January 9, 2023

The Eternal Mystery That is Time

By Vega Subramaniam

Sunrise: Solomons Island, MD

I am someone with many, many interests. Too many to list. Every once in awhile, I’ll run into someone just a bit older than I am who, when I ask about retirement, will say they’re not ready to retire, and also, “what would I do with my time?”

It is so very clear to me what I would (will?) do with my time if (when?) I retire. There’s the ever-growing stack of books on my nightstand. There’s all the yarn ready to use on crochet projects. Hikes to take, mountains to explore, birds to watch. Languages to learn, museums to visit, lectures to attend. Bike rides. Dips in various lakes and oceans. Loved ones to spend quality time with. Crosswords to solve.

Let me stop there (you’re welcome). Solving crosswords, as long-time readers know, is one of my favorite hobbies. But it’s by no means my only hobby.

Or is it?

Lately, I’ve found that crosswords are my easiest retreat when I’m not working (or, who am I kidding, even when I am). If I’ve just finally sent off an email I’ve been avoiding writing, I reward myself with a crossword. As I’m sitting at the table having lunch, I’m doing a crossword. Commercial break during Joy Reid? Crossword.

Why do I bring this up? Because it’s the beginning of a new year, when the thought of new resolutions and habit change become so salient to so many of us. As I’ve reflected on how I spend my time, I’ve also reflected on what “time” means to me. “Time,” as a concept, is becoming more salient to me as I grow older. I’m not “old,” per se, but I ain’t getting younger. I’m aware that there’s less ahead of me than there is behind me. So if I want to make it last, what should I be doing?

I listened recently to The Ezra Klein Show podcast episode called Time is Way Weirder Than You Think. The episode, featuring neuroscientist Dean Buonomano, explores exactly what time is, various elements of time (like “clock” time versus “subjective” time and “eternalism” versus “presentism),” and human relationship to time. It’s about an hour long, and I don’t think you’ll regret never getting that hour back if you do take a listen.

There was a lot I took away from this episode, but one thing that stood out for me was this: “…moments of time filled with new experiences seem to go by quickly in passing but seem to have lasted very long in retrospect, because you have a lot of new memories being formed.” Also: “…the more novel experiences, the more…new learning experiences help us have a life filled with memories and certainly give us the impression that it may have been a period well-lived or that we have taken advantage of or put into good use.”

Basically, if I want to eventually look back and feel like I lived a long and good life, I should make sure to do lots of different things and learn lots of new things. Not, in other words, to do crosswords and crosswords only. Go figure.

I appreciate and am inspired by the call to diversify my repertoire of downtime activities. A client recently was bemoaning the fact that she wasted so many evenings sitting in front of the TV just watching whatever. And one day, she told herself that she would not turn the TV on that evening, and just notice what showed up instead.

I’m taking a page from her book. As I’m taking a break or closing out for the evening, I’ll sit quietly and notice how I’m moved to spend my time, so that it goes fast in the moment and lingers long in my memory.

However it’s most valuable for you to spend your time this year, I’m hoping for that for you.

Starting the day, Solomons Island, MD


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