I don’t know why we can’t just live appropriately in each moment, with respect for each other’s ways. I don’t know why we cannot draw appropriate lines, honor appropriate boundaries, and allow things to be what they need to be apart from our ideas, interests, wishes and wants. We have our ways, it seems. We think we can choreograph life without listening to the music. We know how we would like for things to be, but have no sense of how things need to be, and attempt to force our way upon the world regardless of its impact, in a “Damn the shoreline! Full speed ahead!” kind of way.
Life unfolds in its own time, according to its own pleasure. I learned to ride a bicycle when I was in the third grade, in spite of my father’s willful efforts to make me learn to ride it throughout the two previous years. He did not understand, then, or ever, the importance of asking: “What are you ready for? What are you trying to push before its time? What are you delaying well past its time?” We do not do not have a natural affinity for these questions. We do not have a curiosity about what time it is. One time is as good as another, with us. We declare what time it is. We do not inquire. “It’s time for you to learn to ride a bicycle!” we say, when it is actually two years early.
An egg that hatches before, or after, its time is not a good thing for the bird. Some things, like a stuck door, have to be forced. Most things, like eggs hatching, and tomatoes ripening, have to be allowed to happen in their own time. Our life is one of those things.
Kairos is the opportune time, the favorable moment. The fullness of time. The time to act. The time to refrain from acting. Chronos is clock time, calendar time. It was the time my father had in mind when I was in the first grade, and he declared that it was time I learned to ride a bike. That would be like my father looking at his watch and telling me it was time for me to go pee.
Our body, and our life, work on the basis of kairos, not chronos. Our body, and our life, know what time it is, and listening to them, we know whether it is time for a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, and when it is time to learn how to ride a bicycle, and swim. We only have to know what we know.
We have to stop pushing: “How much L O N G E R R R???” “Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Can we go now? Can we be there now???” We have to relax into the arms of kairos, into the eternal flow of the Tao, And wait, watch, trusting that we will know when the time is at hand—that we will act without thinking, when the time is at hand, like the bird cracking the egg, or leaving the nest.
Boris Pasternak said, “When a moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.” How do we develop the perception of heart and soul that sees, that knows, what time it is? How do we teach ourselves, and our children, to listen to—and with—our heart? How do we become attuned to the unfolding of life, within and about us? How do we learn to assist what is coming to be, what needs to happen, instead of imposing our ideas for the world upon the world?
Can we trust our life to have an organic quality about it? An inner character? An innate drift to the good? Can we trust our life to carry us where we need to be? Can we believe in the capacity of our life to know what it is doing? How long do we wait to see evidence of it? Waiting faithfully, believing in our life’s ability to unfold according to its own timetable, in its own direction, in spite of an abundance of evidence to the contrary, is the real work of soul.
What do we do while we are waiting, to hold body and soul together? Whatever is at hand. Whatever we do to hold body and soul together, on a deeper level we are listening, watching, waiting with intention and deliberation. On a deeper level, we are conscious of serving our life, of assisting our life, of helping our life in its own unfolding. This is called walking two paths at the same time.
We do that knowing, trusting, believing that our life emerges over time—that our life continues to emerge over time, taking different shapes, assuming different forms, following different paths, according to its own interests, and the opportunities available for them to be realized. There is never a moment in which our life has said all it has to say, in which it has done all it has to do. Our life always has something more in store for us, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand—and the willingness to align our will with our life’s will for us.
Too often, we give up on our life because it seems there is nothing to be done within these sorry circumstances, with these worthless possibilities, and we add our voice to the chorus of those who have whined through the ages, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Too often, we allow our experiences with life to separate us from ourselves, and cut us off from our heart—and live a plastic, cardboard, inauthentic, robotic existence throughout our days upon the earth. Too often, we have our own purposes to serve, our own desires to realize, and allow nothing to interfere with the realization of our dreams. We do not give our life a chance, because it would only get in our way if we did, and we don’t want anything untracking us from the glory that we have in mind for ourselves.
We have to trust ourselves to our life! We cannot be alive and loving it on some narrow little frequency range where everything is just right—exactly like we want it to be. We have to wade into the ocean! Embrace it all, and love every bit of it.
James Hollis quotes Homer, who has Odysseus say, “I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship—and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim.” That’s the spirit! We commit ourselves to the journey, the path, the beam with our name on it, no matter what, and see where it goes. That’s it. There is nothing more to it than that.
We have to do the thing, the thing that is ours to do, the thing that we don’t know what is, but that we may have a hunch about—yet, we fool ourselves so often that we can’t be sure if this isn’t another one of those attractive missteps like our first marriage, and our second one, so what chance do we ever have of getting it right, of ever getting on the beam with our name on it, and seeing where it goes? And, all the while, that is the thing that is ours to do, and sitting here coming up with all these reasons for not doing it isn’t getting it done!
All of the catch phrases of Orthodox Christianity are inviting reinterpretation here. With just a bit of a shift in focus, we can see that “God’s will” is our life’s own built-in, organic, inner design. It is who we are, how we are built to be. “Sin” and “disobedience,” “alienation” and “bondage,” are our refusal to listen, to see, to wait, to serve our lives—to be servants of life. They are our rush, instead, to develop the life of our own choosing—or to give up on our life altogether as being too little, too paltry, too hopelessly disappointing to be worth having. “Deliverance,” “salvation,” “resurrection,” “restoration,” and “the return to the Promised Land” are terms for our waking up to the presence of the unobtrusive Messiah within each of us—which is the kernel of divinity, numinousity, integrity, truth, goodness, hope, purity, and beauty that is the inner shape and form of our own life: Our destiny, waiting to be recognized and served.
The Spiritual Path is the path back to where we started, back to who we have always been. The Spiritual Journey is the journey to our Inner Self, the inner Other, the two million-year-old person whom Jung said “We do not know.” The Spiritual Quest is the quest for who we also are—who we are built to be, and called to become. We seek reunion with the genius within, with the gift that is ours to share with the world, with the art that ours is to develop and present to all. The religion of our experience is geared to separate us from the very thing it should be helping us find.
In order to take the Spiritual Path back home to the self we are built to be, we are going to have to let go of certain things, and take up certain others. The hardest thing is to stand apart from the way we have always seen things in order to see things differently. This perspective shift is the experience of death and resurrection. It is a lot easier to remain dead than to be born again. In order to be born again, we have to make the transition from the literal to the metaphorical, from the external to the internal, from the inorganic to the organic. And, we have to be able to understand the power of an idea whose time has come as the very voice of God.
Think of God in two ways. There is the external God we created as protection against the forces of life and nature—death, disease, devastation; earthquake, wind, fire, flood, famine, etc.—which we could neither understand or control. We imagined a Omnipotent, Almighty God in control of the forces of life and nature, who could be appeased, who could be charmed, who could be cajoled into granting us immunity, and keeping us safe—with the right kind of faith, the right kind of service. We developed elaborate systems of religion to control the God, who would control life and nature in our behalf, and grant us peace, prosperity, and life everlasting.
Now, think of God as the Stream of Life flowing through all of life—the internal God of the “still, small voice.” The God of the Idea Whose Time Has Come. The God of right seeing, right hearing, right understanding, right knowing, right doing, right being. The God of the listening ear, the seeing eye, the understanding heart. The God who perceives, and knows, and acts at the right time to shift the world to the good. The God who unfolds, emerges, evolves, becomes. The God who is hidden within, tucked away in the unfurling of our lives and the opening of each moment, is also the Transcendent God, the Sacred Source of Life, Being and Value.
If we can think of creation as the coming out, the coming forth, of God, as the becoming of God, as the self-expression of God, we can say that God is limited by a number of factors, perhaps an infinite number of factors. One of the things that the story of Jesus opens up for us is the “vulnerability of God.” In Jesus, some of the Biblical writers say, God was born in a manger and died on a cross. This view of God is in complete contradiction to the idea of an invincible, omnipotent all-powerful, almighty, Master and Commander of the Universe and Beyond God that we have been told is the right idea to have of God—but, it is completely compatible with the idea of the Stream of Life flowing through life.
Creation can be seen as a vulnerable act of a vulnerable God, who is at the mercy of possibility and opportunity, is restricted by chance, and just keeps trying until there is a breakthrough. God, from this point of view, is more of an urge toward itself, of Life toward life, toward expression, exhibition and realization, than the Architect and Constructor of Everything Out of Nothing. The “urge of Life toward life” is not independent of, and external to, creation, but is integral to creation as the very heart of the ongoing process of creation, and is, itself, the creative act. It is what creation is “all about.” There is nothing beyond “the realization of the life,” beyond being fully alive in the time and place of living, to have, acquire, possess.
We literally grow into God, as we expand our consciousness, deepen our awareness, and exercise our imagination. We join God in the act of bringing God into being as we consciously, with intention and purpose, awareness and imagination, live toward our own life, and bring life forth within the life we are living—offering ourselves, the genius, the art, the gift that is ours to give—in doing what needs to be done in each situation as it arises.
Whose good is served by the good we call good? The good that we serve has to be good for our enemies as well as for us; has to be good for those who are not like us as well as for us. When we love our enemies, there is God. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, there is God. When we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, there is God. As we do these things, we join God in the realization of the good, in the expression of life, and live in tune with the heart of creation, and swim exuberantly in the Stream of Life and Being.