You don’t have to be Dr Einstein to understand that time is relative. And you don’t have to be Dr Strange to control it.
Even though it took Switzerland’s most famous PhD to prove it, the relativity of time is something everyone knows intimately. When you’re waiting for the school bell to ring, stuck in a meeting or at the airport, or in labour at the hospital, every second can feel an eternity. When you’re enjoying a holiday in a Mediterranean paradise, watching your children suddenly collecting their diploma from high school, or simply living another average day in our tech-saturated world, time never seems to move so fast. But, short of being a Marvel superhero, can you control it?
In short: yes.
In fact, there are many ways to control time, ranging from the mundane to the extreme. You could keep a diary or do more things you enjoy. You could skip the time-sucking business meetings by becoming a freelancer. You could climb a mountain, as time moves more slowly at higher altitudes. Or, most radical of all, you could spend 40 days in a dark cave, as Franco-Swiss explorer Christian Clot did.
But one of the most reliable – and accessible – ways of controlling time is through an ancient and widespread practice: meditation. Popularized in the west by teachers and writers like Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Matthieu Ricard and the Dalai Lama, meditation involves sitting calmly, breathing deeply, and quieting the mind, possibly by focusing on a mantra.
But you don’t have to sit. In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh gives practical guidance on how to incorporate mindfulness into daily life, from washing dishes to walking in the park. Whether you’re sitting, walking or doing tai chi, meditation can be used to reduce stress, improve focus, and promote overall well-being.
And stretch time. Research has shown that meditation can actually change the way we experience time. One study found that meditators reported feeling as though time passed more slowly during a meditation session compared to non-meditators.
How? One theory is that it has to do with the way our brains process information. Our brains are constantly processing information from our environment, and this can make time seem to fly by. When we meditate, however, we’re able to quiet our minds and focus our attention inward, which may slow down our perception of time.
Another theory is that meditation can help us become more mindful and present in the moment. When we’re fully engaged in the present moment, we’re not worrying about the past or the future, and this can make time seem to slow down. In this sense, it’s similar to what people report from states of “flow” – deep, concentrated activity that makes you completely unaware of the passage of time.
Is meditation the same as Dr Strange-like powers of time control? Not in any objective sense. It’ll take a different kind of superpowers to make that business meeting end a half hour earlier than scheduled. But then again, what’s important about time is the subjective part, how we experience it. When we’re fully present and focused through meditation, we may be able to get more out of the time we have, and make it feel like it’s lasting longer.
And it doesn’t take a genius – or a superhero – to know that’s something we’d all benefit from.