Time has become our enemy. We fight it, spend it, race it, trick it, waste it, leverage with it and organise it down to the second. This list is endless on how we attempt to manipulate our time. But the fact is ‘time’ is a man-made concept1that helps us organise our day but has somehow dictated our whole being.
We surround ourselves with clocks. We wear watches, exercise trackers, mobile phones. We are never far away from a clock. With our over reliance on time keeping it influences us in more ways than one. We strive to move forward at an increasingly fast pace with a desire to achieve things at warp speed; and we wonder why we reach burn out!
We have our own internal body clock called the circadian rhythm. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a tiny region of the brain located within the hypothalamus, that is situated directly above the optic chiasm. It’s responsible for controlling the circadian rhythms. As a side note I have fond memories of walking down the aisle as my sister’s bridesmaid twenty odd years ago doing my best not to be overwhelmed by the situation. To help me with this task I started to revise for my neuropsychology exam that was due a week later that included the SCN. I was also a huge fan of sleep in my early teens. My mum even took me to the doctors as I slept so much! The SCN regulates our sleep/wake cycle. There have been numerous experiments regarding the effect of the removal of sensory triggers that we have come to rely on to help us regulate this cycle; namely natural light and the removal of all clocks. Under these conditions the body at first regulates well and ‘keeps’ relatively well to time however the longer the period of sensory deprivation (i.e. limited light) the longer the distortion in regulating time as well as an increase in depressive mood states. There is also a reduction in cognitive function and responsiveness to tasks.2It’s worth noting that our body will maintain a routine of some sort, however, it’s not necessarily to our 24-hour cycle. Does this suggest that our internal circadian rhythm cycle is different from our man-made version?
We seem to be more inpatient with the pace of life. Demanding things arrive earlier or be achieved faster. Advances in technology help and hinder us. They pray on our desires to live a sped-up life. If we want something, it’s at the touch of a button.
On top of all that we are then faced with our own routines that help us keep track of time. I hold my hands up high and admit that I love a routine. I lay credit to a well-known baby book that helped me establish a routine to navigate my daughters first year of life. Routine gives us the feeling of having life under control.3That we are in control of our lives. However, there are downsides to controlling our time so rigidly. It can make us feel stifling, controlled, with an ironic twist of making us feel a lack of time. Our minds can be distracted with past events and future plans. We rarely take the time to live in the ‘now’.
Time came to a head for me a couple of weeks ago when my husband and I were going away to Italy to celebrate a significant birthday of mine. Leading up to it, I admit I was getting stressed. I had to arrange and organise two children and a dog, which seemed to require the best part of family and friends. To top it off my highly sensitive fur baby was becoming stressed when I was packing so a trip to the vets was added in to the mix. My life stopped as I knew it and in its place was a continuous mini count down. Now usually in times of stress, as a life coach I would advocate breaking down life’s drama’s in to small bite sized nuggets that will stress you out less. However, it felt the reverse for me. It became a myriad of time-based questions: What time are we dropping kids off? Is there time to go to the vets? How long does it take to drive to the airport? What time shall we leave? What time does check in close? Will we have any time to eat at the airport? How far away is the car park and how long is the transfer to the airport? How long is the flight? What time are we picking the car up? How long is the drive to our house? It was mentally exhausting. Ten hours after leaving our house we arrived in Northern Italy in a mountain village which required 3 km hairpin track in the dark! We then realised that we were rather remote and only had two cookies between us. There was one restaurant that was fully booked as it was international women’s day. The restaurant and B&B staff’s kindness and generosity were remarkable they didn’t need to take two tired strangers whose Italian was beyond poor, but they did. They gave us bread and puchitto ham and we bought a bottle of wine to take back to the house. It was one of the tastiest meals; potentially due to how hungry we were but also, we were taken aback as to their eagerness to help us.
The following day, when the sun rose, we realised what surrounded us. The panoramic mountain vista was breath taking. We could see Chiavenna town below us. We realised then how remote our mountain village of Pianazzola was. The stone cottages were built so close to one another that the cobbled alleyways created a maze and the chimney on top of top of slated roofs created a beautiful base frame to our view. You could hear the villagers starting their daily routines of bringing in the fire wood, thrashing their rugs outside and chatting with one another. All against the backdrop of the aroma of fresh coffee being brewed. But what was truly deafening was the silence.
We drove down the mountain road to Chiavenna to take a look around and get a bite to eat; now, this implies that it was a delightful journey, but I’m not going to lie to you, I am a terrible passenger. It comes to light that I am even worse when I’m up high and putting my life in the hands of my husbands driving skills going down and around hairpin turns. What’s worse is that the local, in their beaten-up Panda’s and tractors…yes tractors, navigate up and down the mountain with remarkable speed and annoying skill. We made it safety down in one piece but a little frazzled. I am pleased to report that I learnt to trust my husband’s spatial awareness and leave him to it by the end of our stay. Our marriage still intact.
By lunch time we had found a Crotti restaurant, which wasn’t our first choice but as it turned out was perfect for us and clearly meant to be. Law of Attraction clearly working for us. With our taste buds satisfied and our stomachs full we went to explore. The Italians really do have the work/life balance sorted. When we first entered Chiavenna it was bustling with people, all chilling out drinking coffee enjoying the early March sunshine and socialising. By the time we walked back through it was deserted. The Italians don’t work against the natural biorhythms. Majority of café’s, shops and museums close for their Riposa.4We headed back to the house as all I wanted to do was to sit on the balcony and enjoy the views and read my book. This is when for me time stopped. It no longer existed. That amazing feeling continued in to Sunday. It felt like the longest of days. I stopped thinking about what needed to be done in the future, or the consequences of what had happened in the past. All I cared about was staring at the ever-changing mountains and listening to the silence. I was 100% present in my now and time stood still. There was nowhere else, that I wanted to be, but here.
Yes, I was missing the kids, but we’d checked in with them and I knew they were having fun and were safe. They didn’t need my attention. We drank coffee, read and watched the world go by at the most glorious of paces. Every now and then by accident I would see the clock on my phone and I registered the time with utter astonishment. What was truly lovely is that my husband was able to settle. He struggles with stillness (although he has been learning to meditate with the app Calm) and hasn’t read a book or magazine in the past 12 years. Our children once asked him if he could read, as they would see me read all the time but never him! He read a magazine that he had bought in July 2018 which still had the wrapper on and he started reading a book.
We went to explore Pianazzola and found a beautiful spot that had a flowing water trough and bench where we could just sit and gaze at the trees or snow topped mountains whilst listening to the trickling water taking deep lung full of breaths whilst we both meditated. Blissful.
It felt like a rude awakening when on Monday we had to start thinking of time again. I do confess to being rather put out about this and resented the conversation relating to time. I did succumb in the end to agree on a time to leave and start the reverse process of returning home back to ‘time’.
I love Eckhart Tolle5stance of time that is worth adopting ‘End the delusion of time. Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops – unless you choose to use it. To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honour and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfilment in whatever form. Both are illusions.’
What Eckhart is saying is that time is an illusion of our mind, and our mind can be so consumed by past events and things that could happen that it takes us away from being in the now and enjoying the present. As he says,‘there is never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be’. In a practical sense Eckhart refers to this as ‘clock time’ he says it’s okay to think about the future as in making plans for an event or appointment, but put it in the diary, or on paper but immediately return to the present moment.
So let’s not wish our lives away. Take your watch off and see how it feels. Allow yourself the time to be in your now. There is no other place you should be living. If this is a struggle evaluate your diary. What are you agreeing to that is taking up your time? Are you achieving a balance? Be consciously aware of when your thoughts start to migrate both in the past or to the future and ping them back to your now. Give yourself the best present by being 100% present.
1The concept of time occurred approximately 2000BC; with the Egyptians introducing the concept of two 12-hour split time phases. The introduction of mechanical clocks was introduced in the 14thcentury.
2There are lots of studies that I could reference here however, the this programme highlights the points beautifullyHorizon: Body Clock: What makes us tick?Originally aired BBC2 Thursday 11 October 2018. Due to air again: 1 April 2019 BBC 2 23:15
3Empowering habits are different, also known as ‘Miracle Morning routines’. These can include meditation, exercise, journaling, mantra, rituals of having a cup of tea or coffee, how we shower, clean our teeth (i.e. use your non-dominate hand, it wakes your brain up).
4Riposa is the same as the Spanish Siesta.
5Tolle Eckhart. 2005, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Page 40-41