try to capture it, let’s say by looking at your watch, that moment has already vanished into the past. No matter how hard you try to catch the Nowâ€”breaking it down into smaller and smaller increments all the way down to nanoseconds, it has already passed by the time you try to grab it.
So I think we might need to have a serious conversation with Eckhart Tolle.
Because there really is no present, only the past and the future merging. There is only trying to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow, or worrying about whether I will see you in September or lose you to a summer love. Just smaller and smaller moments of future-then-past, future-then-past, future-then-past. And even those don’t really exist.
Even though it seems like time is moving, what we’re really experiencing is one thing vanishing and another appearing. Our genius brains effortlessly connect these vanishing and appearing acts together, giving us the illusion of time passing.
But it’s just a trick.
Most of us have experienced the distinct feeling that time has passed either too quickly or too slowly. When I sit down to write, I struggle for awhile, but once the words begin to flow, I lose all sense of time. Hours can go by, and it can seem like minutes.
On the other hand, time goes waaaaayyyy too slowly when I’m at the Dentist’s Office.
Human language is the main source of our feeling that time is moving forward in a linear way. You’ve probably heard that in this modern world, we are mostly Human Doings instead of Human Beings. We say, “Yesterday I did this, tomorrow I’ll do that.” With our language, we’ve created the dreaded 40- (or 80-) hour work week, the stingy 2-week vacation, the rambunctious 5-minute speed date, the 60-second microwave Pop-Tart, and the “When I’m 64” Pop-Song. As we’ve evolved, we have abandoned our own inner sense of time, and replaced it with clock and calendar time.
The indigenous Aborigines in Australia, on the other hand, still experience time based on the natural rhythms of the seasons and the lunar and solar cycles. Their time is not linear but more circular. Their days are marked in “sleeps.” One hour might be measured by how long it takes to roast a Witchety Grub in the hot sand, ”a big, plump, yummy morsel that I happen to have personally sampled. (I call it the “Witchetying Hour.” Of course, most of the time they don’t roast the Witchety Grub, but just pop it, still wiggling, into their mouths. At that point, it’s a witchety swallow in a Witchety Second.)
In other words, the Aborigines have retained their essential sense of how time feels.
But linear clock time doesn’t really exist any more than subjective feeling time does. Because actually, we live in Eternity.
We live in a river of time in which the source of the river (our past) and its final destination ahead of us (our future) exist simultaneously. Events that have already passed must still be around. And events in the future must exist like new scenes just around the river bend. Physicist Fred Alan Wolf puts it beautifully: “When we say time passes, we mean that we pass. Time is an experience in itself that is, paradoxically, timeless.”
Or another way of putting it: “Diamonds are forever.” Everybody knows what that means.
The river of eternity can flow both ways. Most of us assume that everything we can remember has already happened. And if asked why we don’t remember scenes from our future, we’d probably answer: â€œDuh, because they haven’t happened yet. But what if memory, like the river, goes both ways, and you can remember the future just as well as you can recall the past?
They are Animals Being.
In her study, Langer’s Finger-Growers were Time Travelers. And they didn’t really have to GO anywhere to get somewhere else.
Probably the biggest thing that limits all of us in our own time-traveling access to the future and the past is our illusion that we are each a separate, singular entity, an ego, or an “I,” living in a world of time and space.
A Human Doing.
Our Doing-ness pins our mind in time rather than timelessness.
“Eight days a week, I lo-o-o-o-ove you (ba-dup), Eight days a week, it’s not enough to show I care.” (Human Being)
Then of course there was Prince, who famously sang, “Act your age, not your shoe size, mama.” (Human Doing. Definitely).
So, Mr. Dee-Jay and the rest of us, as we enter the “10s” or the “Teens(?),” here’s my suggestion: Don’t put Time in a Bottle.
Ask yourself, “What if we didn’t know how old we are?”
Keep reminding yourself that you’re not a Doing but a Being, and that you’re connected with everything, living in timelessness.
And try acting the age you feel, not the age you are. Since you really, truly aren’t that age anyway.
Young is the new old!