The sexagesimal (base 60) time measurement system was created by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia in around 3000 BCE; about 5,020 years ago. The earliest homo sapiens (that we know of) emerged onto earth around 2.8 million years ago. This means that humans worked out existence for 2,794,980 years before ever looking at a clock.
Today, there are still cultures that do not orient their lives according to clock time and the members of these cultures are happier than those who do.
Mom, an 80 year old woman from Mississippi who currently lives in St. Louis, MO, tells stories of how she grew up never knowing what time it was. She and her siblings would simply live life knowing “when” by the position of the sun. Time only mattered first thing in the morning, when Mr. Charlie, the white plantation owner, would harass her father who would then harass her and her siblings to awaken and get to work picking cotton. The family was only paid $60 a month for a household of 11 people: 2 parents and 9 children. They were in this arrangement because Mom’s father killed a man. Instead of going to jail or being killed by the state, he and his family was sentenced to working on Mr. Charlie’s plantation until Mom’s father died. She was finally rescued from the farm when she was 13 years old.
Mom tells how, despite not having clocks, they always knew what “time” it was:
“When it get to be 12:00, your shadow come closer to you…When you first start in the morning, your shadow and the sun come out and your shadow be way over there. But as close as it get to 12:00, it come to you…In the evening, like 6:00, the shadow go out. It come in about half a day. That’s how we knew.
“My whole life was different when I left home [and started working by a clock]…Everything in my life was a change. I just adjusted. That’s what you have to do. If you gonna live in this world, you gotta live with the changes. I made it ok. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know, you know.”
Mom has been retired for quite some time. She doesn’t look at a clock very much anymore. When asked the purpose of life, Mom declares, “Joy.”
Ever since elementary school, Tony has always been late. He was tardy to school so much that teachers stopped punishing him for it. A curious and dedicated student, classmates were always happy to contribute their study hours to tutoring Tony on lessons he may have missed. By senior year, “Tony Time” had transformed from his individual affliction into an after school program where talented students tutored students who struggled for various reasons, including the inability to make it to school on time.
After graduation, Tony had a hard time adjusting to 9-5 work schedules. He was a good worker, but he frustrated employers with his tardiness. Tony had loved cars since he was a child. He’d find impounded gems and restore them to not only driveable, but fashionable condition. He fixed his brother’s car. He fixed his uncles’ cars. He fixed his friends’ cars. Before long, he was fixing everybody’s car in the neighborhood. Tony developed a reputation for being the only mechanic around who actually fixed people’s cars on the first try.
One afternoon, while fixing his mother’s car, his girlfriend (now wife), who spent a lot of time watching the sparkle in his eyes when he fixed cars, asked, “Why don’t you quit your job and start a business fixing cars?”
Today, Tony is an independent mechanic who marches by the hands of his own clock. Moreover, Tony is honest, knowledgeable, and dedicated to his craft, which makes him efficient, easy going, and able to charge much less than other mechanics in the area. Additionally, Tony was able to employ his cousin who had been released from prison and couldn’t find regular work. Now, he and his cousin own 3 garages where they employ other formerly incarcerated folks from the community, offering rehabilitation through connection, apprenticeship, and the ability to earn a living for their families.
For Tony, time is never an issue. His discipline is a byproduct of his love for the work. No one complains about whether or not he shows up on time. Anyone who would have a problem with how Tony works can go to a commercial mechanic and pay more for the run around.
“I love what I do. I come to the shop 4 days a week. We come early and work until the sun goes down. I like helping people and I like seeing them happy and relieved. My work is exciting. If it stops being interesting or I get bad at it or people stop liking it, I’ll do something else.”
The Hi’aiti’ihi tribe (known as Pirahã to westerners) of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have no words for numbers and do not acknowledge the past nor the future. As a result, they are some of the happiest people in the world. In the late 1970s, a missionary went to try to convert them to Christianity, but they rejected him. They had no need for his message or influence because they already had what they needed and were secure in their being.
What the Hi’aiti’ihi had then and continue to have is an encyclopedic knowledge of every plant and animal in their village, rendering them completely secure in the abundance and perpetual generosity of nature. Surrounded by abundance, there is no need to keep time, remember the past, or plan for the future. When the fish come in, it is time to catch them. The endemic plants provide food and medicine. The babies play while mothers watch and tend to them. Young men spend their days on the water, making tools, and practicing their archery skills. They care for and protect each other.
After living with the Hi’aiti’ihi and learning their culture and language for over 30 years, the missionary eventually abandoned his faith. He couldn’t live in such an environment and believe that his religion applied.
As more westerners continued to travel to the Hi’aiti’ihi territory to study the tribe, disease followed. This lead to the need for western medicine and other influence. Though their sovereignty, perfect sustainability, lack of time orientation or even numbers, and lack of recursion (potentially endless repetition/redundancy) in their language has resulted in a lot of conflict and curiosity in the linguistic science community, the Hi’aiti’ihi themselves could care less what westerners are going through to understand them. Tribal elders are vocal about keeping westerners out for their safety and continued happiness.
The Hi’aiti’ihi are among around 400 tribes who exist in the Amazon rainforest. Many have had contact with outsiders for nearly 500 years while others (an estimated 100 or so tribes) have had no contact with outsiders at all. Many tribes are under threat by the siege mentality of western capitalism. Oil mining, logging, and violent farming practices have resulted in the genocide of many indigenous Amazonians. Some organizations have been working to educate westerners about valuing indigenous sovereignty and ecological preservation over capitalistic opportunism. Meanwhile, tribes are continually vigilant about protecting their territories by any means necessary, which points to a long history of western missionaries and scientists who arrive to tribal coastlines and are never seen again.
The Most Insidious Mind Control
From the sun dials of ancient Egypt to the water clocks of the Chinese Song Dynasty and on through to the digital clock of the 21st Century, visionaries have worked to break the day into quantifiable pieces. Today, industrialized societies believe that clocks and calendars are touchstones for record keeping.
The industrial revolution, a byproduct of World War II which monetized productivity by pairing human with machine, valued human labor by the hour. With the promise of achieving a secure future that never came, people sold their present moments by the hour to the highest bidder. This created a culture of humans whose minds could be micro-manipulated by the belief that seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years determine the linear exchange value of one’s life…
…until the system crashed.
As the information age emerged and human labor was replaced by artificial intelligence, industry declined rapidly. Pensions were lost as CEOs looted the remaining value of their companies. Retirement age increased as inflation outweighed savings. More people had to find post-retirement work to continue to afford housing and mounting medical bills. Many who could retire became too ill from years of working in unhealthy environments to actually enjoy the fruits of their labor. The myth of time as value for labor blew wide open as young people who rejected the system became millionaires over night, mocking the generations before them whose indentured servitude went unrewarded.
The system people have believed in for so many centuries is unraveling. Nevertheless, this is no reason to be afraid. Nobody needs a system to BE. All we need to BE is breath and gratitude.
The Solution is Closer Than You Think
Who would you be if you didn’t know what time it was? How would you know when to wake up? Eat? Take a walk? Stretch? Meditate? Use the bathroom? Go to sleep? Would you sleep all day? Would you go hungry? Would you panic? Miss bathroom breaks? Stay up all night?
What if you could allow your body and mind to do what they would do in harmony with the cosmos, your circadian rhythms, and your digestive needs as indicated by your gut? Do you trust yourself enough to eliminate obsessive compulsions and survive without being instructed by a person or machine that exists outside of you?
Some guardians and educators have learned that by following the natural rhythm of children, work, education, and play can be organic, devoid of stress, and inclusive of everyone. For a child, a single day feels like a lifetime because the child is living each moment with no thought of the past or the future. When left to her own devices, the child eats when she is hungry, rests when she is tired, and creates when she is curious. When instead of trying to control children we learn from them, we get a glimpse into our language of BEing without ever having to disturb an indigenous tribe. We are naturally indigenous, after all. No matter who you are or where you’re from, your tribe has a contact story. This is the story of how your ancestors went from BEing on their own terms to building wealth for a very small group of calculated visionaries.
Many of us have been conditioned to value acquisition, consumption, production, social comparison, expansion, and desire for more; all taught as a function of a “time” that is never enough. However, if we discover gratitude and take a moment to appreciate the abundance in the infinite now, then, never leave that moment, imagine how much more “time” we’d have.
©Dr. Cho Dyubeh, 2021. BEist, Human Behavioralist, and Contributor to Kahnma.com.