Just be. Such a vague, yet beautiful notion. Before I went to Sweden, it was hard to grasp at. I’ve always been a task-driven person, and at times feel uneasy sitting idle, doing nothing. Europe has helped me feel less guilty for relaxing and soaking in the moment. Perhaps it’s mostly due to lagom and fika. It’s been hard to maintain this feeling since I’ve been back in the U.S. Maybe it’s simply because we view time differently.
Whoa, what the hell does all of that mean up there in the title? I don’t think I even want to read Seth’s new post because of the big, scary words. Don’t worry, it’s easy. You know how time flies when you’re having fun? Well, that’s polychromatic time. You know how it seems like you feel each agonizing minute go by when you’re doing your 9 to 5? That’s monochromatic time.
These two ways that humans perceive time vary across countries, regions, and cultures, with varying blends and strengths thereof. Americans mostly live in monochromatic time. Europeans seem to drift in polychromatic time, while still recognizing the importance of task completion.
There was less of a point A to point B mentality throughout the day-to-day life in Sweden. Of course, people are going about, running errands and such, but they seemed to be in no hurry and actually rather enjoying it. That’s in huge contrast with even my university campus. We run laps around the clock here while in Europe, they simply tend to forget that there is a clock.
Just based on how we culturally perceive time, we look down on the European way as lazy. This is far too quick of a judgement, I think. We race through life here, but what’s at the finish line? Death. So why are we in such a hurry to win? Sounds like a shitty prize to me. We should experiment with polychromatic time, or at least try to find a balance between the two realms.
Our culture does not have complete mastery over us, and it is possible to break free of this boring monochromatic, linear way of living. Like most frames of mind, we sometimes just need a trigger. Here are a few things that can help you expand your perception of time in all directions instead of straight ahead, task by task, important date by important date.
1. Lighten the Load - The worst blockage in our polychromatic pathways is a loaded schedule. How can we “just be” if we have a huge list of things to do looming in the back of our minds? We’re all busy people and we have stuff to do, but an even distribution of the stuff would certainly make life more enjoyable. Also, we should really take the time to see if some of the tasks we have on our plates are necessary at all. I know I always tend to bite off more than I can chew.
2. People Watching - Watching people live their lives is entertaining, even if they’re merely cycling some groceries back to their apartment. I found a lot of serenity in the center of Lund, just sipping a coffee and watching people go about from a bench. Eventually I seem to fall in a state of deep reflection (or daydreaming) when I do this. Maybe watching people living their lives makes me think about what I’m doing in my own life, or what I’m meant to do.
3. Sensory Awareness - No matter how new and exciting an environment, eventually we let large portions of it fade into the background as white noise. That’s a bit sad to me. We let the general business of life sap the energy and enjoyment of something that used to be thrilling. Take a moment to sit in the midst of your environment and actively use all of your senses. Listen to the noise of everything moving around you. Smell the food being cooked. Feel the wind against your skin. Sip on a coffee. Truly open your eyes to the world around you.
4. Talk to People - Spending time with friends and family can make time go by in a blur (and depending on the friends, a very patchy blur in which you wake up somewhere you didn’t expect the next day). I think we need to distract ourselves from ourselves sometimes. Besides, sharing a moment with someone is about as nonlinear as it gets. Sharing an investment of time is like building a cozy campfire to the side of our monochromatic time trail.
5. Go for a Hike - Hiking and running are two things that I have always turned to so that I might escape the all-consuming black hole of business in my life, even if for only a half hour. I feel like I’m in an alternate dimension when I’m out on the trail. Time is somewhere off in the real world, as is my to-do list. I’m simply out there for the pure enjoyment of nature, reflection, and the strange love for living out of my backpack.
These are just a few things I’ve been doing lately to try to experience time in a multidimensional way. It’s good for you. We can’t freeze time, but we sure as hell can distribute it throughout our lives to make it more savory, rather than always living at a breakneck speed toward our graves.
A good traveler has no fixed plans. Lao Tzu’s musing resonates greatly right now, and I feel conflicted all the time with my natural type A personality getting in the way of trying to live at a slower pace. We’re not all born with that ability. Just as some leaders are born and some are made, spontaneity is sometimes a learned trait. Thanks Europe, I’ve learned a lot about time because of you, and I’m a saner person for it.