If you have a more exciting life, if you’re more aware of yourself and your feelings, time will stretch in retrospect. That’s something that certainly happens. Another question to think about is why so many Eastern meditation techniques like yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are popular in Western societies these days. These concepts are wrapped up in a culture of mindfulness and being aware of one’s body, and these transform your experience of time.
For experience, what do you do when you meditate? And this is interesting because it’s related to time perception, and explains why I do a lot of research with meditators. At the immediate moment that you perceive yourself, you’re breathing in and out, you do a body scan and are aware of all parts of your body. At that point time stretches and passes slower.
"When you look back you have more memory items to recall because you were more mindful. And consequently time stretches again."
That’s why a lot of people can’t continue with meditation because they find it so boring. They might only be there for 30 minutes but they’re so future-orientated they are constantly wondering when it will stop, because they’re bored.
But if you stay with it you learn to adjust and cope with this stretching of time. And then you feel this body awareness and time slowing down during active meditation in a positive way. But also what mindfulness means – everyone’s talking about mindfulness... mindfulness means being aware of what’s happening now. And when you’re aware of what’s happening now, again, this has a memory effect. When you look back you have more memory items to recall because you were more mindful. And consequently time stretches again. So through these techniques of mindfulness you can really slow down time. That’s certainly one explanation why these Eastern techniques are so popular in Western culture.
Meditation was a very esoteric subject 20 years ago; nowadays it has entered mainstream science. You have neural scientists and psychologists who are engaged in research on these techniques – what happens in the brain, what happens to the personality of these people and so on.
So it’s not actually being aware of time, but being aware of what is happening. That is mindfulness. And then looking back, because you were so mindful, you experienced much more and in greater detail, so you have more memories and, as such, time feels to have passed more slowly and you have the notion of longer duration.
"So it’s not actually being aware of time, but being aware of what is happening."
Let’s look at the other way. If you’re more hectic and not mindful and you’re doing this and that and switching attention back and forth – a classic work day –at the end of the day you might have done a lot of things but nothing really thoroughly or mindfully. And so looking back, even though you did a lot, you have this feeling of the day passing really quickly. When you do things thoroughly – and mindfully – you have more memories at the end of the day. And then the day will feel to have lasted much longer.