The very act of writing this post today, on the 2nd of January, makes what I want to write somewhat ironic. I watched this very inspiring video by Yuval Harari the other day, and although I already had the seeds planted in my head, his words pushed these seeds deeper into my brain and made me ponder about our creation of time even more. In short, Harari talks about how we are the only species on this planet that are able to follow and create fictions. This could be, in his examples, human rights, which is a set of ideals we created in order to protect the rights of humans. But in the end, what are human rights if not merely a creation of certain rules by which we should treat others? What is a dollar bill if not only a paper that we can exchange to get something else? The human world is made up from the existing objective reality (that all living beings follow) AND our own fictional reality. That leads me to time, one of our fictional creations and something I have struggled with in the past years tremendously.
Age From a very small age we learn to count. From an even smaller age, others celebrate our first birthday. Our first day, week, month, year alive becomes something very significant to the ones around us. But at this very small age, we don't know yet what it means to be alive 1 day, 1 week or 1 month because we don't have this perception of time. Memory is not even developed in our brains yet. This is probably why the first birthday is usually a shock to a child. I cried a lot on my first birthday because I didn't understand why there was "so many" people surrounding me and singing loudly a song in my name. Like all other structures and creations in life, birthdays and celebrations of life soon become a norm, and we are constantly reminded of our age and how many years we have existed in our physical bodies. But what are years? What is age? They are only terms we have invented for the passing time. And time? it is also a creation of our imagination. It is the way we measure how our physical bodies stay alive.
Days and Weeks With this basic concept of time, we created what we call days, which eventually become weeks, months and years. We named these "days" and associated them with numbers, making Monday the first day of the week for some cultures, the second day of the week for others, and perhaps the third for a culture I am not aware of. Even so, each culture has specific days in which they work, and specific days in which they "rest". For different cultures, these days of rest are very significant and restricted to certain rules that dictate what should be done and what should not. For others, a day of rest might simply mean that the shop around the corner is closed. With the rise of the internet, and the flexibility and requirements of many jobs today, people have the opportunity to work on days which are not part of the mainstream working week. Once I began to freelance as a graphic designer, I found great value in this. My days and weeks were not restricted to specific times anymore. I now have the flexibility to work when I want, from where I want and until when I want. This flexibility made me question the structure of the week. All of sudden, in my fictional reality, Monday lost its meaning, as well most other days of the week. This is because I began to simply work when I had to and rest when I felt I needed to. However, since most of our western society still follows the patterns of the week, one is not able to completely escape this structure we have created.
Minutes and Hours Here comes the part of our counting system that I struggle with a lot. Since our lives are not only structured around days, weeks, months and years, but also around minutes and hours, it is very hard to escape our numeric system when one is living a life dependent on others in society. I have always been the type of person that likes to go to sleep early, and wake up early. About 6 months ago I started incorporating yoga practice into my daily routine (another fictional structure of time I will not get into today). As time went by, I realized that the best way for me to do yoga is in the mornings. I also regularly do sport in the morning so this means I began to dedicate a big chunk of my morning to my physical and mental bodies. As a result, I realized that to do everything I desired in the morning, and still be able to make it to my 9 a.m. German class, I had to wake up very early. And for me, this meant going to sleep very early. Most people I know like to stay up later than I do. This meant that I had to get used to usually rejecting plans with others that included dinner or anything beyond 6 p.m. I like living this way, and my fictional routine suits my body and mind well (most of the time). My struggle is in the fictional stress I sometimes create when I realize that it is very late at night and I am not giving my body the rest it needs. My aim is to master my sleeping so that one day I can be like Sadh Guru (and probably all other Yogis) and survive with 3 hours of sleep rather than the usual 8 hours that are spent in between sleep and unconscious rambling. If you are interested in this topic, this video from Sadh Guru inspired me a lot. Anyways I realize, how engrained this structure of time is in me, and in all of our society. What is night and what is day if not only the rise and sunset of the sun? I acknowledge that we created a more structured time system for a reason. My truth until now, however, is that I am the happiest and the most at peace when I don't look at the clock, the date, or the day of the week.
Months and Years This brings me to my last point and the reason I got inspired to write this post. New years is probably the time structure that varies the most around the world. From the top of my head I think of Rosh Hashanah (literally the head of the year) in the Jewish tradition which is celebrated on a different day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (given that the Jewish religion follows the lunar calendar). There is also the Spring festival in a lot of Asian countries and Diwali and other celebrations in India which commemorate the end and beginning of a new yearly cycle on a date different to that of the Gregorian calendar. As a child new years in accordance to the Gregorian calendar was probably my favorite time of the year. I loved the tradition of staying up until 12, seeing the fireworks and later of following some of the new years traditions in Colombia ( eating 12 grapes and making 12 wishes, wearing yellow underwear, and running around the house with a suitcase). I always had a weird emotional feeling when it finally turned 12 and everyone in my family hugged and wished each other a happy new year. Some would also get sad and cry... and this made me feel upset and melancholic for what was being left behind and what was coming ahead in the new year. The first day of the year was always a very spiritual day for me in which I would write my goals and reflect on the past year. The only things I didn't like about New Years was the feeling of anticipation I would get on the day of New Years and the first day of the year. A similar feeling to the one I would feel on the day of my birthday. I had so many expectations of feeling happy, celebrating, and doing something special on these two days of the year. I now recognize these feelings of expectation and laugh at how they were only a product of my mind based around specific human traditions that can loose their meaning from one minute to the next.
Regardless of all of the above, I cannot help but to follow the clock, checking it each time I wake up, and being highly aware of the time (in hours and minutes) I should start preparing for bed. I date things often and have quite a structured way of living, even though I have a very flexible working schedule. I like my structure and I think it adds a sort of value and motivation for me to get through each day. But at the same time, it bothers me to be so attached to the number system we have created. In the summer, one of the things I loved the most about camping, was how when the sun set, people would simply go into their tents and go to sleep; when the sun rose, people would naturally wake and greet the day. When one is on vacation, detached from the daily collaborative life in a city, one naturally detaches from a lot of our timely structures. All of a sudden the days of the week don't matter and time becomes a secondary element through out the day rather than the most dominant. For human collaboration, time has helped us be more efficient. I have a certain urge, however, to try to live a life that is more in touch with nature. To follow the signs of the body to wake up and go to sleep. To follow the 28 day cycles of the moon and reflect on life's meaning and the signals from our universe. Everyone is different and has different ways of living their life, but I think if we were more in touch with our bodies and the signals of the earth we could learn to detach ourselves from our (in my option) overly structured way of living.
As always, thank you for reading and please get in touch if you have any comments!