I’ve had aquatic life on the brain lately. Don’t ask. Everything’s weird. 

But you know what we could all use a little of? Octopus Time. A little OT. 

This is how Sy Montgomery describes the way her experience of time changed while she had her hands in the tank of a giant Pacific octopus named Athena. 

She writes about it in her (fabulous!) book, The Soul of an Octopus:

“…as we stroked her in the water, we entered into Athena’s experience of time—liquid, slippery, and ancient, flowing at a different pace than any clock.” 

Ok. So how do we get some of THAT magic, without an octopus handy? 

“Feelings of awe are known to expand the human experience of time… So does ‘flow,’ the state of being fully immersed in focus, involvement, and enjoyment.” 

The key? Mirror neurons—“a type of brain cell that respond equally whether we’re watching another person perform an action, or whether we’re performing that action ourselves,” she writes.

Spend an hour watching a video of a calm person doing a watercolor, and you’ll feel calm. Spend weeks in lockdown with a person whose brain is on perpetual spin cycle, and, well you know what happens. 

Montgomery says she wishes she could stay with Athena forever, in all that strangeness and beauty…but an octopus tank is FREEZING, man. Her hands go red with cold and she has to call it. 

“Taking our hands out of Athena’s tank felt like breaking a spell. I was suddenly desperately uncomfortable, awkward, and incompetent…It was as if I had trouble returning to the person, the writer, I was before.

We’ve all been submerged in a kind of octopus time, whether we want it or not—we’re in that floaty space where we can’t tell what’s up or down. It’s disorienting and strange.

We may emerge from it not quite knowing who we are, wondering if just the world changed, or if we’ve changed, too.

People say we need structure right now. Not everyone loves structure (including me). It’s not about the structure in and of itself; it’s about what it holds. 

When I run my workshops and classes, I talk a lot about creating the “container”—it’s what holds that space apart from other space. We need it. Not just because we “like structure” or need it, but because we need it to hold the work we do. 

I’m pretty strict about it with a group—and on my own. 

And I’m hardly a “structured” person!

You don’t have to love structure. You have to decide that there’s a tank you’d like to climb into. 

My OT happens between 7:30 and 11am. I try not to get tangled in email threads too early in the day. That’s when I do my heavy mental lifting, which for me is reading and writing, which I then use to make sense of stuff and to move my own work forward. 

Maybe for you that’s … 5am (God bless you!) or midnight. Whatever!

You really CAN create some octopus time, if you’re willing to block everything else out and put yourself in the path of a delicious trance, even just for a little while. 

You and I likely don’t have access to an octopus, but what’s amazing is how much we can be like them:

We can pour ourselves into a thimble of time, and then emerge, stretching our tentacles, tasting the world with our skin.

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