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Living by the clock

“We have to hurry, our train leaves at 12.38”. This is what my cousin said on a Sunday in June 2012, when I just came back from five months in Uganda and East Africa. I dislike pressure, especially on a Sunday when it isn’t necessary. Rushing for the train would mean that I have my destination in mind instead of being aware of the way. It would mean being 10 minutes ahead, instead of seeing that little boys’ smile and greeting this elder woman. It makes one live in the future instead of living the present moment.

However my cousin isn’t the only one rushing for the train. Last week I met someone on the way to an important meeting and after a quick hug and exchange of a few words I told him that I was in a hurry and speeded away. Isn’t it strange that we get influenced that much by the clock? What makes us missing a precious moment with an old friend to be on time for a meeting? And what makes us avoiding that we are 15 minutes later on a free Sunday?

What exactly is time? Isn’t it nothing more than something that we constructed to organize our world? Something that actually doesn’t really exist? Before watches existed we were fine with the sun and sundials (zonnewijzers). When the sun rose we knew that we had to get up, when the sun set, we knew it was time to go to bed (soon) and if the sun was on its highest point we knew that it was midday.

Definitely time and the clock help us to structure our world and to organize our activities. We might have become more efficient by using time, which allowed us to develop ourselves economically.

In Africa the way they deal with time is very different. If one askes the time to two random people on the street the difference in reported time could be 15 minutes. In the Netherlands the difference would probably not be more than 2 minutes. At a meeting in Africa, it could be that people show up 30 minutes later or even hours later in rural areas. However, in Africa they would stop to talk for the old friend on the street instead of hurrying to their appointment. And as nothing is as tightly scheduled, there is always an excuse for being late. Hurrying for public transportation is not usual, as the public transportation is usually driving constantly, however not very predictable.

I don’t want to favour one or the other way of time usage. Probably the “African way” makes one more aware and living the moment more, something that is highly valued in Mindfulness. It also diminishes stress and thereby has health benefits. However, our tight time management led us to be highly efficient and economically stable. As a result of that we might experience less stress about essential “life ingredients” as shelter and food as compared to Ugandans.

A good Ugandan friend once said to me “life is not measured in minutes, but in moments”. I think in the Netherlands we would benefit by un-hurrying ourselves a bit. For example, by planning 30 minutes extra for travelling to our appointments and look at the journey as part of the adventure! And, instead of getting irritated in the cue of the supermarket, observe your breath, your surrounding and start a conversation with someone in front or behind you.

Enjoy the little moments!

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Comments (1)

  1. Great article Denise! Like your recommendation of planning extra traveling time. I have been doing exactly that for some time now. Not 30 minutes but 10. If i arrive at my appointment early, i meditate for a couple of minutes.

    Best regards.

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