Monday, April 16, 2018

Rhythm & Resetting Our Internal Clocks

Understanding Rhythm
And How It Resets Our Internal Clocks

On Saturday's I like to go out with my wife and listen to live bands at different clubs. One night as I was tapping my fingers to the music, watching people dancing and getting a bit wild, a thought occurred to me. People were not just having a good time and taking the night off, they were actually resetting their clocks to a different rhythm, different from the Monday-Friday workaday rhythm.

Everything we do as human beings involves rhythm from breathing and talking to commuting and working to eating and making love. It may not be that obvious when putting a spreadsheet together or going shopping but nevertheless, each activity has a rhythm and each environment has an overall rhythm.
While this blog-post is about contemporary society, rhythm has been basic to homo sapiens from the very beginning and to all cultures from 'primitive' to ancient to modern. It would be an interesting psychological study to see how rhythms operate in various cultures today and how they have operated in the past. 
During the week most of us are expected to be fairly rational and meet our deadlines and do our jobs. This often involves quite a bit of planning and then a follow-through that accomplishes what we planned. The work week is dominated by the clock -- be on time, deliver by a certain deadline, prepare the night before for a presentation the following day, keep track of supplies, turn your reports in on time etc., etc. The rhythm we follow Monday through Friday is the rhythm of our work played to the tune of our man-made clocks.

Charlie Chaplin's humorous take on the worker 
as a cog in the wheel of commerce in his movie, Modern Times.

On Saturday's many of us can put the workaday mental to-do checklists aside and instead live more in the moment. I believe this is not only enjoyable but essential. On weekends we as human beings need to reset our rhythms from the man-made artificial time that we live by during the week to a rhythm that feels more comfortable and more in tune with the natural rhythm of our bodies. Music, in particular, seems to have that quality. And most people prefer live music as that has the power of the moment and a rhythm that is spontaneous. 

After writing this blog about time for five years now, it is clear to me that clock time is not natural. Instead, it is manufactured time. While time always passes no matter what, the clock divides time artificially which makes us intensely aware of its passage. Since all clocks are coordinated now with a master atomic clock, they also place us on a man-made time grid. Today we are expected to know when and where we are on that grid during much of the work week.
"Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."   
William Faulkner
See more about our artificial time 
in previous blogs listed at the bottom of this post.

Clock time is a stern master. But most of us, after ten to twenty years of schooling, have become accustomed to its demands. (In another blog I wrote about how school teaches us to operate with clock time.) As adults, many of us have gotten so used to living by the clock that we forget how unnatural it really is. 

See more about time and school at:

Work demands that we keep an on-going mental to-do checklist that we are always updating and also checking off as tasks are accomplished. Because of this checklist we do not -- and in a sense cannot -- live in the moment. We must constantly be thinking about what we should do next. This mental checklist is essential for accomplishing our work, but it also prevents us from enjoying the 'now' moment.
"It seems certain that we do not feel comfortable in our present-day civilization"   
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930

(Left) A visualization of the brain as a kind of factory. 
(Right) But our brains are not mechanical or well organized. They are complex and organic.

Civilization demands that we know how to live and work within the confines of clock time. But our human nature demands that we get back in touch with our natural rhythms on a regular basis. Both are necessary.

When the weekend rolls around or when we take the night off and go to a club to hear music, we are reaching for the now moment. While we have been taught in school to delay gratification, there are times when we need to be immersed in the now moment, to be gratified in the moment. 

Popular or dance music might be seen as the intersection of culture/civilization on the one hand and our animal, human nature on the other hand. Music is crafted in a cultured manner but it gives expression to the primal side of our nature.

A number of songs express these ideas very clearly.

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild
Born to be wild

Song and Lyrics by Cam (Camaron Ochs)
Live for a while, for whatever feels good
In the moment, on the river, rock the chain

The Bad Touch
Bloodhound Gang
You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals
So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

Music, in particular, resets our internal clocks because music flows. That flow is constantly taking us along. Work rhythm is quite different, it is more staccato. It stops and starts, and is full of interrupts. Unlike music which soothes and carries us, work rhythms make us a bit anxious and self-consciously aware of the passage of time.

About Live Music: Live music, in particular, has the power to take over our bodies, and to wash away clock time for a while. The distinctive beat of popular or dance music is quite different from the uniform slices of time that are dictated by the clock. While a musical beat can be quite precise, a live beat varies a bit in an organic way; it is not the regular beat of a metronome. And this beat can enter our bodies and become part of us. After a while, this beat can, in a sense, reset our own internal clock.

On Saturdays, however, most of us relax a bit and live by a rhythm that is somewhat free from clock time. We even have expressions that indicate this such as "taking time off" or "off the clock" or "down time" or "time out." Oh sure we might go to a movie by a certain time, for example, but movies themselves are never the same length and when we are watching a movie most of us forget about the time. Or we might sit on the couch and watch TV, but not really keep an eye on the clock as we would during the week.

I am making several points here. It is not just that the rhythm at work and the rhythm on the weekend are different, it's that we internalize these rhythms. So at work, we are more alert, more guarded, more on duty, and more aware of the clock. We move differently and we react differently. But there is another point. The rhythm on the weekend is not just more relaxed, it is a different kind of rhythm. At work, we are 'wound up' like the spring in an old mechanical clock -- which is where the expression may have come from. After work or on the weekend we unwind. Or it might make more sense to say that we go back to a more natural rhythm that has always been there.

This idea of rhythm has far-reaching implications. A person's sense of well being is often connected to the rhythms of their life. While rhythm is only one of a number of factors, it should be considered by psychologists in a person's therapy, for example. A comfortable rhythm that is in tune with an individual's lifestyle should help a person live a better more satisfying life. Corporations might study rhythm to see if they can design environments, schedules, and deadlines so that people are more at ease with the demands of their jobs.

The quality of your work will be better if you reset your internal clock every so often. Getting back in touch with your natural rhythm is important for personal health and also for being fresh and relaxed when Monday rolls around and you must step back once more into the rhythm of doing your job.

As the industrial revolution progressed and people's lives became more regimented, popular dances became wilder and more primal. In the 20th Century, dances went from the Jazz Dance of the 1900s to Swing Dance, then Jive and then to Rock and Roll in the 1950s. Each dance was seen as more 'primitive' than the one before. The evolution of these popular dances might be seen as a counterbalance to the increased control and the orderly demands of an industrial society. For example, one of these wild dances, the Charleston of the 1920s, came from a Broadway show entitled, Runnin' Wild.

 --------------------- AFTERWORD --------------------- 

There is probably a way that a psychologist could examine the ideas in this blog post and study the nature of rhythm and its effect on work, play, and sense of well being. I believe it would be a fruitful area of study.

See these blogs of mine that relate to this post:

A Revolution in Time

See the AFTERWORD about the grid:
In the blog: "What Does It Mean To Exist?"
Descartes And 'The Grid' Of The Modern World

The Protective Bubble of Civilization

The Dance of the *Now Moment*

NOTE: Saturday was named for Saturn, the Roman god of time. He was also the god of the end of the year when the Saturnalia festival was held -- the principal week long festival in Rome when people enjoyed doing things that were a bit crazy. So the end of the week, Saturday, and the end of the year, Saturnalia, were also celebrations about time. It is no accident today that Saturday is a time for kicking off your shoes and letting down your hair. This has been true now for thousands of years.