Speed Trap

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flown. How did it get so late so soon?”
Dr. Seuss

In the world of health and lifestyle, most of us start with the basics of food and exercise, physiology and anatomy, cardio and strength. Next we tackle things like stress and meditation, drilling down into human experience to deeper layers of health. But after awhile, we always seem to find ourselves coming to grips with the problem of time. 

Time lies right at the center of our lifestyle challenges. If you’ve got enough of it, you can train hard and arrange the details of your life to get the optimum result. But if time is short, opportunities for developing health and skill begin to fade away. It’s a universal complaint. “I’d like to eat better, exercise, meditate and create a better life for myself, but I just don’t have the time.”

Maybe so, maybe not. But in either case, our perception of time is the crux of the matter. If we can understand this curious feature of the human experience, maybe we can make some real progress.

But when we travel the world, we hear people talk about time in distinctly different ways. If you’re in Africa, you’ll hear people talk about “Africa time.” If you’re in the American Midwest, people talking about “Indian time.” When in Australia, people talk about “Aboriginal time.” In the far North, it’s “Alaska time.” In all these cases, the speaker is referring to a slower pace and a relaxed approach to getting things done. “We thought that he’d be here around noon, but he’s on Africa time.” 

These forms of time sound strange to our white, Western ears. Our modern lives are ruled by the regular ticking of the clock, the regimented passage of instants. We’ve been raised on the passage of regular intervals and we can scarcely imagine that life might unfold in any other way. Our minds are tyrannized by clocks, ruled and domesticated by linear time.

Some of us believe that this kind of time is all there is, but native and indigenous people have been living an organic time sense for hundreds of thousands of years. In other words, Africa time, Alaska time, Indian time and Aboriginal time are normal. For the vast majority of our history, people have lived with a time sense that was circular, flexible, expandable, fluid, contextual, organic and seasonal. Time was rich, mysterious and alive. In this world, people moved at the speed of habitat and tribe. The default pace was easy and casual. Being “on time” would only have meaning in the context of natural events. With no mechanical clocks to set the pace, people relied on nature’s time cues, cues that spoke directly to the deepest levels of human physiology and cognition. 

In contrast, white man’s time is rigid, linear, precise and relentless. Events are measured, not against natural processes, but against discrete, machine-based intervals. In this process, mechanical time removes us from the waxing and waning of nature just as surely as if we were locked indoors or rocketed into outer space. Nothing has been so destructive to the human-nature relationship as the clock. 

Tragically, we even bring the clock into our athletic training and events. Physical movement would be a golden opportunity to reintegrate our bodies with natural processes around us, but we blow it by compulsively measuring our speed. Instead of looking at the sky, the water, the plants or the animals for direction, we look at a digital display. Our minds go away from nature. This practice is not Paleo.

The clock drives our behavior and isolates us from our surroundings, increasing our stress and our sense of alienation. In this way, we begin to see that White Man’s time is a very real threat to human health and the quality of the human experience. The constant urgency, the relentless activity and most of all, the radical de-synchronization with the natural rhythms of the living world – these things extract a destructive toll on the human body and spirit. In short, White Time kills. 

Of course, many of us recognize the life-destroying qualities of artificial, linear time, but what are the alternatives? The boss wants you at the meeting at 10:00 am; if you want to keep your job, you’ve got to move your ass. But that doesn’t mean you have to live every moment of your life by the linear clock. You’ve got flexibility. Use White Time sparingly. Use clocks for linear work and aboriginal time for everything else. Set some temporal mileposts and then settle back into Africa Time, Alaska Time or Indian Time. Not only is it better for your health, it’s far more interesting. 
You might even begin to see the natural world around you.