Time, Timing, Fatigue and the Radicality of Relaxation

The clock on the wall keeps a pushin’me

That’s not the way I want my life to be

If you take any pushing from that clock on the wall, you won’t be happy at all.

—The Guess Who

From the day we are born until we die we are pushed by the “clock on the wall”. But the clock was made by humans, of course, humans who are heroic in their intentions for us. We are pushed to crawl before we’re ready, to walk before we’re ready, to read before we’re ready, to be good, rational, cooperative, creative…etc. There is a radical distrust of natural time and timing in our society. At every developmental stage it seems, there is an external and unnatural agenda for us, sometimes moral, sometimes pragmatic, prodding us to be more than who we are.

It begins early. From the time we enter the world we exist in a milieu of aggressiveness. The world will not let us be. We then internalize and identify with this foreign pressure until it becomes us and we become it. Only a decade ago, for example, in Brazil, 80% of births were by Caesarean. That percentage is today down to 50%. But really?! The UN figures that a realistic (human) percentage would be between 10 and 15%. This rushing of the birth process is set, not by the timing of the infants who need to experience the travails of birth (and there is good research to support the need for this), but by the doctor’s holiday schedules, and sadly, too often the mother’s figure. Babies are then rushed through the bonding process, which involves setting the baby on mother’s tummy and letting her struggle her way up to the nipple—and in the process learning something about her agency to make her way in the world.

E. Graham Howe defines aggression in a way that seems at first somewhat abstract, but upon reflection makes sense.

Aggression is the energy applied to reduce time and/or space between subject and desired objective.

I want my child to be get into Harvard. It’s in his best interests and therefore my moral imperative as a parent that I do all I can to make this happen. I grew up with a guy who was an incredible athlete from a very early age. His father had him pumping iron from the time he was ten. As soon as he finished high school, he quit all sports and took up the saxophone. In both of these examples, time is perceived to be the enemy. We want what we want of ourselves and our children NOW. Graham is saying that this kind of willfulness (or simple impatience) is an unconscious refusal to let time have its way.

If we are not given all the time we need to develop according to our unique nature, we lose a sense of timing. Our timing goes off. We march to the beat of another drum, which has nothing to do with our own internal rhythm. Again, we lose our timing early. When babies are bonding with their mothers, what is needed above all is time for mother and child to attune. This involves the mother “tuning” in to the rhythm of this little one, whose natural pace is much, much slower. When, for whatever reason, this tuning in fails, the child will grow up without a deep intuitive sense of when and how to move and be moved by an internal rhythm. Having learned to adapt to external timing, she will naturally adapt to a work world as an adult that is paced according to the rhythms of technology and production. And note technology’s explicit agenda to collapse the time between a desired outcome and satisfaction to zero.

Our technological society has a bias for timelessness. It is, in my opinion, an unconscious longing for the eternal (which is timelessness). But because it is unconscious, it is in the end aggressive. It is an attempt to dominate time, not cooperate with it. We do this because we do not know deep down that we belong to two worlds, the timeless (what the ancients called heaven) and the timed realm (as incarnate beings on Earth).

As mortals of the modern era, we have eschewed the authentic eternal and infinite dimension, and come to a consensus that the material world is all there is. Which means, in effect, we’re all screwed. Death becomes the enemy, and as death’s front line soldier, time, also must go. Our rushed, frenetic pace and addiction to caffeine is a sign of anxiety that time has us and we decidedly do not have time. This frenzy is at bottom our best attempt at abolishing time, of refusing to be subject to it, because we are, quite simply, afraid to stop and let time have its way with us—because we know where that ends!

We are among the first generations of humans who have lost the capacity to toggle back and forth between the timeless, eternal realms, and the earthly, time-bound realm. Those who have experience psychedelics do this toggling quite naturally. Two minutes of earthly time can feel like they have spent days, even decades away. Coming to an insight can feel like the journeyer has travelled across multiple universes to get there. And then, they come back into their bodies, into time, and experience, more often than not, how bloody tired they are—bone deep fatigue sets in.

Then breathing returns. Then the question comes: “Where the hell have I been all these years?” Then the grief of lost years. Then the joy of accepting that there really is nowhere else to be other than right here, right now. Then the awareness of fatigue that is a symptom of having lost their own timing, maybe for a lifetime, and when you lose your timing, you lose time on Earth, because you are only present in your natural timing, your natural pacing. There is no you present outside your timing. When we live according to another’s timing or society’s timing, the “I” goes awol and the “me” is counterfeit. By getting one’s timing back and by accepting time, in this body, we get our one precious life back.

Therapy can be conceived of as giving people back time and timing that was their birthright but was taken from them. It is a space in which to rest, to welcome the fatigue instead of rise above it for once; to let the fatigue take you deep into your own rhythms. The fatigue is a message that we have been living somebody else’s life, and moving way too fast, away from the clutches of time. But when time is accepted, our rhythm returns. We stop running. We rest when we are tired. We move when we are moved to do so. We experience that there really is no better place to be than where we are standing or lying, as the case may be.

The tonic is relaxation. Simple though it sounds, relaxation is truly revolutionary. It turns the world inside out and upside down. You become part of the equation of life. You find your groove. Then the inherent vitality of life begins once again to live through you. There is no more courageous act than the decision to relax, while everybody and every institution is screaming at you to dance according to their timing. Once we see the aggressiveness of a world that is anxious to dominate and collapse time, we can identify how this world lives in us as well. And we can opt out. This is the interior, psychic expression of non-violence. The corollary is, of course, that only after we’ve gone through this process of redeeming time and timeliness in our own lives, will we be able to let others be without needing to dominate them with our own agenda.

6 Comments on “Time, Timing, Fatigue and the Radicality of Relaxation

  1. Thank you Bruce. So wise, so timely, so eloquent. I really appreciate how you have named the timeless and the timed and related the timeless to the heaven of the ancients. Ah – opens it all up. And to allow the grieving of the lost years. Yes.

    This has nourished me just when I was about dry.

    Love that you have found quiet and gardening!

    Best wishes, Ellen

  2. Dear Bruce,

    It’s so strange – I was just outside sitting quietly and watching the birds, squirrels and a chipmunk. I was thinking – they all live minute to minute, have no big plans for the day and they do all right! It reminded me of the “do not worry” passage. I actually looked at the birds and saw that they live according to a natural rhythm, a kind of timelessness. And I began to feel this timelessness myself. It has happened before but not so strongly. It’s so good to read your words and get a better understanding of this! Thank you.

  3. Over the years, I have thought about time, and our unique natural rhythms. Summer is my timeless season, and I think this is true for many people, especially those who seek nature. For me it is the hummingbird, how in the staying still, the wings have to flutter at 1000s of beats in a second (approx.). They seem to be able to hold timeliness and timelessness in tension and in it find the still-point – a moment of pure being. Through the year my pets help me find that as they are being while I am doing. My hope is that my grandchildren can just be in my presence for the few years before they are totally aware of the structures of the human world.

    1. Thanks Sheryl, Love the image of the hummingbird, holding the timeless and timeliness in perfect balance. Such beauty.

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