Back in January I undertook a paleo experiment. For five days, four nights, I decided to live without any means of telling the time apart from the position of the sun. I was inspired by this post on Marks Daily Apple.
I hid clocks, took off my watch, turned off my iPhone. Because my computer has a clock, I couldn’t use that either. Imagine, no computer!
I taped over built-in clocks in my kitchen and didn’t play my landline voicemails because that service, too, has a clock.
And if that wasn’t challenging enough, I decided against using my car, using artificial light and any other technology or appliance (TV, washing machine, hairdryer) unrelated to warmth.
I believed (rightly as it turned out) that if I were to be cold, it would turn the experience from an interesting one to an unpleasant one.
So as this was the first time in 11 years I’d had the house to myself for so long, I didn’t want that. I allowed myself to keep warm water, a warm house and hot food. I went barefoot or wore slippers or Vibram Five Fingers the whole time. I drank no caffeine.
You can read about the lessons I took away from the experience as I noted them a week later. But with experiences like this, the more profound teachings often don’t reveal themselves until much later. Six months after the timelessness experiment, I’m still reflecting upon it and noticing changes, not all of them what I would have expected.
The thrill of technology
Now, you might think that this blackout thingy created some sort of blissful primitive Luddite dream. You know: living without all this technology, getting back to some idea of a more ideal time.
Nuh-uh. In fact, after my self-imposed technological quarantine ended, I understood better than before the advantages afforded by such technology and began using it more than ever. I noticed how limiting it was not to have access to our modern day tools.
During that week, the world I lived in was focused within the area half a day’s walk from my house, my scenery defined by the same measure, my socializing options were small and, it turned out, erratic because of our reliance on our tools to make arrangements.
And my reaction to that, and the biggest change, has been more, not less, time hooked up to technology. After a week without a computer and few of our modern day tools, I noticed how vibrant and exciting life was with them.
A car made the wider world so accessible. A trip to the store was a sensory cornucopia. A computer made vast amounts of information available to me with a few clicks while social media gave me a bonding experience with none of the responsibility of an actual, real-life relationship.
Two weeks after my week out of circulation, I started two new blogs, trebling the time I spent attached to my laptop. And I love it.
The importance of sleep
Spending 14 hours in darkness really taught me how our brightly-lit, modern-day lifestyles not only cause us to sleep fewer hours than we need but fill our extra waking hours with stimulating activities that wear us out even more!
That is a double-whammy before you even consider the effects of the (non-paleo) food we crave to give us a quick shot of extra energy to push our bodies and minds ever further. And the belly fat we maintain (or gain) as a result of sleep deprivation releasing a cascade of stress hormone, cortisol, which worsens insulin resistance, catabolizes muscle and encourages fat storage.
I almost never skimp on sleep now. If I do need to nap, I don’t fight it, I go do it. I don’t see it as a weakness but a message that I need to rest. I try to stay off computers at night and pull the bedroom blinds down to prevent light pollution from other houses at bedtime. And I try to stay in bed until dawn.
The value of limits
Our modern day living is open-ended: we have the freedom to live as we like. We can organize ourselves as we want, for better or worse. We use stimulants to keep our energy up and over time, we learn to see limits as restricting – stifling us and minimizing us. We view discipline as a punishment.
But when I look at the paleo lifestyle through a 21st century lens, I can see that the limits nature imposed supported us optimally over millions of years. We rose at sun-up, worked to gather food and build shelter. We rested, we played, quietened, bonded, and slept.
Except now we don’t. We work much of the time, we fill our rest, play and quiet time with activities, often noisy stimulating ones, we sleep less. Because we can. And we do.
These days, I try to limit my computer time to daylight hours whenever I can. I read by torchlight after dark (melted candlewax makes a mess on the bed, I’ve found ;-).) I rarely watch TV.
The effect of blue light on our bodies seeks only to stimulate us more, so in preparation for a good night’s sleep, I lull my body gradually in this way and avoid the ‘just one more thing’ that can keep me up to midnight. I aim to take the weekend off and pretty much keep to it.
An addiction to time
Clocks are everywhere telling us their time. I wore a watch daily, religiously, before the experiment but I haven’t worn a watch since and I haven’t needed to. A quick glance at my computer or iPhone or thermostat or microwave and I know all I need to.
But I have downgraded the urgency of knowing the time. I no longer flick my eyes to the clock every few minutes. I don’t have a clock by my bed. And I have much more confidence in my ability to tell the time by the position of the sun.
Releasing myself from the tyranny of knowing the time has been freeing. Estimates of the time are usually enough. I get absorbed in my activity, rarely breaking my focus to learn the time, so my productivity is higher.
I haven’t found myself missing appointments. Ever. And I know it’s time to slow down when the sun goes down behind the house on the opposite time of the street. 🙂
A greater respect for connection
The importance of relationships for emotional, mental and physical health became incredibly apparent during the week as I spent so long on my own. It was isolating, lonely and rather scary. I realized how being able to reach out for help made me feel safe, how collaboration with others leads to higher order thinking and creative solutions. And how just shooting the breeze can lower stress levels and provide fun and happiness.
As a pretty independent, introverted individual, I used to pride myself on my ability to be alone. But since, I’ve focused on creating time for my relationships so that even when my broken foot forces me to spend more time at home, I’ve taken time to invite friends over and keep those bonds alive.
Less physical activity
I believe we are designed to move. A lot. And our lifestyles have gone in the opposite direction. Finding a way of life where I can support myself and mostly live in a moving, upright fashion is a daily challenge I ponder over. Right now my life is totally sedentary and I need to work on that.
Focusing my priorities on quiet time, sleep, friendship and technology has eaten into my time for physical activity. Being ordered to do “no physical exercise below the knee for three months, lady” just about killed any interest in exercise for the time being.
I spend my time surfing my exciting, technologically-enabled world, socializing, and sleeping. It is almost right, but not quite. During the experiment week, without such strong distractions, I longed to walk, my body just wanted to move, I was engaged in practical activities that meant I was on my feet for most of the daylight hours. That felt good.
Balancing the ancient and modern
Doing this experiment gave me hours to test out a different way of living. It taught me to appreciate many things but it also gave me an experience against which I could evaluate any aspect of my life. As a result, I chose to turn up the volume, as it were, on some aspects – namely technology, relationships and rest while turning down the emphasis on exercise and physical activity. I am happy with the changes but there’s still some way to go. Like Goldilocks, I plan this summer to work on getting things ‘just right.’
Analyzing the outcome of any experience, looking for the lessons within and applying them is the way we make progress with our lives. We look for the things that work, the things that need changing, the things that are important, those that are not. We can only do this if we take risks and challenge ourselves to experience new realities.
Doing this week was pretty scary, I’ll not lie, but it gave me an alternate view upon which to test and evaluate parts of our ancient lifestyle against that of the modern day in order to build a template for a complementary combination of the two. Finding how they can slot together is a puzzle but one I believe is worth contemplating.
“Now, this may sound todo loco but I MISS living that experience every single day. My cast mates became the closest thing to family that I’ve experienced since childhood. One minute I’d want to wring someone’s neck, the next moment I was on the ground laughing. I also loved the simplicity of the existence. No email, no social networking, no god-damned multi-tasking (I fracking HATE multi-tasking). I’d work on making darts from willow branches and if it took 6 hrs to do a project, you just sat down and did it. No interruptions. I slept outside on the ground, got to see the stars. Aside from hunger and missing my wife it was awesome. I value experiences and being around people I love, this show brought all that into sharp focus. We have a brief time on this planet, live it the way you want to, with the people you care about.”
My experience wasn’t as intense but it held similar elements of learning. And I came to the same conclusion. We don’t get a second chance.
Have you ever tried a similar type of experiment? How did it affect you? Let us know in the comments!
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