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How to Slow Time Down

by John Hendry(more info)

listed in meditation, originally published in issue 212 - February 2014


There’s an old Jewish saying: “The years pass quickly, but the days pass slowly”. Be that as it may, there seems to be agreement that time is speeding up. When I Googled “Time speeding up”, it gave me over 50 million results. It’s as if we’re approaching a time whirlpool. At first I thought it was part of the ageing process. Indeed, in a TV play not so long ago, Jimmy McGovern had a man facing retirement reflecting that, when he was a twenty-year-old, a year was divided by twenty, but now that he’s sixty-five, a year is divided by sixty-five, ‘and that’s nothing’. I’m not comfortable with that. There’s something about it, about its logic perhaps, that doesn’t ring true. Also, if it was only caused by the ageing process, it would have featured in earlier literature. I’ve never come across it. Could it be something we’re all experiencing, something that’s happening for the first time? The other day I read an Indian writer who felt compassion for us in the West, with “their materialism and their anxiety about time speeding up”.

Cover Life and Soul

I reckon it’s caused, in part at least, by our acquisitiveness: the present is never enough. We’re victims of what a sociologist in the ’Sixties called “the revolution of rising expectations”. In The Spontaneous Healing of Belief (Hay House 2008), Gregg Braden describes what he calls a miracle: he’s a member of a tour party in Egypt who make an eight-hour journey to the Great Pyramid in four hours. He explains that, because the party are all anticipating the end of the journey and the tour of the Great Pyramid, it’s as if they’d completed the journey. In our case, we’re anticipating so much the end of what we’re doing at the moment and the arrival of the next pleasure, consciously or unconsciously, that the time between now and then speeds away.

We virtually live in the future. Days after the poor kids and teachers break up for the summer holidays shop windows proclaim back to school and start flogging satchels and writing pads. As I write, in September, a brochure has just arrived in the post emblazoned Christmas Gifts. OK, some of it’s proper forward planning, but we do seem to need something to look forward to, something that’s an improvement on the present, be it the next holiday, the end of the working day, or the next meal.

In addition, we have an instinct that makes us always need to know what we’re going to do next. As I’m writing this, I’m aware that next I’ll be doing a bit of shopping. It isn’t in the forefront of our mind, nor is it entirely unconscious. I suppose it’s what the philosopher Alastair McIntyre called preconscious. I asked my daughter, Melissa, what it would be like for her not to know what she was going to do next. “It would”, she said “do my head in”. There are moments when time yawns ahead alarmingly.

The more we look forward, from the next few minutes to the next few years, the more we diminish the present. It’s almost as if we’re wishing our time away. But there’s something else that’s even more sinister.

In the West, sleep disorders have prompted a multi-million pound industry. We do seem to welcome unconsciousness, incapacitated stupor, and altered states, whether achieved through pills, alcohol, or drugs. We welcome rest from pain, boredom, travail, stress, sin, effort, loneliness, grief, disappointment, worry, disability, fear, sickness, reality TV... whatever. And the ultimate rest is death.

There’s something well hidden, deep down in the darkest, murkiest, and furthest dungeon in the darkest, murkiest, and furthest recesses of our unconscious. And, like the other skeletons down there, it’s one we’d stoutly deny. It’s our death-wish.

Just about the darkest bit of humour I’ve ever come across was an Andy Capp cartoon by Reg Smythe. Andy’s lying on the settee, fag in one hand, bottle of beer in the other. Flo’s reading from the newspaper:

Flo: “It says here, People who don’t drink and smoke live longer.”

Andy: “Serves ’em right.”

If you don’t believe you’ve got an unconscious death-wish, then either you’re in denial or I’m wrong. But, if I’m right, what can we do about it?

If we find ourselves relishing the passing of time, why not spare a thought for our death-wish? We can rob it of its potency by holding it up, blowing the dust away, and polishing it, then watching it shrivel like Dracula in the sun.

“... the demon must be found, conjured up and made visible. Then it could be conquered.” Narcissus and Goldmund. Herman Hesse (1930)

Another thing we can do is to constantly indulge all our senses. We must keep telling ourselves to focus intently on what we’re experiencing in the moment. Buddhists call it mindfulness.

Pebbles by the Beach
Pebbles by the Beach

I was by the sea in Sussex. It was autumn. At dusk I went and sat by the sea to find whether I could see the light change. I gave it a good go. But I couldn’t manage it; it was cloudy and it was too gradual.   Next evening I had another go. This time the sky was clear and there was a big moon. I sat by the sea at the end of the gleaming stream of waxen moonlight. And I could see the stream of moonlight gradually getting brighter. Very slowly.

And there are loads of other things. How often do you listen to music without doing something else at the same time? Can you listen to two tunes in your head at the same time? And listen to birdsong and the whispers on a wind ... not just hearing: listening.

“As you continue to walk, become more aware of the sounds that surround you, that are continually touching you through the delicate surfaces of your eardrums. Become aware of those oh-so-delicate vibrations. The tiny movements and flutterings of life. The quiet susurrus of the wind across the green fingers of the grass. The flutters of a bird’s wings. The tiny sounds that only children hear. Focus on them, let them grow in your awareness until they are all that you hear.

The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod (Cygnus Review, Issue 5, 2009)

A Swiss chap called Werner once taught me how to taste wine: take a tiny sip and let it flow round the taste buds on either side of the tongue. Why not focus fully on every sip, every morsel? Taste a raisin and make it into a slow feast. You’re on a train going through a long, black tunnel, longer than you expected, still going through it, longer and longer ... and suddenly out into the relief and joy of a green landscape blessed with golden sunshine. The blind are still in the tunnel. In a special sunset, see a fantastically lovely coastline. I stroked the surprisingly bony head of a little lamb and, when I offered my finger, I felt the urgent tug of its coarse tongue. And smell: I always notice the grateful smell of growing basil when I water it. Choose three of your favourite smells, preferably from three different sources - fruit, flower, food etc. And then imagine smelling them in turn really hard. Notice the different kinds of smell, and the different effects each has on you. Do they give rise to different emotions, to different sensations? And do they reach different parts of your body?

Finally, invent a smell - a smell that will have ten times the impact of the ones you’ve been sensing. Breathe it in deeply. Let it change in flavour and intensity.

“Smells do give me impressions. I find them long or short, thin, thick, round, fat, deep or shallow, warm or cold, sharp or soft, pricking, spreading etc. I find they act differently as well. Some ooze, others waft, some are like fireworks and seem to shower pockets of smell, some linger and others are short-lived, some hurt your nose, others can be tasted, some I am very wary of and reluctant to breathe in, others I can’t breathe deeply enough and want to eat the smell.”

From an anonymous letter quoted in her Led by the Nose ... a Garden of Smells by Jenny Joseph (Souvenir Press, 2002).

Looking at moonlight, listening to contemplative music or the sounds of Nature, noticing tastes and smells ... they’re all ways of stilling the hectic rush, of diverting ourselves from ‘;the diurnal round, the trivial task’, and what better way of slowing the whole voracious helter-skelter than meditation.


I meditate for twenty minutes every morning before breakfast.   I sit upright and comfortable on the edge of my usual place on a settee in the front room.  I find it a good idea, before you start, to know what you’ll be doing the rest of the day, so that you’re not preoccupied with issues like what you’re going to eat and what shopping might be involved.   I have pen and paper handy so that, if an important thought does come up, I can write it down and forget about it during the meditation.  

If thoughts, images, or feelings do emerge, I relax about them;  they’ll wander off in their own good time.   If thoughts hang about too long, one way of getting rid of them is to say a mantra to yourself.   I often use the sound ‘OM’, pronounced ‘ooommm’, a mystic Sanskrit sound considered by Hindus to be the most sacred mantra; Hindus are pretty good at this stuff.   Another technique is to shift the centre of consciousness from the front brain - the home of what Buddhists call ‘the monkey mind’, full of chatter - to the mid-brain - the home of peace.

Another tip concerns the surprise felt, especially by beginners, when silence does arrive.   There’s the thought “Oh my god - this is it” and the resulting self-consciousness can interfere.   This is because you’re in ‘observer’ mode:  kick the observer into touch.  Become the silence.  And live in the peace of mindfulness.

In his The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, chides a friend for having the next segment of tangerine ready before he had finished the previous piece: “Thus we are sucked away into the future - and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life”.

There’s no time like the present: make more moments.


  1. Catherine Crawford said..

    Wow! What a fantastic article. I've often wondered about time - how we each perceive it and how, when totally absorbed in something (perhaps that's because of being in the present) time seems slower; or in a crisis when trivia are pushed out of the mind by an emergency then time can seem to slow down. Our daughter (even though she's 26) still wants to know what we'll be doing, where we'll go and what we'll eat when she visits.I like to sit in peace but she can't bear silence - tv goes on even if she's doing something else. I can't bear to have constant noise. All very interesting and your article has reminded me to sit in the stillness more often.Thank you for that.

  2. Susie Heavens said..

    This article speaks to me, as this exactly what I am trying to engage in having suffered from anxiety for a long time, but more recently much worse. It is so true how we tend to live in the future and of course the past too. Don't wait until you feel ill to do this, but do it now it will make such a wonderful difference to your life now and dare I say it, in the future too!!

  3. Mary McGowan Hart said..

    A fantastic article & so inspiring. I loved it. How often are we told, "Time waits for no one" or "Stop wasting time". Time is so strange, just a dream? Am I me or someone else? Would like to go back in time and see my relatives 150 yrs ago, I wounder if they thought about time?

  4. Ann Fillmore said..

    I needed this. All of it I 'know' and having it put together like this, just made my day.

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About John Hendry

John Hendry - Actor, writer, broadcaster - now in his third age just writer -  has a degree in Philosophy and English with experience as a Samaritan, a counsellor with MIND, and a spiritual healer. He is the author of Life and Soul, available in paperback and kindle from Authors Online and Amazon.

These days he lives with his art psychotherapist wife, Anthea, as a vegetarian peasant with an allotment in the Yorkshire Dales from where he sends free monthly m-b-s Newsletters to readers worldwide. John may be contacted on Tel: 01943 465963;

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