Activity slows the sense of time; passivity speeds it up. Spend a day making anything you love and you enter a state described by artists as a contemplative state. This state is hyper-aware, and the rush of passing time is suspended. It feels good, and afterwards you desire it again, like a longing for home. But spend a day watching television and you’ll look up at dusk and wonder what happened.
A talk with a new love can last 12 hours, and seem like nothing. It is unfortunate that we use similar language to describe both the active and passive experiences – “it seemed like no time” when they are really very different.
Slowed time is addicting. Writers are literally addicted to writing, and painters are literally addicted to painting. Woodworkers are addicted to the lathe. They discover over time — some discover it earlier than others — than it matters little where you start, or what you are working on, as long as it matters to you. It is the activity of the will to create that suspends time and orders the faculties in a way that feels like a return to some Eden.
The common lament of getting older — that time passes too fast — is from the slow descent into passivity.
“Active” and “passive”, as I’m using them, does not correspond to the traditional distinction between Martha and Mary, the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer. These two terms were actually unfortunate, since the contemplative life is as active as the active life, just in different ways. Contemplation is another form of activity; the contemplative is quite active at the level of the engagement of mind, emotion, and volition. No, “active” and “passive”, here, mean something like “work” and “entertainment”.
Earlier generations’ protests about the theatre and novels and recreation are now interpreted as puritan reactions. Some doubtlessly were, but for the most part the modern is simply explaining those old critiques in the superficial terms he can understand. We err to think those old ones were just horrified by song or skin. No, they were horrified by how the slack senses of the watchers were deteriorating. Actually, the ancients were protesting the mode of those pasttimes as much as the content. They were protesting the passivity.
Work, when at something you love, slows time, and in the slowing makes the moments thicker. There is more there. Being simply entertained speeds time up and thins it out.