You’ve definitely had already the feeling that you are running after the time and that you never have enough time to do everything you want to. On the other hand, when you finally have enough time, you start to feel bored and time starts to move very slowly and this is even a worse feeling than to have not enough time. You can feel controlled by the time and by the clock. There are many seminars about time management, personal management and many more but all this don’t really teach you something about the time itself and don’t really help you how to cope with your time. And in school we learn nothing about the time. And time competence and control is more than important in our fast going society. Soon I’ve read a book: “A Geography of Time” from Robert Levine, who again reminded me how important, is to understand what time is and how to cope with it. In his book he gave a very thorough, systematically and easy to understand overview of what time is and how people and cultures cope with it. The book is full with nice examples and tips and I highly recommend it to you.
But let’s start with the basics about time we all have to know. Time is nothing but a physical magnitude. And as such it has its own mass, speed, energy, direction and so on. As you may know from the quantum physics and from the modern field theory, mass and energy are both material, basically the same concept. And speed depends on mass. So we can say that the speed in material as well. On the other side with the power of mind we can create, it is said that the mind is material. So, we can control the speed of the time with our mind. You don’t really have to know the whole theory behind this. What really matters for the everyday life is that we can control the speed of the time. So we can have enough time when we need it and less time, when we don’t need it and feel bored. That is exactly what some good sportsmen do. When they have only a small part of the second to observe, to take a decision and to react, they kind of extend the time; they almost stop it for the outside world. Thus the world seems to be very slow and they have all the time to make the best of the situation. And they have the time to react and to win. In the eastern cultures such extensions of time are often used. Meher Baba says: “A mind that is fast is ill, a mind that is slow is reasonable and a mind that is still is Godly”.
There are big differences in the perception of time in the different cultures. There are so called clock time cultures, who measure everything with the clock (the typical western industrialised cultures) and the so called event based cultures. Those use normally no clocks and orientate themselves according to some events, mostly natural or concerning the everyday life. Example for such orientation points are day, night, the positions of the sun, when the cattle go to the meadow, the song of the first roosters early in the morning and so on. You can think that this is not like this anymore, but our western clock time culture is the minority in the world. Most people still live in event based cultures. These cultures put normally the stress not on the punctuality, but on the social interaction between people. It is not so important when you’ll finish something, but that you finish it and that you respect all concerned people while doing it. So it is more about the end result and the way (how you do it) and not so much about the exact time. On the other hand people from these cultures often start with some activity, then interrupt it, start with another one and so on. So they don’t work linear, but simultaneously on different things. This can be a problem, because you can’t really concentrate, but it is more or less the creative way of working. In my job as a product manager I’m always mixing these two ways of working in order to achieve the best results.
I remember a nice joke about event based cultures. Spanish and Arabic businessmen are making a contract. Every second word of the Spanish is “mañana” and of the Arabic “Insha’Allah”. After all they’ve made the contract and celebrated it. The Arabic businessman wanted to know what “mañana” means. The Spanish said. “Well, “mañana” means tomorrow, but we use it for the day after tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, actually at some point in the foreseeable future. And could you tell me what “Insha’Allah” means?” The Arabic businessman explained: “Well, “Insha’Allah” means if Allah is willing to let it happen, then it will happen, but we use it for this week, for this month, for this year, actually at some point in the foreseeable future, but it does not have this emergency character as “mañana””. As you can see, the exact time in these cultures is not so important. It’s enough to know that it will happen. This is for the US-American or the German culture unthinkable. In those cultures you can’t make a contract without setting exact deadlines. If you want to experience both the Spanish and the Arabic culture, you can go to Andalucia, which is a brilliant mixture of both. You can make there a nice time travel to a different world.
The mentioned difference is more or less the difference between the north and the south. But there are differences between the east and the west as well. In the western culture you do everything possible in order not to do nothing. The worst thing it can happen is to do nothing. It is social unaccepted. In the eastern cultures it is exactly on the opposite. To do nothing is highly appreciated, because thus you make the time go very slow and achieve the stillness. You feel completely empty and you feel the stillness. And when you are in this state of complete emptiness, you start to feel fulfilled. So empty your mind and whole creature in order to start to feel fulfilled. I’ll give you a bad example, but a very natural one about this feeling, that you’ve already had: after pissing, shitting or having just finish with sex, you feel the emptiness and this makes you feel fulfilled. So, if a wise man from the west says: “Don’t only stay, better just do something”, a wise man from the east will say “Better stay than just doing something”. We say that something is “empty” and the Japanese say that it is “full of nothing”. The stillness and the emptiness give the meaning.
There are even some cultures in which there is no concept of time at all. There are some cultures where there is no difference between present, past and future. It is important that something happens and it does not matter when. If it happened once, it will happen again. And other for which those three states have no contact point at all. And the importance of present, past and future can be very different. There are past-fixed cultures, future-fixed cultures and present-fixed cultures or cultures where all three states are with the same importance. It is very important for you to understand these aspects of the place where you live in, so you can adapt and act accordingly or decide to live somewhere else. Most people do this completely intuitively. If you have in your culture all those three states of time, the best way you can feel and think about them is to have positive memories about the past, to be active and full of happiness and energy in the present and to be optimistic for the future, while trying to concentrate on being here and now. The greatest minds of our time have their inspirations when they are outside the time, outside themselves, in here and know. You’ve definitely had this feeling sometimes by concentrated work.
Can you imagine what it means to take a person from the western clock time oriented culture into the event based oriented culture? He or she is definitely going to complain about the people, their lack of seriousness and punctuality. Everything is going to be for you too slow and easy going. And if you are from event based culture you are definitely not going to understand why you have to get up at exactly 7:00, they have breakfast at exactly 7:15, be in the office at exactly 8:00, have to do some job till exactly 9:00, then start a meeting and end it exactly at 10:00 although there are still no results and so on the whole day long, even in the free time. We seem to be like programmed and do not do what we want and when we want to do it, but when the clock says that we have to do it. Our clock time culture is actually quite new. It emerged in the last two centuries. We needed it originally in order to synchronise and optimise activities. But nowadays we’ve completely forgotten its meaning and use it even we do not need it.
So, what are actually the factors which determine how our culture and our own time perception looks like? Here is a small list:
1. How fast the tempo of the culture is, is determined from its prosperity, degree of industrialisation, number of citizens (for towns mostly), the climate and the individualism of the people. More prosperity, higher degree of industrialisation, more people and more individualism and colder climate make the tempo faster. And the other way round.
2. If you don’t consciously control your time, you mostly feel that the time is flying, when you are happy and when you like the activity you do and you feel the time is extremely slow, when something bad happens or you don’t like what you are doing. This is the so called inner mental time. If you are unhappy, there is no time pressure from outside, you do something with less intensity and less things change, then you feel that the time is going very slow. And if you are happy, do something interesting and intensive, that you thing that time flies.
Knowing all those stuff, what can we do in order to feel better and more confident with the time? Every single person has his or her own tempo. It’s as always – you have to find your best tempo, the middle tempo of harmony which suits you best. If you go into one of the extremes, you are not going to feel good and you have to balance, to go again in the middle tempo. When you travel you can always use it in order to see the differences in the cultures and use all those lessons to better understand yourself and apply for you in order to find the balance. Places with good tempo balance are for example France and Italy, you can learn a lot from them.