I’ve done it. And you can too. Don't be a prisoner of time.
There are countless examples of this, but I will just share the few that stand out to me.
My first memory
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was four years old, playing in the backyard on my swingset with two of my neighbors.
When the burgundy Buick Regal pulled up in the driveway and honked the horn, I don’t remember my feet ever touching the ground. The next thing I knew, I was standing next to the car door waiting to see my new baby sister.
She was born six weeks premature and had, up to that point, spent the entirety of her life in the hospital. I was so happy that she was finally home so I could play with her.
Little did I know it would be quite a while before I would have the opportunity because she slept, as most babies do, about 20 hours a day.
Living in the present
It’s not uncommon or even difficult to effectively slow time to a crawl without even trying. Simply living in the moment and allowing all the preoccupations outside of the current tick mark on the timeline of every day life to dissolve away can make a moment seem like it is going to last forever.
It is true that, in most cases, time flies when you’re having fun and it can often seem as though a moment of misery, pain, or drudgery is never going to end.
However, our approach to these moments can have a dramatic impact on the degree to which this effect holds true and can even allow for its reversal.
How can you slow down those blissful moments? And how can you speed your way through discomfort?
Focus is key
Once I figured it out through the common threads in the most extreme examples, it became pretty simple. I just had to hyper-focus to slow things to a crawl where I was or to quickly travel somewhere else.
I am by no means a pro at this and have plenty to learn, but I’ve had some of my favorite moments seem like they’d never end. Case in point, the first day of my honeymoon.
We went out to the beach at around 11 and both fell asleep basking in the sun. When we woke up we didn’t know where the time had gone and felt like we’d been asleep for hours. When I checked to see what time it was, I was shocked. It was 11:30.
Chalking this up to the power nap effect, I didn’t think much of it until what felt like hours more went by and we checked the time only to find out it was 12:15! We went out into the water and swam for a bit and then returned to shore for drinks.
When the bartender told us it was only 1 o’clock we swore we were in a different dimension where time moved at a snail’s pace. We continued this cycle for what seemed like days until it was finally approaching 5 pm and we needed to go inside to get showered and ready for dinner.
We were so lost in the moment and carefree, time almost stood still. Back then, we just laughed it off and appreciated it for what we thought it was, completely unaware that we could control our focus in other situations and produce the same phenomenon.
Contrast this with the sense of time slipping away from us as the trip wound down and we came to grips with the fact it was soon going to be time to go back to real life and our jobs.
Have you ever done this with a vacation? The few days before you leave, the anticipation and excitement are so strong it can’t get here soon enough.
But then, as soon as the vacation starts, you start to see it through the lens of how much time you have left rather than just enjoying the moment for what it is.
Be mindful and self aware and if you catch yourself counting the minutes, do everything you can to reset and take the moment in through all of your senses. Slow the time down and drink in the experience with every fiber of your being.
Make Chicken Salad
And if you aren’t enjoying yourself, do the exact opposite. Find a way to enjoy yourself by switching things up, or if you’re just stuck with the drudgery, make it less about the drudgery and more about a game you’re playing in an alternate universe where different aspects of the drudgery are checkpoints and achievements in that game.
You will soon find yourself speeding through the drudgery and reclaiming your time. This is the last time I’m going to say drudgery, I promise.
“Life is Beautiful” provides a perfect, albeit tragic, example of this effort to transport yourself to another time and place when you are in the midst of an unfulfilling or painful circumstance.
Accessing the past
Now, I’ll take you on another journey into my past, but as an example of when I have been able to purposefully slow down and create a moment that lives outside of space and time.
My first born daughter was five months old. I was rocking her to sleep in her room. The glider rocker didn’t make a sound. It was finished in a smooth off-white, and wore upholstery carrying the off white with an unassuming green gingham pattern.
My aunt had knitted a queen-sized Afghan to match and it was draped over the back of the rocker on this early September evening.
A small, soft lamp in the corner gave a warm glow to the smooth golden walls around us.
The world was still in the room so silent, in that moment, I could hear each of her sweet little breaths as she peacefully drifted off to sleep and the silence allowed me to focus on the ever so gentle beating of her little heart on my chest.
She had that adorable scent of innocence that little babies have that was only covered by the mild aroma of the delicate laundry detergent my wife used to clean her tiny onesies.
Normally, my wife and I would try to quickly get her to bed so that we could spend the evening together as a couple, the way we did before she was born. But tonight, I didn’t want to leave that room. I wanted to take this moment in and never let it end. Or at least be sure to never forget it.
Cherish the Little Things
People had told me since the day she was born to cherish every moment because they grow up too fast. And, let me tell you, they were right.
I sat with my little baby girl in silence, closed my eyes, and just let things be. The world would have to wait for me. Time would have to wait for me. And it did. I don’t know how long I was in there, but it felt like forever.
When I came out of her room and walked down the hall, my wife didn’t even ask why it took so long. I guess some of this was because, often times, getting her to sleep was a struggle.
But to this day, there is a part of me that can’t help but think it’s because, while that moment seemed like an eternity to me, it may have only been 10 or 20 minutes outside of that room.
Bringing others with us
For almost 2 decades, this moment was mine because I had never told anyone about it. I figured that it would lose its potency by merely whispering of it.
A few weeks ago, though, my daughter’s school offered us the opportunity to write her a letter that she would read on her senior retreat. Jianchor's youngest contributor, she graduates in five weeks and turned 18 last month.
I figured this was a moment worthy of transporting her with me back to that time and place. So I told her about that tiny little moment that we shared before she even had the capacity to remember it and how important it was to me to remind her, in case I hadn’t reminded her enough daily, how special and precious she is to me.
The closer children get to full adulthood, the harder it is to remember them as babies and toddlers and even small children. Equally difficult is accepting that they are not your little babies anymore.
This was a beautiful little moment for the both of us to travel back in time to that instant where time seemingly stood still, preserved in peace and free from the hustle and bustle we both now experience on a daily basis.
Live and act—Don’t worry
We must, though, be careful to not obsess over the past at the expense of the moment. Focus on optimizing the present and use access to the past only as a tool for getting better at owning and appreciating the present.
Most importantly, don’t let the present slip through your fingers while you worry about the future because, to the extent that you you have any control over your future to begin with, your actions in this present moment have have the greatest impact.
Worrying about what might happen will only interfere with your grasp of the present. But a proper grasp of the present will give you the power to see into, predict, and even shape the future.
I wrote this in anticipation of a week long trip in the Smoky Mountains with my sons and my parents. That experience will be the inspiration for my follow up to this post. Part 2 coming soon...