The coffee break is one thing labor and management have agreed on since the dawn of the industrial age. It too acts as a timeshifting ritual. But like the cigarette break, there's an inherent problem. Caffeine artificially speeds us up, and eventually wears us down. Why rev up your heartbeat when it's moving along quite fast enough already?
DR: You speak of attention deficit disorder as a rhythm disturbance, caused by entraining to society's speedy pace from birth. How can parents help their children to avoid this pattern?
SR: This is a real challenge, because there are so many influences in the culture that encourage the child to go faster and faster. The pace and rhythm of society continue to accelerate, and children try to keep up. Some have more difficulty than others. Ironically, in the United States these children are treated with Ritalin, a drug that speeds up the nervous system. Paradoxically, the children slow down. In my view, this apparent contradiction results from a speedup that enables the children, like a racing engine, to shift up, get in gear, and thus be in sync with what's going on around them.
A better alternative is to just teach them to slow down. It takes real effort, but children can be taught mindfulness practices, dance to slow music, sit still for readings, and accept nap times. My son, at age five, surprised me one day by saying after a game of Nintendo, "I think I'll go meditate now." Today's childhood toys-computer games, instructional tapes, television-all entrain children to a rapid rhythm. We need to offer them other activities that counterbalance this.
DR: What other things can parents do to help their children moderate all these accelerating influences around them?
SR: Here are some ideas. First, from an early age practice concentration exercises with your child. They can listen to the reverberation of a bell, or stay with a musical tone until it disappears. I would also severely limit television time. Read to your children, particularly at bedtime when they need to timeshift into a slower rhythm. Other approaches I have used are beginning each meal with a moment of silence, and teaching them about boundaried time.
DR: These sound like good ideas for people of all ages. Can you define "boundaried time?"
SR: Boundaried time is time that is specifically set aside for a particular activity. So often, we are subjected to competing demands for our time, and respond by flitting back and forth from one activity to another, without devoting adequate attention to any of them. Adults can create boundaried time in the workplace, for example, by taking a 15-minute solitary walk alone after lunch, or not taking phone calls between 9 and 10 in the morning. It's very valuable to set aside certain boundaried times, so that you are able to timeshift during the day, and so that you don't feel that your pace is entirely out of your control.
DR: Would you like to offer any other timeshifting suggestions that people can use in their daily lives?
SR: Let's talk about commuting. I used to drive to work as fast as I could, passing cars, weaving in and out of traffic, and generally feeling angry and uptight. I would arrive at work tense and uncomfortable. At a certain point, I decided to change the pattern. I decided to leave for work an extra ten minutes early, and to drive at a comfortable pace. The change was wonderful! Not only was the commute itself much more pleasant, but I arrived at work feeling refreshed and happy.
I think it's very important for us to view all activities as worthwhile, whether it's driving to work, washing the dishes, cleaning the bedroom, or anything else.