Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., is a pioneer in the wellness movement and the founder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. For two decades, Omega has hosted in-depth presentations by leaders in the fields of health, culture, spirit, and the arts. Each year more than 15,000 people attend workshops at Omega's 80-acre campus in New York's Hudson River Valley, two hours from New York City.
Dr. Rechtschaffen's book Timeshifting grew out of the workshops he leads on the creative use of time. Unlike time-management courses which teach people how to work efficiently at an ever-accelerating pace, Rechtschaffen's basic premise is that it is crucial to learn how to "timeshift," to move smoothly from fast to medium to slow and back again. Each speed has its proper place, he believes, but the rhythms of industrialized societies, including the United States, encourage us to live in "fast forward" virtually all the time. He asserts that we pay a heavy price for doing so.
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Dr. Rechtschaffen discusses the patterns of overwork endemic to modern culture, and presents practical ways to change these behaviors. In answer to a question about attention deficit disorder, he speaks of the condition as a rhythmic disturbance brought on when children try to entrain to the speedy rhythms around them, and offers advice to parents seeking alternatives to Ritalin.
For further information on Dr. Rechtschaffen or the Omega Institute, call (800) 944-1001.
Stephan Rechtschaffen Interview
Daniel Redwood: Is staying busy always a positive thing?
Stephan Rechtschaffen: I don't think so. Too often we keep busy in order to avoid feeling our real feelings. When we're in a crisis, whether it's a death in the family, the breakup of a relationship, a bankruptcy, or whatever, people tell us, "stay busy, it will keep your mind off things." Painful feelings are difficult to face, and mostly we'd rather not feel them. So we substitute action for contemplation. We get busy, speed up, turn on the television, do the chores, surf the Internet, go to the gym, anything but feel the painful feelings. We want to experience pleasant emotions, particularly joy and love, but grief and pain are also a very real part of life. It's essential that we not cut off these feelings or cover them up with ceaseless activity.
DR: What first led you to slow your pace?
SR: I want to make it clear that I'm not saying we need to do everything slowly. That's why I called my book Timeshifting rather than Downshifting. Timeshifting means constantly changing our rhythm, slowing or accelerating in order to feel present and in the flow of the moment. There is a proper time and place for doing things quickly. It's just that in our society, we seem to lock in to one particular speed, which is fast-forward. Going full speed ahead all the time creates all sorts of problems. The physical manifestations of a high-speed, high-stress life can include high blood pressure and heart disease. And then, there is the emotional toll. You can't stop and smell the roses when you're always going 65 miles an hour.
DR: Is this strictly an American phenomenon?
SR: No. The Japanese have a word, kashori, which means death from overwork. Ten thousand people a year die from kashori in Japan. To officially qualify as a victim of kashori, you have to have worked for at least 16 hours a day for seven straight days, or 24 hours straight just before dying. Yet when the Japanese government tried to shorten the work week from six days to five a few years ago, workers opposed the change. Speed, action, and busyness are addictive. When I visited Japan, I was fascinated to see people playing Pachinko, a game that is like vertical pinball, for hours on end. Little skill is involved, and there is no particular point in winning. But it's an excellent way to enter a sort of hypnotic trance, and an effective way to keep yourself from feeling.