Primary author is Katie Schultz*
Gary Eberle, in his book, Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning, describes the gradual enslavement of human beings by time and the clock, an empty, soulless machine (chronos time). He says that our lives seem to be perpetually harnessed by this “jerky rhythm” of technology, bells, alarms and stress. These simply go against the direction towards which our bodies want to naturally flow. We wake up to a shrieking sound because there is work to be done and schedules to be followed. We eat at designated “lunch times” not because we are hungry but because it is the slot deemed acceptable by society in which to eat. You can see this attitude in the stories of newly arrived Italian immigrants whose bosses called them “lazy” for going home to eat lunch and be with their families.
Essentially, Eberle points out that our lives are mechanically functioning on a pseudo-autopilot mode in order to accomplish as many tasks in a day as possible, because in today’s world success is dictated by the clock—the more things checked off the list in a day, the better. But while people hunger for more and more time to get more done they squander the limited amount they are given—creating a “time famine”. Events that should be savored are rushed, whether meals, spiritual rituals, face-to-face interactions. All is sacrificed in order to get things done and work towards attaining the coveted “leisure time.” But then ironically, these precious moments of leisure time, which should be our “sacred time,” are squandered in doing things like chores. We are blind to the fact that life is passing us by.
Why did this obsession with chronos time emerge? In the past, time was measured by generations and humanity resided in a cozy little bubble in which one man could go 35-40 generations back to the first humans in the Bible and there was humanity in a nutshell. Small. Comprehensible. Imaginable. But then when, among other things, geology arrived with its studies on earth’s layers and modern science proclaims Earth may actually be billions of years old, we were left to grapple with the miniscule spot we occupy on this planet and how fleeting our time here is. Our world became impersonal and, according to Eberle, caused humanity to ignore the past in a falsely blissful ignorance and focus arrogantly on the future, missing the present.
To be frank, Eberle’s view scares me. It grabs my attention and pulls me in because I often find myself rushing through experiences I should revel in – and then later regretting it. In fact, I feel as if regret is an enormous byproduct of this current time obsession. While I rush through a rare meal with my Grandmother because I am so preoccupied with the insurmountable pressures and deadlines in my life. I know my thoughts and lack of full, devoted attention is wrong-- yet I do it anyway. The pit in my stomach is real and the guilt I feel about rushing a hug with her is piercing-- but I do it anyway because that is what our world is and this is what it demands in order to be successful-- overbooked days and stressful “I have x, y and z still to do” nights.
The problem has reached epidemic proportions and as insignificant as I may be, choosing to meditate rather than resort to disruptive flashes of pixels for relaxation might make a world of difference. Even though I was aware of my own guilty obsession with the clock, before reading Eberle I did not realize what harmful effects such an obsession could have. However, when Eberle states how stuck in traffic, late for a meeting, before the sun rises, we are already angry and stressed, this makes me rethink whether a crammed agenda is the best way to live one’s life.
Maybe we need to change our definition of success. In the past, before our world was bred for efficiency, people spent time and reveled in passion for their activities such as sculpting, painting, and composing. In today’s world, however, artists are put on a daunting timetable to finish with haste lest they lose the communion and their livelihood. In this way creativity is suffocated beneath a tyranny of minutes and seconds. Sadly, as Eberle mentioned, this has extended to the schoolroom in which the clock dictates how much time children have to learn history or paint a picture! This is absurd! If a child has a moment of passion for a subject, a moment of enlightenment in a class it cannot be continued because the bell has rung. Sorry. Time is over.
Finally, I am left with several questions:
- Why is humanity following an intangible entity as opposed to a physical, manifest one? Time and the clock are social constructions- they do not really exist. Why don’t we just listen to our bodies when we are hungry or rise with the light of the sun?
- Does the pressure the clock places on us limit our creativity? For example, the great works of Bach, Mozart, Da Vinci- all of these were created before the time obsession truly imploded. We do not truly see works of the same caliber today.
- Would it be possible to maintain our world of luxuries and easily accessible commodities if the clock lost its throne? But perhaps, we would not require them if such a world came to be.
And, we suggest several remedies for those caught in chronos time:
- Remove any time devices from your immediate vicinity for several hours once in a while and follow your own natural time.
- Shut off social media for a day, once a week.
- Don't squander the present by counting days until a future event.
- Enjoy the present moment.
- Take time to breathe deeply and feel where you are.
- Acknowledge the natural world around you.
- Mentally set aside your preoccupations when you have a chance to spend time with Grandma or anyone else you love.
Eberle, G. (2000). Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
*Katie Schultz is a student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA