Was it only last Saturday evening that we turned the clocks back? I’ve been in an altered state ever since! I don’t really understand why it affects me so. After all, it is simply a mechanical turn of the digits that results in it “getting dark earlier” at night or “getting light earlier” in the morning. 60 minutes one way or another.
Time is one of those things that I take for granted. There are specific measures of it. I have goals and habits centered around it. There is social approval and disdain associated with my ability to pay attention to it, and there are occasional consequences if I am “late” or “early”. But, as Einstein once cogitated, it is relative.
As I child, I spent languorous summers with days that seemed endless. Time was measured by when the street lights came on, when the library opened, and when the Wonderful World of Disney began. Now I am a slave to my “therapeutic hour” during the workday, habituated to watching the “10 o’clock news”, (although now that I can stream TV, even that is changing), and regimens associated with taking my medications. Days and months fly by and I wonder where all that time went.
I need to make major adjustments when the seasonal shift of “fall back” or “leap forward” occurs. The most outward of these is changing the clocks themselves. The effort involved in keeping track of this chronometer inventory is substantial, with many opportunities for overlooking one of my devices. Inevitably, I forget one. Clocks on the ovens (microwave and gas) are well displayed and easily changed. The wall clock just needs its hands moved. My wristwatch (yes, I still wear one) the same. Not so much the grandfather clock that has the chimes that must be rung every quarter hour. And I am not exactly sure how to change my car clock.
But it is not that simple with my body clock. For some reason still not fully understood psychologically or neurologically, our brain’s perception of time seems more fluid. There is a classic experiment often shared in Introduction to Psychology classes where a Frenchman by the name of Michel Siffre (voluntarily) agreed to live in an underground cave for two months in total darkness. The experiment was designed to see if the perception of time was based on circadian rhythms or was triggered by when the sun rose. Turns out, for Siffre at least, time “slowed” down, although only by a few minutes. Instead of a 24-hour day, his day turned out to be 24 hours and five minutes long.
Other researchers such as David Eagleman have explored human perception of time based on emotional perceptions. Seems we all experience a slowing or hastening when certain circumstances are present, especially in the face of challenge or fear. Eagleman explores how our brains make sense of differing rates of information coming in and then creates a temporal reality to contain them. According to Eagleman, “Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain …”
When aging (passage of time) is looked at in terms of lifespan, early researchers focused primarily on the early part of growing. (Personally, I always felt this was because it was easier to watch children than it was to follow adults around.) Two famous developmental theorists, Freud and Erikson, are prime examples of this. Freud essentially ends development after puberty; Erikson at least took it past the teenage years into early adulthood. Still, this focus on childhood development has resulted in a smaller body of research being done on aging adults. Erikson redeemed himself, but it wasn’t until his later years, in his late 80’s and early 90’s where he added a stage of aging he called gerotranscendance.
So many of my friends tell me they “don’t feel 60-, 70-, 80-“, which is not at all unusual, given that it is a feeling (i.e., perception), based on a chronological measurement (years). Perception of how “old” we are can be attributed to the models we compare ourselves with/against, as well as uniquely individual metrics including pain, ability to move, mood, and attitude. There literally is no single metric that definitively defines “old”.
The prevalent image of “old” includes chronological years, but is more centered on functional limitations. “Old bodies” move more slowly than “young bodies”. “Old minds” are “slower”. Using these alone to measure aging doesn’t begin to do justice to the variability of dreams, abilities, capacities, and capabilities found among aging adults. It does, however, underscore a preference for speed that seems to be embedded in our industrialized, digital Western culture.
“Old” is a very vague descriptor of what developmental theorist David Levinson called the “seasons of life”. My mother remained “young at heart” well into her late 80s. I have been told by several people in my life that I am “an old soul”. A dear friend, mentor, and co-conspirator in challenging the more stereotypical aspects of aging has assured me that things change after hitting 80. I’ve mentioned Rebecca Latimer in previous blogs. To my mind, she wrote the definitive book, “You’re Not Old Till You’re 90; Best to be Prepared; however!”
My personal prediction (always a chancy thing) is that as our lifespan extends and more and more of us populate these later years remaining physically fit, cognitively engaged, and able to adapt and accommodate the inevitable challenges of the wear and tear on our bodies, we will find that our perception of time expands. I am hopeful that fewer of us will have to “wait to die”; neither being kept alive without purpose and meaning, nor denied access to restorative surgery. I am hopeful that communities will find ways to accommodate the needs of aging adults and hold them as valued members instead of burdens to be housed in nursing homes or elder ghettos.
I am hopeful that I will adjust to it getting dark so soon and that Winter will bring its own sense of slowed pace and renewal.