It was a Monday afternoon. I was heading back to Nakuru, Kenya, East Africa. Locals were either still working or making their way home. As we got closer to Nakuru, I saw more and more people resting by the side of the road. Some appeared fast asleep as others watched the cars whizz by.
One guy was lying under a tree with a sack next to him. Hat over his head, legs in a relaxed comfortable position and arms folded across his chest. I thought to myself, He looks so comfortable. But it’s four thirty in the afternoon; doesn’t he have somewhere to be? Isn’t someone expecting him, or even relying on him to get home with that sack? How can he be so relaxed by the roadside? It is going to be dark soon.
My immediate thought processes finished and I suddenly realised that I was projecting my own time schedules, ‘shoulds’ and expectations onto this person. I began to question my own questions! Why does he HAVE to be somewhere? What if no one is expecting him? What if it doesn’t matter when he arrives, as long as he arrives home safely? Why shouldn’t he be able to relax, despite how close or how far he may be from his home? He will have to travel the distance, so why does he have to do it straight away? Why am I thinking this? Is it because I can’t relax when I have things to do? Why can’t I just rest, enjoy the moment and not feel guilty?
The Kenyans have no schedules. There is no bus timetable. People wait by the side of the road or highway waiting for one to turn up. They sit and wait. There’s no hurry. The Kenyans have their own concept of time. It is referred to as ‘Kenyan time,’ which is anytime within a day. But never early. Things get done, but there appears to be no anxiety or stress attached. I was amazed to see the relaxed attitudes of the Kenyans in relation to work, duties or appointments.
It got me thinking about the phrases I constantly hear back home: running out of time, no time to socialise, no down-time, no personal time, just too busy. We use calendars, diaries and schedules as tools to organise events. Life gets hectic. Technology has enabled us to be connected with others and the global community more than ever before. But are we disconnecting from ourselves? When do we switch off from our busy schedules? When do we just relax and do nothing? No cooking, no work, no emails, no Facebook, no Instagram, no instant messengers and just enjoy the day, or even the moment – Without feeling guilty.
Ever since my first job at the age of fourteen my working life has been dictated by time. When I worked at an Insolvency firm, we charged clients in 6-minute increments. So I had to keep track of what I was doing every 6 minutes and record the client’s name on my my timesheet. This was checked and signed by my manager, which was then reviewed by my boss. Upon reflection, I was so focused on recording my time that I did not completely focus on the task at hand. Multi-tasking is meant to be a skill right?
As a teacher, I feel like my mind is invaded and governed by time: seconds, minutes, hours, sessions, blocks, first half/second half yard duty, warm ups, introductions, lessons, reflections, weeks, terms, meeting schedules. I am constantly keeping an eye on the time, calculating how much, how little, not enough. Before you know it, another year has passed.
Last year my personal work goal was to pay attention more during meetings. I had become aware that my thoughts were consumed with my ‘To Do List.’ I was worried about running out of time. I was barely present on tasks whether it be checking emails, planning lessons or talking to colleagues and students. It frustrated me that time dictated my world. Or was it my perception of time as the dictator that frustrated me?
I am first to admit that I can get very caught up in all the things I feel I SHOULD be doing. The perfectionism comes out in me, and I cannot relax until my ‘jobs’ are done! But by the time they are ‘done,’ there are more. I have noticed that when I focus more on what I am doing, rather than on the time disappearing, ‘spare’ time appears. Time is always the same, it is constant, but it is my perception that changes. The more present I am, the more relaxed I feel and the more I get done. It’s as if time itself decides to slow down. But I know this is not the case. I have created more space, and this space presents itself as more time.
I grew up in a Christian family. Saturday was our day of rest, which we called the Sabbath. The cooking for Sabbath was done the day before, as was the cleaning and all the jobs. Sabbath was spent going to church in the morning, then family time in the afternoon. Oh how I loved Saturdays! We (my parents, siblings, aunties uncles, grandparents, cousins) would go to the gardens for a picnic. We would share our lunch and our time together. Some Saturdays we would go to the river, go for walks in the bush or eat and sleep. It was my favourite day of the week.
I recently read an article by Pico Iyer, ‘Why We Need to Slow Down Our Lives.’ In the article Iyer talks about a secular Sabbath, where people switch off from technology and create space to just be, doing nothing, going nowhere. He writes, “Many…at Google headquarters observe an “Internet Sabbath” every week, during which they turn off most of their devices from, say, Friday night to Monday morning, if only to regather the sense of proportion and direction they’ll need for when they go back online.”
Iyer continues, “This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines. It is, as Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish theologian of the last century, had it, “a cathedral in time rather than in space”; the one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda…Of course, for a religious person, it’s also very much about community and ritual and refreshing one’s relationship with God and ages past. But even for the rest of us, it’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days.” (Iyer: 2014)
I love this idea. A pause in time. Whether it is a few minutes, an hour or a full day. It reminded me of how much enjoyment I had with my family on Sabbath. There were no distractions. Just us!
And just him; the guy sleeping by the roadside with his sack. Maybe he also sets aside his own personal ‘Sabbath’ – that empty space – his personal time to switch off from the hustle and bustle and chaos of life.
Do you have a day that you keep sacred, a space created just for yourself and/or your family, where you switch off from the world? How do you deal with time? Love to hear your views and thoughts about this.
‘“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—” Emily Dickinson wrote. “I keep it, staying at Home.”’ (Iyer: 2014)
Reference: The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer