If you were to interview a butterfly standing on the branch of a sequoia tree. Now, a butterfly lives only for a few days and a sequoia tree can live for over a thousand years.
If you were to ask the butterfly: Do you perceive the object on which your standing as being alive? The butterfly would say: of course not. I’ve been here all my life. Which is all of five days, and the tree hasn’t done a thing.
Well, it’s the same problem with the human being. If you were to ask a person—perhaps one that’s lived for a hundred years—do they perceive the earth, which is really 5 billion years old, as being alive they would say: of course not. I’ve been here my whole life, and it hasn’t done a thing.”
—Kinobe ‘Lucidity’ from “Soundphiles” (1997)
I often struggle with a sense of perspective. Time has never before been measured or perceived in such tiny amounts. We can engage with others in real-time, our phones ping us at every message or @mention, our minds ever alert to the next notification, the next cry for attention. How many notifications do you have set on your phone?
With our minds and bodies dwelling so much in the present—hunched over a desk or staring face down into a handheld device—it becomes difficult to have a sense of perspective; to fully appreciate our moment in time or our place in the world. We reside in the present—doing, scanning, digesting—but we rarely find the time to be in the present. To slow down, let things wash over us and see our place in the bigger picture.
It is so easy to get lost in the rapid pace of things, struggling to keep up, seeking out the next update, the latest football transfer news, the clever CSS effect de-jour. The problem I personally found with our current fixation on the here and now is that the smallest things start to take on overwhelming importance.
It’s ironic that I spent seven years at university studying a fifteen hundred year period of human history and now I often find it hard to see past the next email or overdue to-do list.
There are two things I want to share with you that I have done in the past few months which have really helped me tackle my failing sense of perspective:
- Turn off notifications. All of them. On my computer and on my phone. I struggle to think of an occasion when my life was enriched by a notification.
- Meditation. I was really pleased to read Dan’s post on his experiences of meditation.
Meditation can mean lots of different things to different people but for me it meant stopping and checking in on myself, putting aside the minutiae that was preoccupying my mind and gaining a sense of perspective.
It’s not a silver bullet, but semi-regular meditation and mindfulness has helped me at least lay a better foundation for slowing down and appreciating the slower rhythms of history that can be so tragically overlooked.