The tyranny of the clock

What time is it?

How will you answer? Is it by glancing down at the corner of your laptop, picking up your phone, or perhaps even looking at a watch ticking away on your wrist? For very few of us it will involve looking at the sky, noticing the sun, moon and stars, or the length of the shadows as the December sun slips away. Our lives are measured in minutes, seconds, hours and most of us do not even notice how unnatural this actually is.

It may seem strange for a therapist, whose sessions are tied to the passing of minutes to be highlighting the tyranny of the clock, but perhaps it is something I need to talk about because I have to be so aware of its presence in our lives. So many of us seem to be struggling under this tyranny, our lives barely our own as the second hand ticks away. One area in particular that keeps coming up for me is what I have started labelling sleep shaming. Rather like food shaming, sleep shaming doesn’t need to come from a place of hurtful intent to harm – you should get more sleep, have you tried going to be earlier, why not set your alarm for 6 am and do a run and yoga before everyone is up.

Firstly a disclaimer – yes lack of sleep impacts mental health, and yes, we need to ensure we are getting enough according to our own internal rhythms and needs. However the modern sleep cycle is one designed to get workers into offices and factories at maximum productivity for the business owners and is tightly tied to capitalism. If we look at cultures around the world we can see that different cycles of sleep and wakefulness exist according to season, location, needs, sleep is divorced from the tyranny of the clock. We need to start ignoring the kind of Instagram accounts shouting at us that we are failing even at sleep, as they recommend wheat germ cleanses and whichever green tea is fashionable this week, and instead start listening to what we need, without shame or blame.

This also lies at the heart of breaking free of the tyranny of the clock. Most of us cannot break away from clocks completely, bills need to be paid, cupboards replenished, arrangements made and kept to. So, we must not blame ourselves for the power it has over us. However, we can recognise the impact of this external force upon us, and when we are able set down the burden, without shame. Times when time does not matter, days when we liberate ourselves, mornings where we are free just to be, are moments of freedom in a world which seeks to imprison us, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second.

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