3: Time is in the eye of the unfolder

Two eyes

Time is a funny thing. It can fly, drag on, run out, move faster or slower, and much else besides, all while the clock ticks its regular beat. This malleability of time gives us a tool for beating the clock by capitalizing on the “do” in the is-do-be cycle.

From flying to unfolding

Over the past number of months in isolation, I’ve spent a lot of time “having fun” with various kinds of entertainment and so have seen much of my time “fly by”. Indeed, the past year often feels as if it were the blink of an eye. However, I noticed an interesting phenomenon as I began doing more engaging activities with my time.

Particularly, I noticed that my weeks would feel longer the more I did things that demanded some effort or focus on my part. As I spent more time drawing, reading, and even simply cleaning the house, I felt my days growing longer and the weekends coming more slowly. This struck me as rather remarkable after seeing my days run together, indistinguishable from each other in the uneventful days of homebound precaution.

Naturally, I decided to capitalize on this observation to break up my days and get more out of them. Equally as naturally, I sought to understand how this peculiar perception of time was possible, both for curiosity’s sake and for enhancing the effectiveness of my newfound day-lengthening technique.

Let’s call this method “unfolding”, since any activity we do unfolds the possibilities contained within a given moment. By unfolding our potential, we bring things and experiences into the world, filling our time with events. The more events we experience, the more time we feel has passed. How does this work?

Trading effort for hours

I think there are two mutually reinforcing reasons for the time-expanding quality of unfolding. First, more “happens” insofar as we do things, that is, as we effect changes in the world. Any such change is, of course, an event or “happening”.

Second, by expending effort to do something, we end up focusing the mind on that task or activity. When we’re focused, we simply notice more. In other words, exertion is more memorable and induces greater perception of whatever events do occur. [1]

Thus, by performing tasks requiring focus and exertion we can alter our perception of time to give the impression that more time has passed than a look at the clock might suggest. This is significant since our experience of time is at the core of everything we do as human beings. Even our scientific concepts of time rest on this experience, insofar as they are at all “empirical” - a word derived from the Ancient Greek word for “experience”.

In short, our experience of time is one and the same with our very existence. In a fundamental sense, to perceive more time is, quite literally, to have more time. [2]

Counting the hours

Sounds great, but how is this telescoping effect of time possible, especially given the monotony the ticking clock? Simple: we don’t perceive time directly in terms of hours or minutes, but rather in terms of events or occurrences. [3] It is precisely insofar as clock ticks are themselves events that they are useful for keeping time.

Let’s make this more concrete. How do you know when a day has passed? For most people, this is by the occurrence of two events - the rising and setting of the sun. That is, we know that a day has passed by witnessing the completion of a dawn-dusk cycle.

Alternatively, dungeon dwellers deprived of natural light may tell the passage of a day by counting 86400 clock ticks (assuming 1 tick is 1 second long). That’s a lot of events to keep track of so we use mechanical or digital means (clocks, hourglasses, etc.) to aggregate these events into larger events such as hours.

Astute readers may have already noted an important fact: the 24 hours worth of clock ticks that mark off a day of clock time are derived from the aforementioned sunrise-sunset cycle as it occurs on earth. In other words, clock ticks are derivative events rooted in the celestial events of dawn and dusk.

To unfold is gold

In sum, time is in the eye of the unfolder, who telescopically extends his or her perception of time through focused, often creative activity. In a word, by living the “do” our namesake mantra through the practice of unfolding.

Notes

[1] This may be because effort is generally uncomfortable, in contrast to pleasurable activities which cause time to “fly by”. Pain and discomfort can cause a contraction of our perception of time, whereas comfort and ease lead to diffusion. What does this say about the relation between leisure and boredom?

[2] There is a limit to this, of course. To my knowledge this technique cannot be used to achieve immortality. If you succeed in doing so, please donate your body to science.

[3] It’s worth noting that we can deduce the passage of clock time through a process of association. Particularly, if we note the time before performing a task or activity and again after completing it, we can associate our feeling of how much time passed with the amount of time counted by the clock during that activity.