Remember when you were a kid and the days of summer seemed endless? You just hung out and played and did whatever you felt like doing. You paid little or no attention to clocks and knew it was time to go home when the sun got low in the sky. Robin Easton in her wonderful book Naked in Eden: My Adventure and Awakening in the Australian Rainforest, described how she had lost track of all clock and calendar time; she did not know what day of the week or even what month it was. I wish I could escape into that timeless universe. I suggest we all need to get back to our youth and engage in some timeless experiences.
Clocks are important in the modern world. Without synchronized clock time it would be very difficult to hop on a plane and fly to Las Vegas or meet someone from across town for lunch. But I think we have taken things too far. We have lost the ability to think about things in terms of themselves, and have instead started measuring everything by clock time. Instead of using clocks for the good they can bring, we have allowed them to control us and are taking orders from a ticking mechanical monster.
In his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore spends several pages describing an incredible meal experience. He writes:
“I look at my watch. It is 1:25 A.M.! I have spent four hours at the table without ever once feeling bored or restless. Time has floated by imperceptibly, like water in a Venetian canal. Perhaps because of that, the meal has turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life. As I write these words more than a year later, I can still recall the bittersweet smell of the cipolline, the delicate sea notes of the cappon magro, the sound of leaves ruffling in the darkened piazza.
This is a beautifully written description of an event that determined its own beginning and end; not the clock. If he had been constrained by a clock, perhaps to rush through it so he could make the 11:00 p.m. show, he would have never written those words. It is unlikely the meal plus show would have registered the same impact. Just because you planned something doesn’t mean you have to follow through on the plan. Hold your plans loosely, if at all.
I’m not suggesting you can literally just start hanging out all the time and paying zero attention to the clock. However, I think we can capture some of the joy of our youth by changing our relationship with our clocks. I started noticing how often I check the time. It was ridiculous and I think most people don’t realize how clock and deadline driven they are. How often do you even go an hour without checking the time?
I’ve been trying to look at clock time less and less. I don’t want to go to a neighbor’s barbecue between 7:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m. I don’t want to be looking at a clock and saying “It’s time to go”. I want to go when I feel like going, if I feel like going, and I want to leave when I’m done. I’m living more and more of my days and parts of days like this. I don’t set an alarm clock anymore. I sleep until my body decides it’s done sleeping. Why do we feel the need to constrain so much of life by something artificial like the tick of clock? If you have something truly better to do than whatever you are doing, then change what you are doing. If you enjoy where you are at and what you are doing, then keep doing it.
I frequently get together with friends for a “happy hour” with good food and drinks. After about one very happy hour people start looking at their cell phones and taking note of the time. Inevitably by the second hour they are saying they have to go. Why do they need to look at the clock? If they truly were losing interest in the event, if it were nearing its natural end there would be no need to obsessively monitor clock time. No, what is happening is that we decide that we can only allocate about two hours to a get together with friends. That’s all the time we have to waste on such foolish indulgences; we must now return to the real world of responsibilities.
I understand responsibilities and the requirements to allocate your time wisely and I have written on the subject. However, I think it is time (ha ha) to find a little balance between scheduling and free flowing experiences. I feel much more free when I am not marching to the orders of a clock. I’m finding I can balance goals and responsibilities with a lot less scheduling and clock watching.
In her book Robin Easton also said something to the effect that she would like to take a trip around the world by just wandering from place to place. I don’t know exactly how she described it because I can’t find it again, but it resonated with me. It gave me an idea; I can’t travel the whole world right now but I can take a vacation. This fall I’m going to take some time for a wandering, free flowing experience vacation. I think I’ll put some water and some emergency snacks in my car and just go with no plans. I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I’ll sleep when I’m tired. I might find food at a roadside stand, at a convenience store, or at a nice restaurant Wherever the moment takes me is where I’ll go. It might be a remote beach, a forest, a casino, a movie theater, a museum, none of them or all of them. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep my eyes off the clock as much as possible. Give it a try yourself. You may find life just a little bit more peaceful and free as a result. So much of what constrains us, is what we do to ourselves. We can undo this one by simply ignoring the clock.
What do YOU think? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
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