How many times have you felt that, when you’re racing to finish everything on your to-do list, time flies and you don’t know where it went? You look up and you wonder how it’s already 5pm? When I started meditating, I realized that I had been getting caught up in reacting to the world around me. I wasn’t being mindful or slowing down enough to take in my own presence in the world. Believe it or not, when I felt like time was flying by, I really was losing fractions of my life without even knowing it.
Like so many others, I recently watched “Interstellar” and one of the most intriguing parts of the movie is when they discuss how time can move more quickly in one location than it does in another. The explanation for this is found in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, where space and time are the same thing. Because my background in physics is quite limited, my brain kind of exploded when trying to understand this. The Discovery Channel helped me out with this during a special on “The Science of Interstellar”. Now this is going to get a bit “out there”, but I can’t explain this theory any better, so I’ve transcribed (and paraphrased) the Discovery Channel’s explanation of spacetime here.
“It was long thought that space and time were separate, but Einstein’s theory explains that actually there’s only one thing, which we call spacetime. Spacetime can change, it can move, bend, and warp. The theory states that spacetime is like a flexible fabric, the objects embedded in it, the sun, planets, even us, warp that fabric. The consequence of that warping is gravity. The more massive the object, the more spacetime is warped and the greater the gravity. We feel gravity. The flexibility of spacetime is harder to grasp on a gut level, but its effects are measurable. The greater the gravity, the more slowly time flows. If you were on the ground floor of a building with a super accurate atomic clock, and your twin were on the top floor with an equally accurate atomic clock, if you later on compared them, yours would have ticked off fewer seconds. On the ground floor, you experience slightly more gravity than your twin on the top floor. You also experience slightly less time than your twin. The difference is tiny but real and there are practical applications. For example, the GPS system (the Global Positioning System), that is a very precise set of clocks on satellites orbiting around the earth and that orbit is in a slightly different gravitational field than we are in down here. So the fact that time moves differently here on the surface of the earth than in the satellite orbit is very important to getting the GPS to work correctly. Time on a GPS satellite clock advances faster than a clock on earth by about 38 microseconds per day, so the system’s computers correct for that. Motion also affects our experience of spacetime. The best way of saying it is that by staying still, you experience the most time you can. Moving around and doing things means you experience less time. So say you were driving your car and your twin was sitting on a park bench. If you move out in your car and come back, compared to the person sitting on the bench, the clock that you took with you on your journey would have experienced a little bit less time than the person on the bench. We normally move too slowly to notice the effects. But the closer we get to the speed of light, the more out of sync we are from those who stay behind.” (from The Discovery Channel special “The Science of Interstellar”)
Wow! Doesn’t that kind of blow your mind? I had to do some other reading on this and then re-watch the segment a couple times in order to really understand the concept. So, if you need to re-read that explanation, go for it…we’re in the trust tree here and no one will judge you.
tl;dr: Basically, Einstein says space and time are the same thing. Motion affects our experience of spacetime because the faster you are moving through space, the faster you are moving through time. Therefore, by staying still, you experience the most time you can. Moving around and doing things means you experience [fractionally] less time.
Now I’m not saying we should all just sit on the couch in order to experience the most time possible, far from it. We should use our precious time to work toward realizing our full potential. But this concept of spacetime speaks to me about how important mindfulness and meditation are. If time really does move more quickly when we are racing about, then it is so important that we are intentional about our actions and the way we spend our time.
It is equally important to slow down and be present in the moment as often as we can. If we are constantly in motion, our whole life can pass by without us actually living it. We go onto autopilot and may not imbue our lives with the intentionality we should.
Meditation is a powerful tool to help us be fully aware of our presence, and our existence, in each moment. And mindfulness is a powerful way of living the most intentional life we possibly can. I invite you to join me and take a moment to be present today.