One of our common stresses is time. In the United States, we believe that time isprecious. Our culture operates on something referred to as monochronic time.There is one focus, the clock. If someone says he will be somewhere at a specifictime, it is expected he will be there. With the monochronic perspective, time is acommodity of which there is only so much. We don’t like to waste time, be late,or lose time. Monochronic people would never travel without a watch and periodicallylook at it to know the time. When engaged in conversation with someonewho is looking at his watch, we get the nonverbal message that our time isup, and we should leave now. When the clock becomes a focus, it creates stress.

I spent most of my life living in the New York City metropolitan area. Thisarea operates by the clock. When making an appointment, if you say 9 o’clock,that means 9 o’clock exactly. It’s acceptable to be early, but it is polite to say thatyou know that you are early. It is never acceptable to be late. Being late requiresan apology with a reason for the tardiness. Judgments are made about people whoare late; they are inconsiderate, unreliable, and obviously don’t care about you, orthey wouldn’t be late. Now, when we consider traffic, weather conditions, andmyriad other variables, it is easy to see how being on time is going to cause guaranteedstress. In my remembrance, it was a rare day when I didn’t have thethought: “I’m going to be late.” I know my body was receiving this message andresponding with the appropriate muscle tension and rapid heart rate. It didn’toccur to me that there was any alternative. That’s just the way things were in myworld.

I met a colleague who introduced me to a different concept of time—polychronictime. Polychronic time is practiced in Latin countries, Asia, the MiddleEast, and virtually all cultures in the warmer latitudes. It roughly translates as“now” time: when I complete the task at hand, I shall move onto the next one.Polychronic practitioners believe that the only time is now. A woman I work withillustrated to me how this works. If she and I have a meeting scheduled for 10:00Releasing the Clock 45AM and on the way to our meeting she runs into a student who has some questions,the student takes priority. It is the task or person at hand that a polychronicperson would give her attention to. I would be expected to know and understandthis, as I would behave the same way. No apology for tardiness would beexpected, although it may be offered.

I asked this same colleague how polychronic time works with a social engagement,for example, dinner. She told me how she had invited her grandmother fordinner next Thursday at 4:00 PM. Grandmother replied, “Only God knows whatI will be doing Thursday.” Polychronic people are “in the now.” Grandmothercould not know for certain what her plans would be other than the ones she wasengaged in at the moment. It was understood that, in saying 4:00 PM, in polychromicterms it could be anytime within that hour. I asked my colleague whathappens if grandma doesn’t come. That seemed to be okay with the hostess. It’salso okay if grandma shows up at 7 PM; however, if there were no food left,grandma would understand. (The hostess assured me that in her house therewould always be food.)

I very much like the idea of polychronic time. Eckhart Tolle, in The Power ofNow, explains, “The eternal presence is the space within which your whole lifeunfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now.”1 “Now” really is theonly time we have. We do not know if there will be a tomorrow, and yesterday isgone. I know from my experience of living my life in the Northeast, I acted as ahuman doing instead of a human being. There was no being. I was a type A personality.My focus was on tasks, and the more tasks I could complete in a timelymatter, the better. It saddens me in retrospect how many interactions I missedbecause the clock took precedence. The cultural focus on the clock supported mylifestyle philosophy. I was unaware of the consequence of the long-term stress Iwas putting on my body. Now I understand.

Americans who find themselves living in a Latin American country often haveculture shock with the “work ethic” of this new culture. When building a house,the American understands that the plumber is scheduled to come tomorrowmorning. In fact, however, the plumber arrives at 3:00 PM. “What kind of way isthis to run a business?” the American thinks. He is annoyed because he is onmonochronic time. Morning does not mean mid-afternoon. The Latino doesn’tunderstand why the customer is angry, as the job he was doing earlier took longerthan expected. The plumber is operating on polychronic time, where no apologyor explanation is necessary or expected. The American feels that insult has beenadded to injury because the worker doesn’t even apologize. The American maychoose to fire the plumber, assuming he is unreliable. However, the AmericanChoosing for Bliss 46will most likely experience a repeat of the situation with other plumbers. If theAmerican had been forewarned of this difference in the approach to time, thiswould be a less stress-producing incident.

When we moved to Florida, I made a conscious decision to reduce the stressassociated with time. I playfully told my friends, “I am going to become Southernand think about it tomorrow.” It has worked. When making appointments, Igive myself a fifteen minute buffer; let’s make it 12:00 to 12:15. I then aim for12:00 but know I have fifteen minutes to spare. I make a point to take the person’sphone number with me. I know I can use my cell phone if something unexpectedpresents itself. I pay attention to my internal dialogue. If it’s giving me themessage “I am going to be late,” I consciously replace it with “All is fine.” I do abody scan, and if tension is starting I purposefully do deep breathing to release it.I’m finding my relationships are richer because I am truly present, not concerningmyself with my next task and what the clock may read. I make the consciousdecision not to wear my watch on days when it doesn’t seem critical for me to beaware of the time. I’m not totally polychromic, yet I’m making a good attempt atreleasing my obsession with the clock. My body thanks me, and I suspect if youchoose to release the clock, yours will thank you too. After all, how can we experienceour bliss in this moment if we’re preoccupied with the time?

1 Tolle, Edkhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, California: The New World Library, 1999.

This is an excerpt from Renee Duane's book: "Choosing for Bliss, Reclaiming Your Inherent Joy."

Author's Bio: 

Renee holds a B.S Degree in Education and a M.A. Degree in Communication Arts. She’s been an educator, a head negotiator, a healer, a public speaker and author of “Choosing for Bliss, Reclaiming Your Inherent Joy.” Renee’s Encouraging Words business offers speeches and workshops with strategies for getting off the “hamster wheel” of life. She and her husband of thirty-five years reside in Safety Harbor, Florida. They have one grown son.