I am typically punctual to a fault. I am more likely to arrive early than late, and have been known to hyperventilate the entire drive to an appointment if I'm running behind. I always wear a watch and I have several clocks in my office so the time is never out of sight. It shouldn't be too surprising that I often feel short of time. My fixation on the clock hands keeps me on schedule, which is often a good thing. My patients and hair dresser and yoga teachers appreciate punctuality. However, there can certainly be too much of a good thing.
I went on vacation with my family a couple of weeks ago. It was a wonderful, relaxing beach trip without much of a schedule. Since we were around all that sand and water, it didn't seem like a good idea to wear my watch... so I left it in the room. The first few hours I noticed myself glancing at my wrist, wondering what time it was. As the day progressed, that happened less and less. By the end of the week, our schedule was mostly dictated by our own inner clocks. We woke up when we were done sleeping, we ate when we were hungry, and rested when we were tired. There were times we noticed it was quite late to be sitting down to lunch, so the thoughts about an accepted daily schedule were still there. But why would we eat when we weren't actually hungry? Does the time on the clock really get to dictate things our bodies truly know best? It had been a long time since I was really able to recognize those internal cues, since I was so focused on whether it was dinner time.
I have since noticed other situations when the clock is hindering me, rather than helping. One of the biggest ones is when I'm driving somewhere. If I leave slightly late, I spend the entire drive looking at the clock over and over again, worrying whether the stop light is going to add an extra 2 or 3 minutes, and what that means for my arrival. I came to the realization (you'll laugh, this is so obvious) that the time doesn't matter if I can't do anything to get there faster. Traffic, stop lights, construction, the weather, these are uncontrollable variables that will affect my transit time whether I'm running late or not. Looking at the clock is distracting and doesn't make me move any faster, so why not let it go and just drive safely? The time doesn't matter.
The middle of the night is the other time I have learned to let go of the clock. I wake up during the night almost every night. I used to always immediately look at the clock. If it was early, phew, I have 4 more hours to sleep! If it was already 500am, it was a disaster. My mind would go into catastrophe mode, worrying that if it took me 10 minutes to fall asleep I'd only have 50 minutes left to rest, or what if I didn't fall back to sleep, that means I'm an hour short, on and on until I was wide awake and anxious to boot. Then I read an article that talked about digital clocks, and how the bright light of the numbers actually tricks the brain into thinking it's daytime. I turned the clock away from me at night and started to sleep better right away. Then I came to another realization: it doesn't matter what time I wake up at night. Whether it's 2am or 5am, I should calm my brain and try to go back to sleep right away. Maybe I only get another 30 minutes before the alarm goes off, but that 30 minutes can make a difference. I can guarantee I won't get that extra rest if I start to stare at the clock!
Clearly we need the structure of time in many situations. We couldn't have a developed society without some type of schedule. However, there are also many times the clock doesn't need to matter so much. I find I'm much more at ease if I don't look at the clock. The initial tension of being without my watch eventually gets replaced by freedom and a better sense of my own internal cues. The only time that truly matters is the present, anyway, and no clock on earth will direct to my own mindful presence. I am looking for peace in letting go of the hour and focusing on the moment.