Tell me if this sounds familiar. Everybody’s already in utkatasana, like an audience seated in invisible chairs, and in rushes the star of the Late Show… again. Oblivious, Late Show Star parades through the B series in progress, grabs a block and strap and snaps their mat down… Meanwhile you sun-salute nearby, seething with time-management righteousness.
Punctuality is often mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts alongside the ethical practices and daily routines. Patanjali himself said "So our practice, regular and punctual, is to continue uninterruptedly for a long time.” But meditation is about letting go of the rigid concepts we have of time. Is it any better to rush furiously to make it on time to a yoga class where we hope to find peace, than it is to wander in behind but unburdened by a few stray moments?
Time is our way of organizing our visit here on earth. We can all see the clocks and calendars, but perhaps we view them in different ways. Just like we each have a predisposition towards being tighter or weaker or antsy or lethargic, we have time tendencies too. The way we make use of our time is unique to each one of us, as is how we view deadlines, due dates, start times...even a new year.
But what does it mean to be on time…and while we’re at it what is time?
Webster’s College Dictionary defines time as “a measurable interval between two events during which something happens.” There are numerous ways to calculate, from a picosecond (one-trillionth of a second) to fifteen billion years (the estimated age of the universe). A day is theoretically the time it takes for the earth to rotate on its axis but the reason there’s twenty-four hours in a day is a bit more arbitrary.
Back in the eighth century BC, the Egyptians came up with the earliest known sundial. It’s believed they’re the originators of the twenty-four hour day. Then, the Babylonians stepped in, using an Egyptian calendar that had 360 days. Sixty was a base number in the Babylonian math system, so they divided away, and poof, the sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes to an hour was born. Later the Romans contributed a.m. (ante meridiem, or before midday) and p.m. (post meridiem, after midday).
But coordinating all this timekeeping would take many more years. And it wasn’t until the early 1800’s that clocks became inexpensive enough for common people. Wristwatches, at first deemed only for women, became part of World War Two soldier’s uniforms when reaching for their pocket watch was impossible during battle. Time discipline - the study of the social rules, conventions, expectations and customs of time - reveals that influences like religion, politics and even the industrial revolution are major players when it comes to who’s decided what time and even what day it is.
The January 1st New Year we anticipate globally comes from the Gregorian (a.k.a. Western/Christian) calendar. But the Chinese New Year happens on the first new moon of the first lunar month, which can be anywhere from January 21st to February 21st. In Southeast Asia, the new year falls between the 13th and 15th of April. There’s the Hebrew calendar and certainly we’ve all been hearing a lot about the Mayan calendar (there’s even a Darian calendar created for future human settlers on Mars). So our cultural and, dare I say, planetary ideas about time are varied. Plants and animals distinguish night from day, evening from dawn and midnight from midday without using calendars or clocks.
Could it be that our Late Show Star simply has his or her finger on a more universal pulse?
What if we’ve become so strict behind this combination of Babylonian math and post-industrial-revolutionary synchronizing that we’re willing to sacrifice the intuitive voice of our yoga and our connection to something greater just so we can point to the hands on the wall for validation? Like tensing our muscles makes it hard to flow through our vinyasa with grace, gripping too tightly to our readiness can be counterproductive and stress inducing too. As the yogis would say: sthiram sukham. Yes, steadiness, but sweetness and ease too. I mean, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” right?
This year my resolution is to find my way to a little less timepiece and a little more time peace…Even if I don’t get there until the Bengali New Year.