The Art of Reclaiming Lost Time by Mary Sharratt

Last year I made a list of my recurring negative thoughts. Topping my list was: “There’s never enough time.” 

As a freelance writer, I lead a life of frantic multi-tasking, each month peppered with deadlines and to-do lists, newsletters to send out and a website to maintain. Like everyone else, I balance work commitments with family responsibilities, household tasks, critter care, exercise and fitness, and spirituality. How can I get all this stuff done if I dare take the time to meet my friends for lunch or go somewhere fun with my husband?

Add the crunch of a struggling fiction market. These days, it’s not enough for writers to simply write – we also have to market and publicize ourselves, otherwise we might not sell enough copies to get another contract. New and aspiring authors also feel the pressure to create a massive social media following just to sell their first book and get their foot in the door. All this, of course, creates a vicious circle as writers and other creatives feel the obligation to spend an increasing amount of time on social media hyping ourselves. The end result is that we have precious little time left over to actually write. Writing of any depth demands hours of uninterrupted time.

Too many of us have been brainwashed by dictum of Western linear time and our dysfunctional global work ethic of cramming as much as we can into every single day so we can be a “success.” Even our leisure must somehow be constructive or morally improving. We live in a culture where it’s considered indulgent or even heretical to just be.

Add smartphones to the mix, Big Tech’s greatest weapon of mass distraction, and you get a culture of smombies (Smartphone Zombies–the Germans actually invented the word) staring at their screens while shuffling robotically from one task to the next. More and more people can’t even sit through a family meal or a movie without checking their phones. Meanwhile Facebook and Google, et al, gleefully mine our data while hypnotizing us with Fake News that can swing national elections, thus putting our democracies at risk.

We weren’t meant to live this way. Our workaholic, screen-centric lifestyle is plunging us into depression and burn out to the point where we even forget we’re human. Perhaps the most poignant piece of writing I’ve read on this subject is Andrew Sullivan’s searing essay, “I Used to Be a Human Being.”

If we’re chained to the soul-destroying hamster wheel of busyness, time flies all too quickly. I began to despair as the years started slipping away like sand through open fingers. More than anything I wanted to stop the clock and jump off that wheel. To truly live my life instead of watching it go by while I was too busy to enjoy it.

Some world cultures never stepped on that wheel to begin with. My friend, the writer, artist, and Yoga teacher Stephanie Renee dos Santos, told me she once lived with tribespeople in Niger, West Africa, where linear time as we know it did not exist. Throughout most of human history, we thrived without clocks to measure our time. Instead we looked to the natural cycles of sun, moon, and seasons.

Joan Lindsay (1896-1984), author of Picnic at Hanging Rock and the semi-autobiographical novel Life Without Clocks, embraced the Australian Aboriginal People’s belief of Dreamtime. In this worldview, the mythic beginning of creation never ended. Past, present, and future exist as a continuum. Lindsay, in a 1975 video interview with the Australia Council, described time as being all around us, not linear: “I always felt that it was something that was all round one, not just a long line in a calendar. I feel that one’s in the middle of time and that the past, present and future is really all round.” She lived without clocks and claimed that if she wore a watch, it would stop.

The closest I’ve come to escaping the constraints of Western linear time was while camping in the Namibian desert in the 1990s. The campground generator–and thus all electricity–went out at 7:30 pm, plunging me into the velvet darkness of the African night, free from any light pollution. In the African desert, I caught my first glimpse of the Milky Way. After stargazing, I went to bed and woke up at sunrise, living in sync with nature rather than numbers on a clock.

So how can we slow down time while still functioning in the modern Western world?

Reclaim the Day of Rest: Set aside one day a week as your holy day, reserved for being, not doing. Go offline. Don’t work. At all. Immerse yourself in your spiritual practice without watching the clock. Connect with nature, animals, and the humans you love. Be present, here and now.

Embrace Digital Minimalism: I took a break from social media for the entire month of March and literally had the time of my life, basking in the liberated hours I had suddenly regained. I also deleted all social media apps from my phone.

Take Refuge in Nature: Connect with the natural world every day, even if it’s “just” walking through a city park or down a leafy street. Be present. No earbuds. Switch off your phone. Lose yourself in the sensory experience of birdsong, sunlight, grass beneath your feet, the wind on your face, the wonder of the changing seasons. Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, says that awe in the beauty of nature creates a perception of an expansion, or slowing down, of time.



Dreamtime Sisters by Colleen Wallace Nungari


Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler, is now out in paperback. Learn more at her website. If you enjoyed this article, please sign up for Mary’s newsletter

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23 replies

  1. On the painting here, DREAMTIME SISTERS, by Colleen Wallace Nungari (b. 1973)

    Thanks, Mary Sharratt, for sharing this wonderful artwork here at FAR, absolutely fascinating — I searched the artist on Google and her work is claimed as aboriginal art — her paintings (acrylics on canvas) seem to me also delightfully modern. Also so interesting that the female figures in the painting here are almost entirely abstract and yet so clearly, delightfully dancing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An important call back to our humanity, Mary!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As usual, an excellent,thoughtful post about the life too many of us are living. You’re right–what with the pesky social media and peskier cell phones, who has time to write? Unless we set some strong boundaries like your suggested day of rest, digital minimalism, and seeking refuge in nature, we’re fragmented and scattered and insane. Although I don’t like to get the outdoors on me and seldom go outside, I do live with cats, which are my “nature.” I bet everyone who reads your post can identify with having too little time to do anything really important.

    And I enjoyed our lunch together last month. It’s always good to meet friends in person. Brava!


  4. Thank you, Mary! I read your post while in the bathroom (on my phone). I had overslept by 20 minutes (because of lying awake in the night fretting about my FAR post due this week). The loss of those 20 minutes sent me into a panic. I had planned to mulch roses between finishing the FAR post and attending a friend’s event. I searched my calendar and the weather to see when mulching might be possible. And I spend relatively little time on social media! Thank you for the timely reminder of timelessness.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You’re so right: we weren’t meant to live like this. I appreciated all of the fascinating links you included…Thank You…as well as the actionable reminders at the end. Great piece and a much needed nudge! Gratitude from Minnesota. ❄️❄️❄️


  6. I love this essay… Time as all around us – yes!
    Your words: “We live in a culture where it’s considered indulgent or even heretical to just be.” At mid life I started “being” by hiding out – disappearing into the woods – wandering – what a friend of mine calls “drifting”. Drifting puts me in the moment – and here in the desert the signs of spring are everywhere – and drifting allows my most creative self to thrive – thanks for the reminder – spring is also a season that brings pressure to “do” – for me its gardening – and this too can take me away from the wonder of simply being me.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This: “… plunging me into the velvet darkness of the African night, free from any light pollution. In the African desert, I caught my first glimpse of the Milky Way. After stargazing, I went to bed and woke up at sunrise, …”.
    I grew up in country Australia (outside of any town) and experienced something of this often, and felt the magic again as I read it. Lovely “timely” (hehe) essay thank you, and love the art too.


  8. This was absolutely awesome I just written down a revised business plan and one of the things on the list was forest and pray on Sunday and just do nothing. At least two days out the week no media.


  9. I love this, Mary! I remember the first time I heard someone say, “I’m a human being, not a human doing,” it was an “aha” moment for me, just like your post is. I’m in a position where I no longer have to work and I’ve often been made to feel lazy because I choose not to work. I find myself explaining that I have a hidden disability and my elderly mother lives with me and I’m her caregiver. Of course it is really nobody’s business, anyway. I do try to get out in nature every day and just unplug and relax there. I have a little chair at my favorite spot in my woods and I often fall asleep when I’m sitting there. We humans are meant to be able to enjoy life and not just exist! So you’ve inspired me to unplug more – thank you!


  10. Truly wonderful ideas and writing. Having a better relationship with time seems essential. I appreciate this writing very much.


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