Living in Season
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Living in Season: Take Back Your Time Day
"It's about living in rhythm with natural time," I said. She looked puzzled. "Is it a time management book?" I shuddered, thinking of the book that shifted my thinking about time, Jeremy Rifkin's Time Wars in which he points out that we treat time just like we treat the earth, as a resource
"Not at all," I said. "This is the opposite."
"Then I don't understand what problem you're solving," she replied.
"Maybe that people are too busy," I suggested.
She dismissed that with a wave of her hand. "That's not a problem!"
I was surprised to learn that people in New York apparently don't experience the time scarcity that afflicts all my friends in the Northwest (and actually I know this isn't true since I frequently read articles in the Sunday New York Times (my weekly glimpse into life as it's lived in New York) about overscheduling).
Still I think this editor's dismissal of my topic is pretty typical of the way people deal with time. It's so intangible, an abstract concept, that is all around us but we can't touch or feel it, yet it's the river in which we swim.
That's why I love the way the organizers of Take Back Your Time Day (October 24) have focused on issues that Americans can touch and feel: vacation days and work hours. Americans work on average nine weeks more than our European counterparts, which means that if we all stopped working on October 24, the date chosen for Take Back Your Time day, and didn't resume until January 1st, we'd catch up. Despite all our time-saving devices (remember when computers were going to help us save time?), Americans work more hours than ever before. And this trend coincides with other disturbing trends like the fact that American kids now spend half the time outside they did in 1980.
In earlier times, our lives were oriented around the rhythms of the earth. Hunters and gatherers responded to the movements of the animals they hunted and the growth cycle of the plants they harvested. Despite our beliefs about the difficulty of this lifestyle, modern hunter-gatherers work an average of two hours a day taking care of their survival needs. The rest of their time is spent in creating art (telling stories, carving wood, singing) and socializing.
As the nature of work changed, so did our relationship to time. A hunter-gatherer only gathers enough food to get through the next day. A farmer, on the other hand, plans ahead. The seed must be planted at a certain time of the year to flourish. Yet once the seed is planted, the task is done. Plants can't be hurried. Most humans, lived of necessity, in harmony with the seasons. Even activities like trade, because it was dependent on ship travel, were seasonal. Until the invention of canned food, wars were fought in the summer, because that was the only time an army of hungry men could be fed off the bounty of the land.
The Industrial Revolution inaugurated a new kind of work and a new relationship to time. No longer tied to the natural cycle, or the cycle of day and night once electricity was invented, workers could produce goods around the clock. Only laws prohibiting the exploitation of workers limited working hours to the arbitrary number of eight, a number still applied, as if it were magical to workers in fields as diverse as retail sales and the service industry. And then we got computers, which permit us to bank, shop, work and socialize 24/7. Our relationship to the natural world is totally lost in the process.
Jeremy Rikin writes:
We've been seduced by many myths about time. Just as we bought the spatial myth that "bigger is better," we have been trained to believe the temporal myth that "faster is better." We are strung along with the promise that if we work hard now, we'll be able to enjoy leisure time in the future. With linear metaphors like "climbing the ladder," we've been taught that life is an ascent, a process of constant improvement, in which depression, unemployment and recession are temporary problems to be resolved, when the cyclic metaphor of the seasons suggests that maybe we need time to retreat, to rest and to conserve.
Jeremy Rifkin calls people who challenge the cultural paradigms about time, "time heretics." There are many of us. We are the sort of people who aspire to a simpler and slower life, who are willing to give up income for the luxury of time. Some of us work part-time. Some of us home-school our children, preferring to let them learn at the pace of life rather than in the artificial environment of the schools. Some of us connect with the place we live by gardening or by supporting local businesses and buying local produce. We enjoy establishing new holiday traditions and reviving old ones.
Once I became a time heretic, I found a use for my passion for seasonal holidays as an advocate for a return to seasonal time. I developed a correspondence course, a book and more recently the website and holiday packets as a way to share this passion with others. I love the way living in season connects me to the natural world around me, I love the slower rhythm it provides for my life. And I love the notion of the circle which is the spiritual center of seasonal time. It complements my various spiritual leanings: my Catholic nature which finds meaning in patterns, my pagan self which likes to play with herbs and colors and other sensory symbols, and my Buddhist side which believes everything changes. Always, of course, the goal is to live in the present moment, for that is what living in season requires us to do.
Here's one of my favorite quotes about time from one of my favorite books, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (and if you only know this story from the saccharine animated movie, you owe it to yourself to read the book it's lyrical and witty):
In the Library: My Favorite Books on Time
Rifkin, Jeremy, Time Wars, Holt & Company 1987
Servan-Schreiber, Louis, The Art of Time, Pearson, Addison & Wesley 1989
Dominguez, Joe & Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life, Viking 1992
Easwaran, Eknath, Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World, Hyperion 1997.
Muller, Wayne, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal & Delight in Our Busy Lives Bantam 2000
Griffiths, Jay, A Sideways Look at Time, Tarcher 1999.
De Graaf, John, ed. Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, Berrett-Koehler 2003.
Current Offerings: Winter Correspondence Course
Current Offerings: Halloween Packet
A panoramic review of how Days of the Dead has been celebrated, including Guy Fawkes, I Morti, All Souls, Samhain & Martinmas
$9 plus $2 shipping and handling. Please allow ten days for delivery. An email version is also available for $8. It will be sent as an attached Word file within three days of receiving your order. You can order through our store.