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The dilemma of our temporal awareness.
There is a constant sense that accompanies the period from late autumn to the deep winter, that of time slowing down. This sense of time dilation is purely imaginary, perceived as a product of my inner seasonal mood; time perception as a reflection of interoceptive awareness.
This period brings recurring themes; the end of another year, the beginning of the next, and all the repetitive tropes that this flick of the calendar entails. Yet there is a subtext to this rhetoric: that of our relationship with time itself, our awareness of the temporal forces governing our lives.
The passage of time is an incessant onslaught. Humans are unique in our conscious awareness of the temporal domain of life, but we do not truly perceive time itself. Rather, we perceive and experience events that occur in any given moment - mere seconds of time - and constantly integrate what William James termed this “specious present” in relation to other temporal context; recent events, future projections, last year, the hands on the clock.
Our journey in time is akin to a ship on the open ocean; the present is only that fleeting moment of the bow breaking water; the past extends out as the wake from the stern, ever expanding and receding; the future lies just over the horizon, anticipated and unknown.
This very concept of a ship on the ocean contains a vital clue to the mystery of our temporal relations: that we exist in time, a series of continually overlapping breaks in the waves, experienced in relation to the receding wake of the past and apprehended horizon of the future. This is why the concept of a pure present moment is so elusive; any fleeting moment exists as a subjective phenomena, difficult to truly separate from the integrated views of past and future.
Little wonder it is so difficult to simply look down and behold, and fully experience, the bow breaking water; we stand scanning the horizon, anxious and uncertain, or at the stern gazing at the wake with nostalgia or regret. On this ship of the soul, temporality is innately incorporated into our Self; we remember the past, integrate past experience to present, and project into the future, all of which influences who we perceive ourselves to be in any present moment.
Little wonder, either, that our unique awareness of the temporal world gives rise to a unique aspect of the human condition: mortality salience, our awareness that once put to sea the only inevitable destination of our ship of the soul is death. Our existence in time is conditioned accordingly; as the voyage passes we become increasingly aware of the finite timescale of the journey, and contemplate the receding wake with the pertinent human question; what meaning did I give this voyage?
This is, as opined before, seeking an answer to the wrong question; by insisting of life as a voyage with some intrinsic meaning we miss the breaking of the waves, and condition our Self to be drawn to the stern, wasting the specious present staring forlornly at the retreating wake, the deceptive past, or furiously attempting to control what will appear at the horizon which, of course, we never actually reach.
The ship of the soul was put to sea the day we were born and we exist on board in time, which will not stop until we reach the port of our death. This is why concepts like “time management” are a facade, a manifestation of human hubris to assume that the temporal domain, both infinite universe time and the finite time of our own voyage, can be controlled. We can control time no more than we can control the Earth’s rotation.
What if we accepted that there is no way to drop anchor, that our ship of the soul will sail over the ocean of our finite life unabated to the destination of our demise? Would we manage energy, rather than time? Would we manage moments, fill the deck of the ship with the experience of the overlapping waves of the specious present?
Perhaps more importantly, if we accept that we do not control the speed of our ship of the soul, would we stop thinking of life by analogy with a journey? That is to say, if we know the ship will go down, would we not put on our Sunday best and let the band play in the only moment that every truly exists?
Would we just dance on the deck?
If we cannot control time, but our sense of existing in time in always relational, we can perhaps subtly manipulate our perception of time. Unfilled, unhurried time seems long; the sense of time dilation, a lesson for our hyper-stimulated world.
Perhaps we can expand our experience of the specious present by taking our eyes off the horizon, dwelling less on the wake, and sitting idly on the fore, watching the waves break over the bow, existing only in the unfolding moment of each overlapping wave.