We have become obsessed with time. It is always about time. We are always talking about time. We never have enough time. We always run out of time. Time has become a commodity. “Time is money,” we say. In our frantic and fast-paced society, it has become a highly prized item. We need everything to happen fast: Fast food, fast delivery, fast cars, fast results, fast production. Thanks to electricity and the invention of the lightbulb, we are now able to lengthen our days, and since we are doing things faster, we can fit even more into our days. The electronic and digital age has been playing right into that. Things can now happen even faster. We can now work around the clock. And we do. Across timelines and irrespective of whether it is day or night, we are always switched on.
Then, out of the blue, the COVID-19 virus entered the scene and pulled the handbrake to end this frantic madness. Suddenly, billions of us are confined to our homes. We were simply stopped in our tracks. The one thing we now have more of is time, and if there is one thing we need to revisit before this handbrake is released, it is our perception of time.
Our lives are ruled by the time device called a clock. We are always watching the clock. Peter Henlein invented the first portable ‘watch’ in 1504 and, apparently, the first person to attach a portable time indicator to his wrist with a piece of string was Blaise Pascal. Nowadays, watches and clocks come in all forms, sizes and shapes. It is reported that the most expensive Rolex ever sold is the Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino, which went for $4 million in 2014. Whether ours is expensive or simple, we all have a watch or at least a clock.
But it was not always like that. Our ancestors were not clock-driven. They followed the flow and rhythm of nature. Daytime was announced by first light, and a day ended when darkness set in. Man and beast organized their lives around that rhythm. If they wanted to tell what time of day it was, they would use the position of the sun in the sky as an indicator. For ages, humans aligned themselves with these rhythms and cycles of nature. Nature was the only clock. Days turned into months, and the moon determined the monthly cycle. Without fail, the sun rose each morning and set in the evening. Months turned into seasons, and the rhythm and cycles continued unhindered.
Sadly we have fallen out of rhythm with these natural cycles. Billions of us have lost our connection with nature. Thanks to industrialization and urbanization, we are no longer synchronized with these cycles and rhythms. There is no day and night anymore. Electricity and the lightbulb, as well as technology, enable us to override these natural cycles: now we can lengthen our days in order to be more productive, make more money and buy more stuff, without realizing the harm we are doing to the planet, our health and our relationships.
Meanwhile, our biological clocks are still programmed to the natural rhythm, but since we now follow the industrial clock, we have fallen out of sync with nature. As a result, we now also have no time for proper self-care, and thus our health and well-being are severely compromised. Nonetheless, even when we realise this, we stay mindlessly on the hamster wheel. We have no rhythm of work and play, work and rest. We are always switched on. And when the warning lights come on, trying to warn us that our relationships and our health are in danger, we just get a prescription from the doctor or we take drugs to numb ourselves, because we tell ourselves that time waits for no man.
But time is not the problem. It is not true that we don’t have enough time. Rather, we don’t have rhythm. We are out of sync. The sun still rises and sets. Seasons still come and go. Time itself has not changed. We just need to slow down and get in step. Our lives are often much like being in a speeding car: we are hardly able to notice the landscape rushing by, let alone having a normal conversation, when driving at breakneck speed. It is only when we slow down, that we start noticing stuff.
This COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to slow down. May we use this time wisely to notice what really matters most to us. May we connect again, with nature, with animals and with each other. May we hear our ancestors whispering, reminding us that there is a time for everything. May we not override the rhythms of life just because we can. May we not turn night into day and day into night. There is a time for everything. A time to work and a time to rest, a time to be with others and a time to be on our own. This moment on the planet is a time to be still, to reflect and decide how we want to continue the journey. We may have our watches strapped to our wrist, or our clocks hanging on the wall, but do we have time?