Time’s Illusion

Time is supposed to be an illusion created by our brains to organize events into past, present, and future. (I’m sure there are other, more scientific reasons for the illusion, but as a practical application, in day-to-day living, that’s what it seems like.)

Everything that exists or has ever existed is supposed to exist in the eternal right now. We project onto that reality our own perspective. Time does not flow, nor do we flow through time, but whatever the truth, time’s illusion seems to be getting stronger. I can’t tell if I am standing still and time is slipping away beneath my feet or if I am floating on the river, but either way, whatever this thing we call “time” really is, it seems to be slipping away from me.

I just started a new job, and already, I am into my third week, (I’ve already had my first paycheck, and boy, did that feel good!) All that time . . . gone. And so fast! When I got the woman’s house yesterday, she asked what I’d done on my weekend, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything specific. She thought I didn’t want to tell her, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember doing enough things to have filled in all those hours. I watered my plants, took a walk (three miles!), read copiously, probably ate too much, probably didn’t drink enough, and the time slipped by.

Even today, though I had plenty of time to do whatever I wanted, here it is, almost time to go to work, and I’m scrambling to finish this blog. Where did the time go? I took a walk — only two miles, today. Then I relaxed with a cup of tea. Afterward, I fixed salads for the next few days, cleaned the kitchen, talked to my sister for a few minutes on the phone, ate lunch (one of those salads) and then, here I am — sitting at the computer wondering where all the morning hours had gone.

Part of the feeling of time slipping away (or me slipping past time) comes from the practicing the art of living in the moment — trying not remember too much of the past, trying not to project myself into the future (the job helps with that — with enough money to live on for now, I don’t have to worry as much about the future). It’s a great way to live, most of the time, anyway. (See? Can’t get away from time, even in such a careless usage!) The exception comes when I try to figure out what I did while time slipped through my fingers.

A lot of things have become habit — my one-card tarot study each morning, blogging, reading whenever I have a free moment, doing household chores — so none of those things stand out when someone asks what I did.

I suppose I could have told the woman I sailed away on a sea of time, or that I succumbed to time’s illusion, but my sense of philosophical whimsy doesn’t always translate to casual conversations, especially with those who are hard of hearing.

In a novel I read the other day, one of the characters expounded on the importance of war and trauma and atrocities because those are the things that make us feel alive, that create instances of courage and sacrifice, greatness and nobility. According to that character, there’s no purpose to a life of peace and calm because we never learn what we are made of.

I don’t know — a peaceful life cocooned in time’s illusion seems plenty acceptable to me. Do I need to be great or noble or self-sacrificing? Admittedly, dealing with such an adrenaline-laden life would slow down the flow of time, but I’m old enough now that a gentle sail on the sea of time is eventful enough. So what if I can’t immediately recall one specific day out of several similar days? It all comes down to the same thing anyway — if there is no past, did those things even exist? (Now I’m being silly. Of course they did, but I still wonder what happens to those things we did that we forgot.)

I’ve floated into a side stream here and gotten way off the track, which is about how time is slipping away from me. Time might be an artificial construct, but that illusion of the flow of time is getting stronger all the time.

And yep, just sitting, time managed to slip away from me again.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

3 Responses to “Time’s Illusion”

  1. Judy Galyon Says:

    I know where you’re coming from! My days are just like that…early morning chore, watering the plants outside & feeding the birds when needed. I wonder where my days go.

  2. Estragon Says:

    The science of time invariably makes my brain hurt. Relativity, quantum entanglement, and such.

    The arithmetic of common experience is pretty simple though. A year in my early working life was ~1/16th of my life. A year now is ~1/60th, so passes roughly 4x faster relative to life as a whole.

    Taking a different tack, we’re wired instinctively to take novel experience into memory in order to incorporate the novel experience into our world view and our reaction to similar experiences in future. At our age, unless we increasingly seek novel experience, there’s simply less that’s novel in day-to-day life. We’ve literally been there and done that, so no need to clutter memory with the summer repeat.

    So yeah, time slips by, largely unnoticed.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      After Jeff died, I made sure I did new things, like go to museums or classes or whatever so I wouldn’t lose myself in time. Somewhere along the line — maybe with The Bob isolation — I lost that need to do new things.

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