Times and Stories: Reflections from David Spangler

NewStories friend David Spangler recently shared these thoughts about four different times.  I was struck by how these are also four different frames for stories.  Enjoy!  — Bob Stilger

A number of years ago I took part in a small conference that had the encouraging title “You Were Born for Such a Time as This!” The theme of this event was focused on the potentials for creative living and success that each of us have within us. Sitting on a panel waiting my turn to speak, my thoughts went in a different direction, though. What, I thought, was meant by “such a time as this?”

Clearly the conference organizers had a couple of things in mind. One was the economic crisis facing the United States and the world at large. Another was the general sense of transformation abroad in the land as old habits and ways of doing things confronted a rapidly changing world that demanded new approaches and solutions. But not everyone was experiencing “this time” in exactly that way.

For instance, my youngest son works in a store located in a local shopping mall. When I went to visit him one day recently, I discovered the mall was filled with shoppers for whom no economic recession seemed to be happening at all. The happy faces of people moving in and out of the shops purchasing things bore no relationship to the news of job layoffs, unemployment, and stores going bankrupt that I had just seen on the evening news before coming to the shopping center.

So what was “such a time as this?” For the people in that mall, it did not appear to be one of economic hardship. That got me thinking about time not as past, present and future but as the unique condition that each of us inhabits. For instance, as I go outside after a long winter and glory in the sunshine and spring flowers, a friend of mine in Australia is putting on warmer clothes and preparing for the growing cold of winter. His time, his season, is not the same as mine.

I had taken my place at the panel not knowing what I was going to say. But when my turn came, I knew I would begin by saying, “We do not live in one time. We live in four of them.” The subject of this essay then flowed from that thought.

We inhabit four times. The first of these is World Time. This is the time we all commonly share by virtue of being on earth at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This is the time the conference organizers had in mind when they came up with the phrase, “You were born for such a time as this!” This is the time as portrayed by national news broadcasts and other media; it is the collective history we are all living. This time is one of global climate change, threats to the ecology, economic recession and meltdown, wars and terrorism, and the possibilities of pandemics. It is also a time of space flights, globalization, cures for ancient diseases, and the development of a planetary mind electronically mediated through the Internet and planetary communication technology. It is a time when the challenges and the opportunities are world-size and humanity is truly experiencing itself as a planetary species.

World time is what humanity as a whole experiences, and the challenge is with its scale. Over and over again, I hear people asking me, “How can I make a difference? The problems are so vast and I am just one person. What can I do?” And the answer individually, at least at a physical level, would appear to be, “not much.” There is very little that my actions by themselves, however enlightened, will do to stop the loss of the arctic ice, restore millions of lost jobs, or halt terrorism around the world. Even the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful individual on earth, cannot by himself accomplish these things.

To inhabit world time is to feel overwhelmed and possibly disempowered for the world is so large and we are so small. If it is the only time to which we pay attention, we can risk going a little crazy. Everything can seem so out of control, rushing towards one catastrophe or another carrying us along with it.

And we cannot avoid it. We are part of the world, and world time impacts us in various ways irresistibly, unstoppably, and impersonally.

By contrast, the second time that we live in is very personal. It is your time and my time. It is Individual Time. It is what we are experiencing—the challenges and opportunities we are facing—in our own personal lives.

When my youngest daughter was born, my wife’s sister was with us to help. In advanced stages of liver cancer, she had only a couple of months yet to live. I will never forget Merrily holding Maryn, each in their own very different individual time, a life going out cradling a life coming in, love flowing between them both.

In any given neighborhood, there are those being born, those who are dying, those who are getting their first job, those who are retiring from their last one; there are some who are losing everything and others finding abundance; there are those experiencing despair and those knowing hope and promise.

Personal time takes the events of world time and translates them into the unique contours of our individuality. The result may move in directions very different from the world at large. Prosperity may be everywhere yet I may be facing bankruptcy; economies are failing, yet I may be generating wealth.

The key is that, unlike world time, individual time is lived at a human scale. I may not feel I can influence the world but I can definitely influence my own life. My decisions, my intentionality, my actions—or my lack of the same—can immediately and profoundly change what happens in the sphere of personal time. Although events can seem overwhelming in my life, I still know that potentially I can make a difference. I possess the ability to choose and to act. World time can seem to be the product of vast, impersonal forces but individual time is hand-made, so to speak.

Personal time is the time we are most concerned with. Events in the world at large may trouble or inspire us, but it’s the challenge of our jobs, of meeting the mortgage, of keeping healthy, of raising a family, and of putting food on the table that will consume most of our attention. This individual time is made up of ordinary tasks, most of them repeated in one way or another each day.

The third time we inhabit is less obvious than either of the other two. Personal, individual time is in our face daily and world time is all about us in the news of events transpiring on our globe. But there is a Deep Time or a New Time that is within us and within the world, and it is where the power of transformation lies.

This might be called “spiritual time” for it exists in the depths of our spirit. It is the ability to stand in and experience not an “eternal now” but an eternal new. It is renewal time, the inner state in which all things are beginning and new directions can be both envisioned and chosen in spite of our history. It is the time of transformation. It is the promise embodied in the phrase, “Behold, I make all things new.”

This time is like a stillness within us. It’s where the rushing momentum of world time and personal time comes to a halt, where world time and personal time step back and make room for new possibilities to emerge. It is a place of vision, a place of hope, a place of power.

For a good part of my life, I was involved with the New Age movement. The vision of a New Age is still a strong and powerful one for me, and while the movement itself may have lost credibility and the term one of derision, the idea that we can create a new time, a new history, a new world for humanity is the most powerful and necessary idea that we have. How else to meet the challenges of our age except with an acknowledgement of our ability to change, to move in fresh directions, and to embody new visions? To think otherwise is to abandon hope and give in to despair.

The challenge with the New Age was that it was seen as an event in world time, usually an apocalypse of some sort leading to a new world. But the New Age is an expression of deep time or new time. It is a recognition and affirmation that within us is a place, a consciousness, where we can think anew, see anew, and act anew. It is affirmation that transformation is possible. It is a call to inhabit and live from the creativity of deep time, new time.

This is a profoundly spiritual place for it taps our most fundamental creative spirit and imagination. It is the place where we can say, “Whatever our yesterdays have been like, our tomorrows can be different.” We can reach this place in a variety of ways: inspiration, art, prayer, meditation, service, reflection. All it requires is that we accept the possibility that we can stop, take a breath, look again, see in new ways, change our minds, open our hearts to potential, and have the courage to step forth in new directions.

Both world time and personal time need the renewal that deep, new time can bring. Old ways of being are not working and are making the global situation worse. We need to become new.

But even inhabiting this powerful inner time is not the wholeness of our power nor the full answer to the challenges of world or personal time. For that we need the fourth time. We need Our Time.

Our time is simply the time we co-create together, and if we do so out of the vision and inspiration, the spirit and energy of New Time, this can be very powerful indeed. As I said earlier, no one person can change the world, however enlightened, however noble, however well-positioned and influential he or she may be. To alter world time is beyond the capability of anyone. But it is not beyond the capability of all of us. It is not beyond the power of individuals working in partnership and collaboration. It is not beyond the power of our time.

At the heart of world time is the momentum of history. At the heart of personal time is the mystery and wonder of individuality. At the heart of deep, new time is the creative spirit. But at the heart of our time is love.

If there is any force that can bring together the four times in a convergence of heart, mind, will, and transformation, it’s love. Love is what brings us and binds us together. Love can be as simple as respecting each other. It can be as complex and powerful as dedicating our lives in affection, trust, and mutuality to each other. But whatever form it takes, it draws us together, opens our hearts and minds to each other, and releases the power that only collaboration can bring. In our time the other times find their fulfillment and their promise. In our time we can make a difference that is not available or possible to us in either world time or personal time and which is only a potential in new time.

There is a power that lies in living in the now as many teachers and philosophies proclaim. But the power that we need at this moment comes from living in the flow of time, in the four times through which the world, the self, the spirit, and the community are brought together in creative potential and transformative partnership.

These are the times for which we were born.

David Spangler

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