Tick tock! Tick tock! We live in a world that is a hostage to time. We have clocks on our stoves, our microwave ovens, our phones, our wrists, our radios, the dashboards of our cars, our computers, our televisions, our mantles, our bedside tables. Reminders of time are everywhere and we seem to always be rushing from one place to another, one task to a different one. We time ourselves when we exercise, when we take tests, when we cook. Tick tock! Tick tock! We rush around all day long, in bondage to schedules that seem to dominate every waking minute of our lives. We tell ourselves that we must be here, be there, do this, do that within a certain time frame or we will fall behind. The moments when we are not near a time piece of any kind are rare. Our lives seem almost to be a competition to see how much we are able to cram into a day, an hour, a few minutes. We measure the success or failure of a twenty four hour period on how much we are able to accomplish. Tick tock! Tick tock!
The modern world is efficient. We have mechanized so many of our tasks. Life is much like an assembly line going ever faster and faster like the crazed rotating belt in the old I Love Lucy episode in which the main characters are working in a candy making factory that pushes them to work at an unrealistic pace. We arise ever earlier and earlier. We no longer need the sun to alert us that it is time to forgo our slumbers and get to work. We have alarms that interrupt our slumbers in the last hours before the dawn. We rush about so that we might exercise or read or do some laundry before we join the caravan of cars inching toward our jobs. Some use the time on the highways to meditate, others make phone calls or catch up on the news. Even as the wheels on our autos roll forward we are glancing nervously at the clock, hoping that we make it on time to wherever we are driving.
So goes our days, watching the clock to be certain that we meet our obligations. There are meetings to attend, appointments to keep, projects to be completed. We constantly update our calendars and set goals for accomplishing our many tasks. We are reliable. We do whatever we have agreed to do, sometimes overbooking ourselves to the point of anxiety. Periodically the thought of running away to some primitive place that has no clocks flits momentarily through our minds but we have to banish such frivolous thinking quickly or we well fall behind and never catch up.
All throughout the hours we are focused on doing, moving, rushing, often pushing ourselves until the wee hours of the night when we finally allow ourselves to stop because we are exhausted. For some of us the internal ticking of our own bodies throws us into fits of insomnia and as tired as we are we spend the quiet hours watching the minutes tick away taking us closer and closer to a new day when we must repeat our tasks over and over again. Tick tock! Tick tock!
Rushing about too often defines who we are. We know how to work hard but we sometimes have no idea how to really relax or we feel guilty when we do. As parents we worry that if we don’t enroll our children in a plethora of activities that they will fall behind their peers. It’s rare these days to see children playing in their yards aimlessly inventing games without adult supervision. Instead they have lessons to attend and play dates that involve heavily choreographed activities. Like their parents they rise early and work hard until it is late at night in preparation for the real world that they will face as adults. The days of just being a kid seem to be a thing of the past.
I’m certainly not one who should judge those who have eschewed the art of relaxation because I must confess to being a world class control freak, a type A+ personality. I plan out my life with lists and calendars and rubrics. Not even in retirement do I forgive myself for enjoying a lazy day with no visible accomplishments. I feel guilty if my calendar is aimless and yet I have found those so called gypsy like moments to be invigorating. It is when I sit in the quiet out of range of any reminders of the passage of time that I am able to really get in touch with my inner spirit. I often wonder why I don’t schedule off the clock minutes for myself into each and every day.
There was a time when life was short and brutish for most humans. Our ancestors did not live nearly as long as we now tend to do. Their clock was the sun and when the heavenly rays of light were gone they retired for the evening. In modernizing the way we live we have in many ways made our journeys more complex. For thousands of years humans owned little more than the most basic of necessities. That has changed most especially for Americans. We have homes filled with items that demand our attention. The flotsam and jetsam of consumption must be maintained and repaired just as we must care for our bodies and minds and those of our children. The demands on our time seem to grow exponentially with our embrace of time saving devices. We work longer and harder to pay for the car that takes us to our jobs, the clothes that we wear in our careers, the daycare for our children, the services that we need to assist us in keeping pace with our obligations. So goes our rat race to the top. Tick tock! Tick tock!
So many of the problems that we face in the world today might be mitigated if only we were willing to slow down just a bit. We need to consider what it is that we really need to be happy and healthy. We may find when we honestly think about it that it is not nearly as much as we now seek. We have so many devices that were initially designed to make our tasks easier and quicker to do. Instead of using the extra time that we have gained to take on even more responsibilities perhaps we should consider what we might do to slow down just a bit. There really is a beauty that we too often deny ourselves in just sitting and fully enjoying the moment. There are valuable lessons for our children to learn in ranging free from their parents once in a while. Looking within ourselves and slowing the constantly running motors in our brains is an accomplishment in itself and one that may actually be as important as walking for an hour on a treadmill.
I’m still working on ignoring the clock here and there. It is foreign to my nature to tarry for a bit. I very much appreciate the example of those who devote themselves to meditation on a daily basis. I like the idea of pausing to slip away from the the constant rush. I sometimes wonder if the oldest among us are as wise as they seem to be because their bodies have forced them to take a break from the ticking of the clock. They have had to learn how to just sit and enjoy the beauty of a single moment. I suspect that as they do their entire perspective begins to change.
I know that we can’t go back to a more primitive time and probably don’t want to anyway but the admonition from Henry David Thoreau to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” seems more necessary than ever. We can’t all run away to live a quiet life beside a pond but each of us is capable of dialing back our tendencies to measure ourselves by a list of accomplishments and possessions. If we really think about who we are and what makes us the happiest we will no doubt find that it is in the simplest of pleasures that we find the most fulfillment.
I’m still working on slowing down the clock or at least ignoring it for a time each and every day. It’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks but I know that it is something that I must attempt to do. The clock is ticking and I want to learn how to tame it so that it no longer runs my life. I believe that it is a worthy goal for each of us to achieve.