My Days with No Clock

“To Customer Service, Now and Zen:

The clock I received for the order copied below does not work. I tried reinstalling the batteries. Removed them and tried it on the cord alone. I guess it’s truly a Zen clock, because, as in that classic cartoon of the two monks, “Nothing happens next.”

I have owned one of the older and truly perfect models for over ten years, the triangular wooden clock with the circular face, its hands moving over art, not numbers. I’m sorry that style has been discontinued. Last week, I knocked it over by accident, and the hour hand is loose, though the minute hand is still working.

The new design is dull and blocky in comparison, offering limited aesthetic value, just the chime. The energy of the digital face isn’t serene like the old circular face. Sad change, Zen clocks, sad change. The symbolic relationship with time as expressed by clock design is so different. A digital readout, a relentless march of numbers, is linear and measurement-oriented. Quantitative time. People in a state of nature experience time as circular. The round clock face with no numbers echoed the roundness of the earth, the curve of the horizon, the cycles of planets and the sun and moon, all round, all moving in circles. In mathematical perfection, yes, but with no numbers.

I mourn my old clock. Maybe the new one felt judged and refused to function for me. I know all things must pass and change, but I as they do, I would like to experience time as a circle and my clock as a work of art. If the old clock can’t be fixed. I may have to settle for a new one to replace the malfunctioning one I received, but I may hide it behind the old one and just let it ring for me, unseen.”

*****

After I sent this message to Now and Zen, I packed the digital clock for shipping and waited a few days for a return authorization. Meanwhile, in my clock-less bedroom, I slept well—unusually well—and woke thinking of Evan Pritchard’s book, No Word for Time, his account of studying with Mi’kmaq tribal elders to learn his ancestral culture. He tells of asking what the word for time was. The answer? There is no word for time. Apparently, that was also the case at Now and Zen. Nothing happened next. So, I unpacked the digital clock, put the batteries back in, and it worked. Today, I found someone who may be able to repair the old clock. I could end up living with both linear and circular time. And remembering the peace of sleeping and waking with no sense of time at all.

Ahimsa and Santosha

Though a few of my fictional characters do practice yoga, this week it’s Amber the yoga teacher and college professor more than the novelist who’s talking.

The Sanskrit word ahimsa is usually translated as “non-harming.” It’s one of the principles of yoga philosophy, one of the yamas, which means abstentions or restraints. Ideally, we’re aware of it in our asana practice and also as we take our yoga with us into our lives. Ahimsa applies to self and others, to all life forms, not only to humans. Thinking unkind and hostile thoughts, saying destructive things, or doing harmful actions are all contrary to the principle of ahimsa.

When I teach, I remind students to stay in a pain-free range of motion and to come out of a pose completely when fatigued rather hang in their joints and possibly injure themselves. But then I’ll look around and see students succumbing to the competitive urge to do what a stronger or more flexible classmate can do. Santosha needed! This is one of the niyamas, the observances to be practiced without restraint. It means contentment. One does not fight reality but takes an attitude of receptive awareness. Objecting to reality with complaints and harsh judgment doesn’t change it. Change can occur, however, from this basis in contentment. Approaching one’s own body and one’s own character from santosha seems to go with having a sense of humor that is kind and open.

I do my best to integrate yoga philosophy into my teaching without giving a formal lecture. However, it’s incredibly hard to teach Americans not to hurt themselves, and when I instruct other kinds of physical activity it’s even harder. There’s no expectation of spirituality or stress reduction in a strength-training class, but of self-improvement, and for some reason, we seem to think we’re better people if we push ourselves beyond healthy limits. I’ve met young men who take pre-workout pills with so much caffeine they could cause a heart attack in order to force their exhausted bodies to work harder, when what they really need is eight hours of sleep a night. I think Americans subscribe to a pervasive cultural delusion that it’s virtuous to go without sleep or heroic to work sixty hours or more a week, and that a great athlete will sacrifice the long-term well-being of his or her body for the sport and for the team. I wish no one had ever come up with the phrase, “no pain, no gain.”

Well-rested, relaxed people get more done in less time. They fight less. Comprehend more. Pay attention and remember better. Procrastinate less. Have more energy. If we all slowed down and allowed our nervous systems to stop buzzing, what would happen? If we valued our health as a nation and as a culture, rather than seeing it as expendable in the pursuit of other goals, what would happen? How would employers treat workers? How would we treat ourselves?