The White Rabbit Within

27 12 2010

Back in 1994, when Linda and I were fighting breast cancer, we came to the conclusion after much research that stress dramatically increases a person’s vulnerability to cancer and lots of other diseases.  With that conclusion came the decision to live a more frugal lifestyle if we could figure out a way to retire early.  It was a little tight at times considering that we have weathered three recessions since Linda’s retirement at age 55 in 2001–I retired at age 57 in 2006.  I have continued to work part time, mostly as a way to keep my mind from turning to oatmeal and to keep my liver out of the bars; it has not been for financial reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the money I have earned allowed us to pull a much smaller amount from our retirement savings and weather the ups and downs of the economy over the last four to five years.

During the last decade I have come to believe that all of life’s activities can be broken down into five basic categories:

1) Things you must do.

2) Things you are obligated to do.

3) Things that you like to do.

4) Things you want to do.

5) Things you hope to try.

Examples of things that you must do are eating and sleeping.  This category is the most fundamental of all five.  Many people confuse activities in this category with activities in categories 2, 3 and 4.

Examples of things you are obligated to do are paying your bills, being honest with others, being a good parent and spouse plus helping take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves.  This category is really a tricky one because obligation to do something is not the same as must do something.  Therefore, many people choose to ignore their obligations or for some reason that is totally foreign to me, do not see these issues as obligations but rather as options.

Examples of things you like to do can be anything from cooking to fly fishing to dancing to reading to doing volunteer work.  It’s a fortunate situation when a person can do what he or she must do or is obligated to do and it also be part of the category or things he or she likes to do.

Examples of things you want to do would be traveling, playing in a garage band or starting your own business.  In order for an activity to be included in this category it must have been something that you experienced at some other time of your life and found real enjoyment in doing it.

Examples of things you hope to try might be scuba diving, learning to play the piano, taking classes in a subject that you think might interest you such as Philosophy, Painting, Tai Chi or Bonsai Gardening.  The defining characteristic of activities in this category is that they are things you have never done before.  If you don’t like it you can either quit and never do it again because all activities in this category have an implied drop out clause included in the contract you make with yourself when you begin the activity.

Now, I will try to make my point.

Figuring out which categories the activities and opportunities in one’s life fit into and allocating the time correctly to reach some sort of balance between the activities is where most, if not all, of life’s stress originates.  Someone may argue that interaction with other people is  source of great stress but in reality, those people are not the source but rather a link in the causal chain that runs from the time element through demands for time placed on you by others to the negative stress you feel as a result of those demands.

I would challenge anyone to name something outside of the first two categories that causes negative stress.  Of course, there is such a thing as positive stress or stress that arises from positive experiences.  As I understand it, positive stress also has adverse effects on a person’s health but not to the degree that negative stress damages that same person.

Next, how many of those negative experiences have to do with the concept of time? Things like schedules, appointments, due dates, late fees, paydays and life expectancy are all issues that have to do with time and how other things in our lives are regulated by time.  Think about it; if you want an Egg McMuffin you must go through the drive-thru before a certain time.  And god forbid if you order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at 7:45am on your way to work.  Oh yeah,  you also have to be to work by 8 o’clock so who has time to beg the voice in the box to make an exception just this one time.  It kind of makes you sympathetic to the Michael Douglas character in Falling Down, doesn’t it?

Consider this question, if you will.  Would time exist if all instruments to measure it ceased to exist?  I know there are cycles, seasons and ages but those are not the same as time.  Isn’t time simply a manmade measurement or a subdivision of cycles, phases and seasons?  Of course, without time, society as we know it would devolve into chaos because of our dependency on train and airplane schedules, store hours and that little button on the remote that can let us see when the next episode of Survivor or Dancing with the Stars comes on.

What would our lives be if we only used time measurements when absolutely necessary?  Would our stress levels be reduced or heightened?  One of the things on my “want to do” list is to go somewhere, probably a tropical location, and simply stay there until I didn’t want to stay there any longer.  It would take a little bit of pre-planning to make sure I could eat when I got hungry, sleep when I got tired, drink when I was thirsty and have access to do whatever I wanted to do when the notion struck me.  That sounds like an ideal situation to me until it dawns on me that we would want to see our kids and grandkids after a couple of weeks or so.  Their lives are dictated by clocks, calendars and schedules; they would still be here in Indiana. Again, time would cause me stress and I would want to return.

Would a scenario like that be totally without structure or would the mere fact that there was no schedule and no time limitations give it even more of a structure, a more sustainable and beneficial structure based on natural rhythms, than living in a modern day society following an arbitrary, man-made schedule and relying on artificial light to convince ourselves that we have more time?

I don’t think it is realistic to believe a person can totally divest oneself of time and time measurement unless being a hermit has appeal.  However, I do believe that structuring one’s life in such a way that those things which must comply to  time measurement/management rules are managed in a passive manner such as automatic deposit and automatic bill payment could be far less stressful and, in turn, more healthy.

Wishful thinking, I guess–oh, I see it’s time for my nap.

-gw-

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2 responses

16 01 2011
kathy

sign me up

16 01 2011
gw

Yeah, it does sound like it has potential, doesn’t it.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Stop by again.

-gw-

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