An excerpt of Alain de Botton's "A Therapeutic Journey: Lessons from the School of Life" PLUS an open thread about how we make the most of our limited time on earth. How do YOU slow time down?
My over fifteen-year-old dog, Betty, passed away in September. I knew at the beginning of summer that we would be lucky if she made it all the way through June, July and August. She was my four-legged-soulmate and I wanted to hang on to every second I had with her. She was a beach dog just as I am a beach person. During her frisky years we'd go to the beach and it was a fetch-fest with Betty hurling herself into the ocean to retrieve her ball and dashing around in the sand demanding I throw it again. When her arthritis caught up to her as she aged we put the ball aside and took short slow strolls stopping frequently to smell seaweed or other dogs or whatever (usually disgusting thing) had washed up on the shore. This summer she could manage to walk down to the shores edge, lay down facing the breeze and just let the smells wash over her with her eyes closed and me giving her a little massage down her spine. And this is how we slowed down time or, at least, this is how we were able to appreciate each moment. So even though Betty is no longer within my sight, she is forevermore within my heart still teaching me to notice and take my time and enjoy all the moments.
I looooopve Alaind de Botton! My advice to "densify time" is this: mono-task. Focus on one thing at a time. Tell that to-do list, "I appreciate the reminder, but you'll have to wait. Right now, in this moment, I am folding my underwear." 😉
All we have is now. Living fully in the present moment, whatever you may be doing, with all your senses, is the key to living, and adding life to your years. I worked in a rehab hospital for 9 years, with many people of all ages, whose lives were irrevocably changed in an instant. If you live with the awareness that it can happen to anyone, including you, it changes how you live. Last year, I was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. Quite the shock, as I had no symptoms. You can live with it for years, but ultimately, I will die from it. I live each day savoring each moment, from cleaning my kitchen sink (it’s deep! And shiny stainless steel!) to walking my dog, (the different seasons smell so good!) to gatherings with friends. Savor the moments, with or without cancer.
I like to wink at beautiful things, the sky, the fluid scampering of a squirrel, a father smiling at the antics of his toddler on the playground. It takes a picture in my brain as if to say “this thing I’m seeing in this moment has value”
What a fabulous post, thank you. "The more our days are filled with new, unpredictable, and challenging experiences, the longer they will feel." I try to fulfill this advice as a runner who runs new trails and notices new things. And while I don't make art, I travel in my imagination by reading books. At age 54, I feel incredibly fortunate and privileged, thanks to financial security from my life partner, to be able to work flexibly and part time (as a writer and substitute teacher); my work schedule therefore blends with play and stays fresh. The other thing my husband and I do to slow time and get more out of life is pursue big dreams, such as building stuff or taking trips. We made a life-changing decision in 2009 to ditch our regular lives and jobs, pull our kids (then 8 and 11) out of school to roadschool, and travel the world nomadically and cheaply for a year. It was the best thing we ever did, and it changed how we act and relate, making us more willing to pursue the impractical with a "you only live once" mindset.
Thank you Sari. To E.M. Forster’s “Only connect” we can now add A. de Botton’s “Only notice” to our short list of principles for a long and meaningful life.
I just read all the other comments--wow! Such meaningful expressions and reminders of what we can do. At 82 I'm lucky to have fairly good health and a secure living situation, live in a beautiful place (Vermont). Yes, there are dreary chores, but the challenge of making them as enjoyable or well-done as possible also slows time down.
This is an amazing essay I want to share with all of my friends in their sixties and seventies immediately. I’m a painter and writer and so have that experience of studying an apple as if I’ve never seen it before. Transforms time and the way the rest of the world looks. Thank you for sharing this.
My new relationship with time.
Time to get ready for bed. God knows I am tired. First I assess the situation. My clothes won’t make for comfy sleeping. I must take them off. For me, bone lazy at 82, it feels like too great an effort, because after the clothes come off, I’ll have to put my nightgown on. That necessitates getting it out of the dryer three rooms away. I’m already very tired so I continue to do nothing. Oddly, it feels as if I’m rushing by simply sitting still. I am exerting a new kind of energy—the kind that resists movement toward the next thing, even though part of me wants to be there. The moment grows thinner and thinner beneath me, like an ancient surfboard. In this manner, I am extending time.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s a nice complement to Susan Kyo Ito’s idea of learning something new on her birthday each year. I Ike the idea of setting one’s intention (as in yoga) for each day to include noticing and novelty, though not everyone has the free time or resources to indulge in that. That’s where the concept of glimmers (which I recently learned about) comes in handy. Notice and appreciate the vivid colors of that autumnal tree you walk past while heading to the bus stop for your morning commute. Savor and enjoy a cup of afternoon tea. Talk and listen to other people. Read and appreciate art. And why not indulge in afternoon cookies?
My main insight re longevity is that at some point your relationship with time will change. I turned 70 a couple months ago and I've noticed how my former preoccupation with time passing is mostly just gone. Suddenly the fact of dying at some point becomes 100% real, and so fighting it seems foolish, & just drops away. Before turning 70 aging & death were objective but non-internalized. Now trying to delay it is fine, no problem, but there's no desperate avoidance now. Generally stress changes too, dissipating somewhat, so it may be a self-fulfilling thing.
I have always been a fairly laid-back individual, and don't seem to have a competitive bone in my body. I have never had the urge to win, or be top dog, or to achieve much - although I have. My employers seemed to think I was good at what I did. so gained promotion, but in truth, I never really enjoyed the extra responsibilities in the workplace that brought.
I have raised children as a single parent and now they are grown and I'm retired, I can choose what to do with my days. Younger life was always very busy and tiring.
What do I find my retired friends doing? Well, most seem to be setting goals. Some are returning to work, to keep themselves occupied. Others have plans for every day of the week and have to be out or with others or want to travel to far-flung corners of the world.
Thank goodness we are all different but life for me now is so deliciously simple.
I reject goal-setting. I think I always have because I need very to little to make me happy. Oh I know I could be a 'better' version of me, starting maybe with a fitness regime, but exercise for the sake of exercise has never appealed. I am deliciously happy with a very simple existence., plodding happily through life rather than running..
The need not to set the alarm clock for work or the next day is akin to winning the lottery. Lazy breakfasts watching the birds in the garden or catching up with the weekend's papers is bliss. Strolling around our local town and sitting people watching while I have a coffee is absorbing...
I see my friends, have family nearby and love all the people in my life dearly, but I also relish solitude at frequent intervals, and pleasing myself, doing exactly as I please. I never get bored. I listen to music - and have found a new interest in the sort of artists my mother would listen to on the 'wireless' as it was called back in the '60s.
I love to read, to write, to take a drive to open spaces and just marvel at nature. I love being by the sea, but give me a remote place to explore and there I really do feel at one with the universe. I appreciate what 'a tiny speck of living' I am in real terms, in the great tapestry of life, as I let a handful of sand trickle through my fingers. I am just grateful to experience it, to be here, because yes it will end.
And as I tell myself that I am so lucky to have this simple life, these simple yet joyous experiences, I count my blessings. Life has been far from plain-sailing; it's been fraught with difficulties and heartbreak along the way, but every day is a new day, and I am grateful for it, even if I do very little with it. I appreciate it and all the simple joys I experience.
Others seem to want to pack in everything they can. If hectic and busy suits them, fine but I have discovered a whole new world in doing nothing much, but being aware of what makes me tick.
I suppose what I am saying is that I think over the last few decades we've all been urged to 'improve' ourselves, set targets and goals, be better versions of ourselves, create challenges, do things.
I don't think I have consciously rejected that but being content with who you are, where you are right now also has many merits.
Just be aware you're alive - and yes, it's easier if you have reasonable health as you age. Like many of us I have chronic ailments but I take the tablets, cope and try not to dwell on what I can't do but what I can do.
I suppose for me, simplicity is the key and looking at life through appreciative eyes now I know I have less in front of me with every day that passes. Enjoy the journey, the slower journey, maybe, even on the dullest days. Life is such a gift.
Thanks for the beautiful excerpt about expanding the precious time we have. Noticing, being attentive, being IN one's experiences definitely makes a difference. For many years I've studied tai chi, and for nearly twenty years now I've taught it. For my students, the "novelty" of tai chi is very stimulating and that's brings them new joy. They see themselves grow and change, gain balance and coordination. Once they have the moves and the sequence of moves feeling comfortable they can begin to experience a deeper level. The gorgeous thing about this slow, gentle exercise is that once you grasp the choreography you find that every bit of you can move deliberately, controlled and yet relaxed, aware of space around you. Time stretches as you move through the form you've learned. You're totally in the experience. And if you are doing tai chi with a group of people the shared energy of moving together creates an almost transcendent connection. "Flow" state--what artists experience when deeply immersed in their work, what runners find when all goes well. I believe that's what I'm talking about....
I remind myself that nothing lasts forever. Even as I whip through a chore, I am pulled like taffy back into the present, if I'm lucky. My situation at home is challenging, so it has its own quality of slowness. I am trying to find grace and goodness in moments that mortar all the rest together. Thank you, Sari, for your columns and thoughtfulness.
Love this excerpt and plan to get the book. One thing I really resonated with was how we usually approach aging: trying to add years to our life by diet, etc. While all of this is great, my experience since entering my 70’s is that it can consume us. Doctors, tests, preventative stuff, exercise, research into longevity...It can be a rat race. Getting it into perspective is key or our days are filled with these efforts. “Densifying” our hours with enjoyable, meaningful things...other than kale! 🥬🥬 What a concept!!
Love this. I have been trying to live this way – to notice things, stop multi-tasking, be “present” more often in my life – as a way to reduce stress, to calm my brain, to respond better to day-to-day demands. But I hadn’t thought of it this way, that by noticing what’s right here in new ways, we can stretch and “densify” time. It’s great for me, as one who cannot easily travel or make huge changes to my life, to be reminded that I can seek ways to get more curious within life here and now – like a little kid excited to turn on (and off and on) a light switch.