Recently in the UK, the clocks went back. Across the country, some will have enjoyed an extra hour in bed for a lazy Sunday lie-in; others will have forgotten the time change and arrived much too early for an appointment or a family get-together. Still others will have silently huffed and puffed in mild irritation at having to change any non-digital clocks in their household. Around the world, more than 70 other countries have either already changed their clocks or will do so soon.
As a child, I was fascinated with the ‘spring forward, fall back’ clock changes for daylight savings time. What happened to the hour that we lost every spring, I wondered, and what did people do with their extra hour in the autumn? I once read a short story in which a couple made a point of doing something romantic with their extra hour every autumn; it’s a lovely idea, but of course, based on a falsehood.
We don’t really lose an hour in spring or gain an hour in autumn; our day still has the same, artificially named 24 hours in it. Yet we’re so used to our lives being governed by the tyranny of the clock that we forget: it wasn’t always like this.
Mankind has always measured the passage of time in some way, whether through an understanding of solar time in ancient civilizations through to sundials and the like for much of recorded history. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the first mechanical clocks were invented, and not until the 1600s that the pendulum clock came into use. Even in the 1800s, most people lived with just an approximation of time, as clocks were expensive and not in widespread use until the mid-late 19th century. Greenwich meantime wasn’t established until 1884. It wasn’t until then that we truly started to become governed by the clock.
Think about that. Clock tyranny as we understand it today has only existed for the last 136 years. Before then, ever increasingly so the further back you go, most people followed the sun’s natural rhythms and their own internal circadian rhythms, relying on nature to give them time cues and to provide any necessary structure to their day.
Don’t you sometimes wonder what it would be like to live without clock watching, just for a while?
Experimenting with a Clock-Free Life
There are many benefits to living without clock-time, even for only a day. Whenever I’ve tried this, it has brought a huge sense of freedom, and an upswing in creativity. Suddenly there’s “time” to fiddle about with a creative project, or to sit and watch the birds, or to stay up until dawn and marvel at the changing light and the novelty of working at 4am.
A day or two without clocks re-sets your relationship with the world around you. If the only way you know that evening is drawing in is when it starts to get dark outside your window, you’re not constrained by what time you should start doing something else, or stop doing whatever is engaging you at that moment.
If you can manage longer than a day, your own circadian rhythms will start to make themselves felt. Ditch going to bed when you’re still feeling wide awake just because the clock tells you it’s bedtime. Ditch eating when you’re not particularly hungry just because the clock tells you it’s lunchtime.
Going to bed only when you are truly tired tends to lead to better quality sleep. Eating only when you are truly hungry tends to lead to a more mindful diet and a gratitude for food which is both empowering and healthy.
The sense of freedom you discover from not having to be somewhere particular, doing something particular, at any given particular time – it’s immense. Many people trying out a clock-free day report how liberating this total change of mindset can be.
Intrigued? Here are some tips for getting the most from your clock-free experiment.
Tips for Trying Out Clock-Free Living
Pick Your Experiment Period Wisely
Clearly, it would be sensible to choose a day, or several days, when you do not already have appointments or travel or anything else clock-dependent scheduled, and when you are not due at your workplace. Families might like to try this out during school holidays, or on a weekend.
Turn Off or Cover Up ALL of Your Clocks
Trust me, you have way more clocks than you realize. Take down any wall clocks. Switch off digital clocks by your bedside, on your cooker, your microwave and in your car. Take off your watch and put it in a drawer. If you can’t turn off the clock on your digital devices, hide it, or as a last resort, set it to a random time zone you’re not familiar with, so that glancing at it won’t make you much the wiser. Try to avoid watching TV, or at least anything like the news which is likely to tell you the time.
It’s worth making the effort to catch all of the clocks in this way, because we glance at them so much more than we realize, and even an unconscious clock glance can hinder the freedom you’re about to encounter.
Tell People What You’re Doing
Tell your friends, colleagues and anyone else likely to contact you during your clock-free period what you’re doing. This saves their sanity and yours – the last thing you want is someone trying to set up a meeting with you at such and such a time or calling you to ask why you’re not up yet and responding to their texts. Plus, telling people you’re going clock-free tends to spark very interesting conversations!
Spend Time Outdoors
Whatever the season, spend at least part of your clock-free time outside. You will start to notice the subtle shifts in daylight, or the passage of the Sun across the sky. Learning to estimate the time in this way is very empowering and brings a sense of awe and wonder. If you are able to spend enough time clock-free, you’ll also learn to estimate how much time has elapsed – something which is notoriously tricky to do at first. But remember, you’re estimating time just for your own pleasure; you’re not being governed by it.
Be Mindful of How Time Feels
One of the most interesting things about a period of clock-free living is that it tunes you into how we perceive time so differently under different circumstances. We’re all familiar with the notion that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, or that time drags when you’re stuck in a boring situation.
Without a clock, the only thing you have is your perception of how much time you’ve spent doing something – and your own perception of how engaging or boring it is will tell you whether it’s time to move on or not. Understanding these sensations tunes up your instincts for what really matters in life.
Have a Project in Mind – But Don’t Be a Slave to It
If it’s your first time going clock-free, it helps if you have in mind something you want to do – whether that’s a creative project, a DIY task, gardening, an outdoor activity, board games with the kids – whatever. Suddenly being faced with an expanse of time can be intimidating at first, so it helps to have something in mind that you’re going to focus on.
The key, however, is to only spend as much time on this project as you feel like. You’ll know when it’s time to start it and stop it and perhaps re-start it again. And if you don’t end up doing it, who cares? It’s your time, use it as you wish.
Do you have any experiences with going clock-free you’d like to share?
About the author:
Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and Wake Up World’s editor.
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