The Seven Stones Blog

The Societal Metronome in My Head

By Sue Richardson


What societal principles guide our lives? Many of course, and many that are invisible to us. The one that presses most into our lives is the cultural pace, what I like to call the societal metronome.

Without any conscious choice our lives are keyed to this cultural metronome that has evolved to a rate that I suspect most of us would not create as individuals.

I am no exception. I tend to fill every moment with accomplishing something. From one perspective you might say my whole existence is framed by the next deadline. The faster I go, the more I can do before the next commitment in time.

OK, in lieu of changing the societal metronome, I’ve decided to take note of the moments in my life when I am answering to this soulless master.

My first foray into this inquiry and practice happened when I was driving, so let’s talk about travel.

  1. I want a trip that takes 20 minutes without traffic to take 20 minutes with heavy traffic. This ticking metronome in my head adopted from the world we live in is sending me a message. It yells in my head, “Come on! Let’s go! This is ridiculous”. Sometimes I even say it out loud. Here, in the Boston area, we don’t let another car into the line of traffic at times if it’s too congested and taking too long. We feel entitled to that other pace, or maybe just completely enslaved by it.  The metronome is pressuring us—constantly.
  2. We get very worked up in a similar fashion when traveling by air. Our engagements are paced to this metronome, so the margin for error is so small that flight delays make many of us upset. Even if the delay is due to weather we feel as though the airlines are sabotaging our plans. Most of us lose touch with how crazy it is that we can get to California within the same day in the first place.  It’s that metronome again.

This led me to think about other forms of transportation— like biking and walking – and how different in experience they are for me. I enjoy them so much more than driving or flying. I feel more grounded, more relaxed, more open, and I suspect it’s because the societal metronome is suspended in these forms of getting around.

Here’s why:

1. My body is actually fully engaged in the process. I am in my body and the effort my body is putting forth is in sync with the movement being produced. It makes sense to my system. I am not off kilter.

2. I am in tune with what is happening around me.

  • I am on equal footing—equal ground with other people who are outside, so I relate to them in a different way. So I can sense what human beings sense that is available only when tuned in. When walking home through my Chicago neighborhood many years ago, I came to a section of the street and immediately felt something was off—different—bad. But I couldn’t figure out what it was. Later I learned there had been a bad accident earlier that many people who were around there when I passed through had witnessed. It’s that sense I’m talking about—we all have it.
  • I can hear all the sounds around me; my whole system is available for input about what’s happening around me. Some input may be pleasant—that I can take in and enjoy—the sound of a bird chirping, the wind blowing, the smell of a lilac bush I am passing. Some may be imposing and require that I respond. It may be a lot of stimulation, but is in keeping with my direct environment and therefore my body knows it’s getting all the info it needs from the environment and can rest in that.

So out of this research I am experimenting with an antidote to the societal metronome in my head. I am going to check in with myself to ensure that I am both: relaxed in my body: shoulders down, full breathing, centered, spine aligned and neutral; and, that I am in tune with what is happening around me.

I’m going to try this for a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes! Care to join me?

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