The Illusion of Time

illusion of time

On October 10th, 2006, at the age of 36, I suffered a stroke. Thankfully, it wasn’t a major stroke and I was able to make a full recovery after spending a week in the hospital!

In the weeks that followed, I can’t count how many times I heard the phrase:

“But you’re too young to have a stroke!”

My answer to this was always the same:

“Really? What age is the right age to have a stroke?”

Time is such a funny illusion, isn’t it? You just can’t count on time to abide by your plans. Kids get cancer. People are always dying “before their time”. And 36 year-olds have strokes.

I have an aunt who is 84 and has more verve and energy than some 65 year olds. The way I see it, unless you are an actuary, there is no use getting caught up in the numbers games of time and age.

And then there is the other side of the coin. I remember one time last year, when my son was four years-old, he asked me how old I was. I asked him to guess and he said “20”. When I told him that I was 36 he just looked at me wide-eyed and said “W-O-W!” For a few months after that, he thought that 36 was the largest number possible in the entire universe. That summer, we went to a major league baseball game and when we walked into the stadium he looked at the crowd and said, “Wow Dad! There must be 36 people here!!”

I’m still not sure how I feel about that one!

Like a true illusion, time really depends on your perspective. To a four year-old, 36 is an impossible age to imagine. While to someone in their 50’s or 60’s, 36 is too young to have a stroke. And then there is the most dangerous of all illusions about time – the idea that you will be given “enough time” to live your life.

That’s why I let my focus on the present moment free me from the illusion of time. I’ve found that life’s more fun that way!

Photo by Joe Y Jiang.

22 thoughts on “The Illusion of Time”

  1. Wow, that sure is a reality check! I remember where I was on that day…it was the day that my son was born, 5.5 weeks prematurely. I’ve been in and out of the hospital in the weeks after that, but it wasn’t my own health I was concerned about.

    But it was an experience that shook up my perception of time. All of a sudden 5.5 weeks went from a relatively short period to a lot of weeks early (thankfully without major consequences).

    Loved the article, you’ve got a new subscriber Patrick.

  2. great post. i think we’d all live longer and fuller lives if we think of time like an illusion. glad you had a full recovery after the stroke. keep on trucking !

  3. Great article Patrick!

    I agree that age is how you feel and what you do and not what your year of birth dictates… In fact, I think I’m getting younger each day ! ;)

    I’ve seen some Kung Fu teachers in their eighties being as flexible and energetic as a kid running for the ice cream truck… It really shocks you, but it shows that anything can be achieved if you care enough for yourself and others.

  4. I guess me worrying about starting university a few years after high school isn’t such a big deal after all.

  5. Albert | UrbanMonk.Net

    I love it! The power and joy of being in the present is slowly spreading , and it’s fantastic that everyone is catching on to it.

    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  6. Patrick, your story really moved me. It is surprising to me that such a young man would have to endure such a thing. Then again, my ex husband had a silent heart attack three weeks ago, and he’s only 49.

    I wrote a post the other day and included a link to your post here, because we should all realize we never know how much time we have, and need to make the best of each and every day.

    Thank you for writing about your experience.

  7. It’s wonderful if we can appreciate every day we have as if it was our last. However, we should never lose sight of the long term. We need to invest in the future by making good decisions NOW.

  8. That’s such a funny story about your son and the number 36. For my son the biggest number he can think of, for a number of years now, has been No. 158. I’ve no idea why or where he plucked this seemingly arbitrary number from, but it is invariably the number that he picks when trying to describe a large amount, ie people in a crowd, number of years since dinosaurs roamed the earth, ants living in an anthill. Don’t you just love how a child’s mind works!

  9. There is that old saying, “Live today as if it were your last, but plan and invest as if you will live forever!”

  10. Time is probably the most precious thing we have, and yet we seem content to let it drift by. There are many times I can think of in my life when I ‘wasted’ time. I now know I will not spend my time regreting it, but learn my lesson and make the most of every single moment I have.
    Best wishes,

  11. So true! I love the John Wooden quote, “Learn as if you will live forever; live as if you will die tomorrow.” Every day of life is precious, no matter how old you are!

    Tim D
    mobile gratitude journal – free with promo code “laugh”

  12. Time is not a reality, but a concept. So, there is no yesterday and tomorrow. Really, these two do not exist. What is left is the present and everything in it – the only true reality.

    Time is an invention of man to help him understand the present. But such an invention succeeds only in giving him illusions.

    If we could only free ourselves from this illusion, and focus on reality – the present – then, we will be free from our troubles in life, most of which are only imaginary.

    Let me tell you that the present moment does not even have a name. Man only labels it with the name ‘present’ to distinguish it from the concepts of past and future. If the past and future do not even exist, what does “present” refer to?

  13. Thanks for the reminder that time is really relative! I enjoyed your stories of your son . . what a cutie!

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

  14. Patrick – Thank you for the vulnerable and whimsical way to remind us to live in the present moment. After being diagnosed with cancer in 1994 I began to realize the importance of the gift of the present moment.

    In my interest to learn more about the present moment I found out that the Greeks – seeking to be as descriptive as possible – would define time in two ways: kronos and kairos. Kronos gives us the word chronology. It is the time judged by second, minutes, hours, days, and years. Kairos is a bit illusive but was used to describe a moment when kronos is intersected with possibilities and potential. In many ways I see it as the present moment. There is much to be said about kairos thinking.

  15. that’s a brilliant post Patrick, lots of people keep delaying important tasks because of believing that they are still young but time passes quickly without them noticing it

  16. Time might be an illusion but it definitely exists! Two objects with the same x, y and z, will not collide unless they are in the same position at the same time! What do you say about this?

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