There is a popular conception in the New Age community that time is actually speeding up in some way and that's why the whole world seems to be in a rush and some people are freaking out. There is also a popular perception in the Mainstream community that life is getting more intense and stressful and some people are getting ill or going crazy because of it. In both communities there are people who long for for simplicity, meaning more time to relax and enjoy life. So what's really going on and what can be done about it?
As a young boy I lived in the residential area of a big city. My equivalent of a computer and TV was comic books and movies, but I still spent a lot of time outdoors playing with friends. I went through several illnesses that I now know were related to stress, but it was internal stress, not external. Life had a pretty easy pace. I went to school, took piano lessons that I hated because the teacher rapped my fingers when I played a wrong note, played with my friends after school, had dinner and went to bed. On the weekends I mostly played also, except for the few chores I had to do. In the summer I played a lot, and as I grew older I found or created jobs to earn a little money to buy candy with. Life was pretty easy, pretty simple.
As a teenager I lived on a farm in conditions that were as simple as those in a third world country. We were short on money, food and clothing, and I often held two or three jobs at a time, but there still seemed to be a lot of time for fun and games and socializing. I could hardly call high school stressful because I hardly did anything there, although there were the normal emotional stresses of teenage life. College was stressful because I had to work my way through, but there was still plenty of time to play. The Marine Corps was stressful because of its very nature, but I still had a lot of time for myself and I don't ever recall feeling overwhelmed by life itself.
In fact, I never had that feeling all through the rest of college, or through marriage and raising children, or through seven years in Africa, or through the whole decade of the seventies and most of the way through the eighties. There were tough times, sure, but there was always time for travel, for having breakfast on the beach, for taking long walks through the woods, for visiting with friends. In spite of commuting from Kauai to the Mainland practically every weekend for several years I really don't recall any sense of life pressure until the nineties.
So what was different then? Was the Earth passing through some kind of Cosmic Energy Field that speeded up all our frequencies? Or was television, pollution and the threat of nuclear annihilation causing a breakdown of our minds and bodies? This was worth thinking about, because gradually I found myself working more and more and playing less and less.
So I started thinking about it, and while I was thinking about it a memory popped up that led me to a theory. The memory was of a trip I took with my family across the US from Michigan to California shortly after we returned from Africa for the last time. During the trip we parked our VW van beside a country store in Idaho so that Gloria (my wife) could hop in and get some aluminum foil. We both expected that to take about ten minutes at the most. A half hour later I was worried enough to leave the kids in the van and go looking for her. We didn't have enough money to buy more than aluminum foil, so I knew she wasn't just shopping. When I went into the store I found her standing in front of the shelves where aluminum foil was displayed. She looked like she was in a daze, or a hypnotic trance.
On the shelves was more aluminum foil than we had seen in all our seven years overseas. There was foil of different lengths, different widths, different thicknesses, different patterns and different brands. In Dakar, our last post, we would have been lucky to find one box on one shelf. Gloria had been stunned into immobility by the stress of choice. I shook her out of her trance, grabbed a box at random, and got her out of there.
Since the beginning of the nineties the choices we have available for almost everything have increased astoundingly. Technology has played a large part in this excess of possibilities. Where once you could only choose between an IBM AT or an IBM XT, you now have to decide on the processor speed (366MHZ, 400MHZ, 600MHZ, 800MHZ....), the video card, the modem, the graphics card, the monitor, the peripherals, the operating system, the color, a laptop or a desktop model, and the software. Where once your choice of television channels consisted of ABC, CBS, NBC and a few local stations, you can now have your pick of way more than a hundred channels from all over the world. Where you used to get a few letters every weekday you can now get email every hour of every day seven days a week. Where once you went to the local theatre to see a movie on the weekend, some cities now provide you with half a dozen multiplex cinemas within a block or two of each other, some with twenty-four movies to choose from.
But technology alone isn't the reason we are inundated with choices. Does the following dialogue sound at all familiar?
"Would you like something to drink before your meal? We have six kinds of soft drinks, four kinds of sparkling water (of course you can have plain water, with or without ice, and your choice of lemon, lime or without), eight kinds of beer, including three on draft, fifty different wines, by the bottle or by the glass, and, of course, a wide variety of mixed drinks, with or without alcohol."
"Would you like a salad with your meal? You can have a green salad, a mixed salad, a tomato and cheese salad, Caesar's salad (with or without anchovies), and on any of those you can add chicken or fish."
"What kind of dressing would you like? We have ranch, thousand island, French, creamy Italian, blue cheese, papaya seed, honey mustard, oil and vinegar (regular, rice or balsamic), or our special house dressing. Would you like the dressing on the salad or on the side? Would you like pepper on your salad?"
It would be easy to produce hundreds of examples of the choices we have in our lives today, but since time does not expand to fit the choices available I've had to restrict my examples to a few. However, that brings us to a currently popular "solution" to finding enough time to do all that we can do. It's called "multi-tasking." That's a computer term that refers to the possibility of having several programs open and operating at the same time on your computer. It is also a term that is being increasingly applied to human behavior.
"Multi-tasking" simply means to do more than one thing at once, which is not anything new in and of itself. Like most people who have a car I can drive, listen to the radio, and carry on a conversation at the same time. Now a lot of people are adding a cell phone to the mix. plus a device that shows and tells them how to get to where they are going. And I read recently that one car company at least is going to offer web access next year. Like a lot of people, I have used the bathroom as a library ever since I can remember. Lately, it's the only place I can get my extra reading done, and I know some people who equip it with bookshelves, a clock, a CD player, a telephone, and they also bring in their laptop.
Vacuum cleaners have radios, toasters tell time, wristwatches do so many things that their function as a clock is almost forgotten, and my grandchildren are involved in a computer role-playing game which allows them to become eight different characters at once.
I think that the sense of time speeding up that so many of us feel has more to do with the sheer number of choices that face us constantly than with anything else. At any given moment nowadays, when things are slow, I can easily have twenty-five different things clamoring for my attention. Other than developing the skill to multi-task more and more of them, is there any other solution that can help? Well, I've thought about this, too, but all I can tell you is what works for me.
My solution doesn't reduce the number of choices. That's an easy one, by the way. All you have to do is to go live somewhere like the African bush where the choices are few and far between. But I like all my toys, and I like to write, and I like to heal, and I like to teach, and I like to design and manage websites, and I like to play and I like to do nearly all the things I do, so escaping from choices is not a choice I'll make. No, my solution is to choose consciously and willingly. You'll notice that I did not say wisely or carefully. That's because I have no idea what the effects of my choices will be until they happen, in which case I have the opportunity to make more choices.
To choose consciously and willingly is to choose without resisting the necessity of making a choice, and without regretting the choices not made. How do I know what choices to make? Like anyone else, I use a combination of logic, intuition and feeling. How do I avoid making wrong choices? For me that's not an issue, since I do not believe wrong choices are possible. I do believe that we may not like the results of our choices, but that's part of the feedback system that we call life and we can always make another choice within the constraints of those results. Instead of blaming results on the choices I make, I operate with the idea that results are the effect of more factors than we can possibly calculate.
Of course, the feedback of life can teach us that some choices are more likely to lead to good results than others, but that's like saying that some roads are more likely to take you to your destination than others. Choosing one road over another doesn't guarantee an uneventful journey, however.
So, as much as I can, I make all my choices with full awareness that they are my choices, and with full willingness to deal with whatever the results are and to make more choices as necessary. What this does is to reduce the stress of making choices to a tremendous degree.
Hey, it works for me. Maybe it'll work for you.