Hello Beautiful People,
Grab some tea or hot chocolate, this is a long one. In this post, I hold a sorta-conversation with an excerpt of Meggan Watterson’s amazing book, Reveal about embracing the timezone of our lives. Enjoy.
I used to love the fuck out of five year plans. On December 31st, there I would be, scribbling all the goals I was definitely going to meet the next year.
I never listened to the sane advice about setting small SMART (Specific/Measurable/Achievable/Results-Focused/Time Bound) goals, or to complete one thing at a time. I’d always have to add more lines to the space allotted for my plans.
I wanted to do it all.
Time was this incessant rushing that surrounded me at all times and I never, ever felt I had enough. I believed in pushing and linear progress and that life did not reward those who sat back and let things come to them.
“Chronos, or chronological time, is linear, sequential, “clock time”: this is where the ego lives and thrives. We often want time to unfold this way, one event following the next and arriving just when we want it to arrive.”
When I got out of Coast Guard, I felt I had to go all out; do all the things I missed out during my active duty years.
And I needed to do them all right now.
At the same time.
I was extremely judgment of all the time I “wasted” beforehand. Why had I waited this long to pursue my art? I should’ve been writing more. I should’ve been doing burlesque. I should’ve been traveling.
“Kairos, on the other hand, is nonlinear, sacred time–the right or opportune moment.”
It wasn’t long before I felt entirely burned out. I was taking trying to be a better writer, exploring burlesque, taking three classes, teaching writing college freshmen at Pitt, doing my Coast Guard reserve duties, trying to balance time with my partner/friends/family, mentoring a student on her manuscript, planning group outings, posting to Instagram almost every day, coordinating photo shoots, working out, starting my entrepreneurial dreams, reading every self-help book that came across my path…..and a lot more.
I developed this weird twitch in my right eye that semester, at least three times a day my right eyelid would flit wildly for minutes on end.
And still, during all this time, I told myself I wasn’t doing enough, that I could do more, that I needed to work harder. I never quit regretting all the time I didn’t pursue these activities earlier on in my life.
“We can pray our butts off for something to happen, say finding a lover, or getting a car or house, or having a long-awaited child. But then the person we meet ends up smothering us with love we weren’t ready for, or the car payments puts us in debt and the house catches on fire, or the baby of our dreams has colic and we don’t sleep for two years straight. Then we realize, that maybe, just maybe, in willfully pursuing our ego’s desire, we tampered with sacred timing. Kairos is aligned with the highest truth of our lives, and being aligned with kairos means not always getting what we want when we want it.”
I was very frustrated during this time. Every writing rejection stung. I was annoyed that I didn’t have the flexibility to performing the standing split of so many burlesque performers. I was frustrated that it didn’t seem like I was attracting new “followers” for my work online. I was frustrated that writing still felt so difficult. I was frustrated that my body, my personal growth, my boss dreams seemed to be moving along at sloth speed.
In 2009, when I was just a wee Ensign, I wrote Issa Rae a fan-girl letter of appreciation when she released Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl (she wrote a really nice thank you back I would gain inspiration from bloggers on Feministing and looked at Gabi Gregg’s fashion blog on the weekly.
In 2016, many of these women are stars in their industries. Writing books, creating shows for HBO, releasing their own swimsuit collections.
I looked at the magnificent and amazing progress these women had made in the years I spent in the Coast Guard and while I was really excited for them, but a question would reverberate in my brain whenever I saw their amazing progress: what the fuck was I doing during those years?
“Kairos is the sacred time needed for us to meet with not only what fulfills us but also what fulfills a need in the world. Kairos works on our soul’s timing, not the laminated table the ego has set up for our life. Kairos-time allows things to unfold naturally; nothing is forced or contrived into being out of fear.”
Fear. That was my main motivator. I tried to dress it up in a fancy assemble of Ambition and throw some Passionate cuff-links on, but the truth was that all my goals in life were fueled by a persistent feeling of not being enough. I was scared I was never going to meet the big goals of my life.
And I was extremely dismissive of my actual achievements.
I wanted to bully time into the timeline I wanted. But the thing was, every time I did this, things fucked up. I felt harried. I didn’t get to spend the time I wanted making my writing or art really shine. The work I would often showcase felt cheap and under-cooked. I would get some sort of success and then realize I didn’t even have the time to actually savor it because I was already onto the Next Thing.
“When we judge where we are in our lives and how much we’ve achieved, we do so from a place of chronos. Our judgments are based on the expectations we set for ourselves: job by 25, married with children by 30, book published by 35, own business by 40, and so on to the grave. Many of us measure ourselves by these milestones without even examining them to see if they’re our own. Meaning some of them are acquired by social osmosis. What shifts the weight of our baggage is simply choosing it. Owning the baggage as the particular story our soul needed to live out allows us to claim it. And oddly enough, claiming it allows us to then let it go.”
When I really sat my ass down, I realized that I had been entertaining this ambition-fueled-by-terror my entire life. Even in the Coast Guard, I was like this. Taking self-improvement class after class. Always questioning how well I was doing as an officer (which was never good enough).
I had to come back to Story. What was the story I am telling myself of how my life should’ve gone? What I should’ve done? Who I should’ve been?
It sounds simplistic and it is not. Getting to know our specific story means we are probably encountering some not-so-shiny parts about ourselves, views, and influences. Things we think we should be past now—or never have assimilated into our belief system in the first place. Like if I see a beautiful woman and instantly feel the first pin-pricks of jealousy, I can decide to ignore these feelings, minimize them or inquire about what story I am telling about her and myself in relation to her. Do I believe in the hierarchy of beauty? Even a little bit? Do I think my life will be easier if I looked like her? What junior high hang-ups are still operating under my skin? What is the Story here? And it’s the same about the timezone of our lives.
“Once we let go of some of the stories that have been defining and confining us, we can align our identity with a deeper truth—with the soul-story beneath the surface drama of who we are according to ego. We can dive beneath the wreck we fear we’ve made of our lives to hear the story our soul is living out. Listening to our soul-story allows us to release the idea that life is something happening to us. We can claim the power to become the author of our own narrative.”
Owning our story and our timezones isn’t easy. Our parents and friends and social organizations will chime in or hammer away at us about how they want us to live.
If your story is that you don’t want children or you really want to live abroad or you are tired of hanging around with your work friends at functions that cause you to want to stab a pen through your hand, this is YOUR choice. People will probably never shut up about their opinions about what they think you should be doing. The magazines and social media apps won’t stop showing you what other people in your similar fields are succeeding at. It’s up to you (and me) to reinterpret what we see.
“This is how we begin, how we remove a crucial veil: we claim our baggage as the story of our soul. No matter how old you are or what you’ve been through, you can change your perception of what’s possible by claiming what has weighed you down and what you’ve used as an excuse to remain closed and unworthy of love, and accept that your baggage is, in fact, your personal soul-story, which has unfolded in exactly the sacred time required. You may not be where you wanted or expected to be at this point in your life, but you can choose to acknowledge that you are right where you need to be. This does not mean that where you are is not painful or frustrating. But it does mean that you have the power to change your life in an instant, simply by changing your perspective.”
My name is Hannah Eko. I was born in London in the mid-80s. My family is Nigerian and I have one sister and two brothers. I spent some time in foster care. I went to schools in the suburbs of Southern California. After I graduated high school, I spent five years in military school and eight years in the Coast Guard. I had my first kiss and relationship when I was 25. I am jealous, kind, very sensitive, stupid-competitive, creative, often a procrastinator, funny, a little vain, shy with new people, and smart. I am not an influencer, widely published, or a Thirty Under Thirty. I eat out way too much. I love my friends. Sometimes I am still overly self-conscious and tied to people-pleasing. I love corny shit like self-help, astrology, and seminars on Being a Good Person. This list cannot cover the magnitude of who I am, but I must own it. All of it. This is where I am in my life. This is what I have to work with. This is my timezone.
“Take all those stories you’ve used as a reason not to love yourself. It’s time to see them as lessons to challenge, refine, and even polish your soul. You look at those hard-to-let-go-of stories, and you love yourself enough to see that you deserve much more than to dwell on them and punish yourself with regret. You own the stories that have kept you in hiding, knowing that they form the unique narrative of your soul. You also know, however, that they are only a part of your journey, not the whole.”
My story of rushing, of constant comparison and that dogged sense of not-enough that has tailed me for most of my life does not have to be yet another reason to hate myself. It is because of my over-scheduling days, that I truly know the benefit and gift of slowing the fuck down.
My twitch taught me a lot.
The success of Issa Rae and Gabi Gregg has taught me in the power of going after my passion, of consistent effort and action, and what is possible for black women today.
My not-enough has brought me to classes and teachers who have opened my eyes to meditation, attachment therapy, the effects of trauma, and a deeper sense of self-love.
My not-enough wound lends me compassion to others who suffer in this world. My stories aren’t “bad” or the entirety of my existence. They are ways for me to be a more solid human being. I am truly exactly where I need to be. This is advice I’ve heard since I was about 18. It is only now, thirteen years later, that I am beginning to believe it.
“In this way you clean out your inner closets. You dig out the piles stashed behind the couch and under the bed, in the basement, the attic, and the spare room, and you lay the contents of your life at your feet. You sift through everything that makes you who you are and what you will be able to do and become.”
This process takes time. It is constant. I think we hear these sort of pronouncements, these entreaties about day-to-day progress and we add them to some automatic check-list in our mind, got it, check, moving on.
We scarcely rest with the awesome but beautiful task of growing and what it really entails. I have been in the habit of living about two days in advance since I was like, six. Life was all about what I was going to do and become by next week, next month. So yeah, this consciousness is not going to be something I embody in one fell swoop.
“If we didn’t have baggage, if we didn’t have dark, troubling stories in our lives, how would we ever get to practice the power of love? What if every traumatic event we’ve endured, every regretful choice we’ve made, is actually an opportunity for the soul to spread its wings? We lift the weight of what has held us down by choosing to believe that everything in life has happened for our soul’s formation. It has not only happened for a reason but happened exactly when it needed to. And that means births and deaths, marriages and divorces, epic gains and epic losses.”
Honestly, if someone came up to me after a stupendous hurt, a death of a loved one, a catastrophic disaster and told me, “Don’t worry, Hannah, everything happens for a reason,” I would probably slap them across the face. I believe that sort of advice is not anyone’s to formulate expect the person who has gone through the loss. I don’t even think everything in our lives will make sense.
But, some things will. There are some things we can locate in our storylines with the awesome benefit of hindsight and maturity and see them for the wisdom building events they were. We see that yes, this had to happen to me exactly this way or I would have never learned to stop dating assholes or stand up for myself or go for that audacious goal or leave the only home I’ve known.
Or maybe we still don’t know the lesson. Maybe there never was one. Maybe we didn’t become a “better person” or deeper.
Still—whatever happened is.
We have to say, I know that This Very Happy or Visible or Fit Person is doing ______________ right now, but this (whatever this is) is my current life.
We are the only ones who can see this. We are the only ones who get to sit down with the complete tapestry of our lives and accept it all.
There are times when I feel like I get this on a level of depth I have never encountered before in my existence.
Then there are other times when I am like, fuck-this-lesson, fuck-soul-formation, just let me get what I want. Now.
I accept this too.
I am not a cyborg programmed permanently to the setting of Zen.
I’ve got my stuff like every other human and part of that stuff is being hella impatient and fearful.
And not always knowing.
I hope that you can find some space this week, this month, this year to sit down and go over your life.
To slow down and accept your own timezone with open arms.
I hope you can find the beauty in what is only yours to see.
I hope you can learn to let go and trust in a way that truly works for you.
I hope you can shed the expectations this culture places on you that don’t actually jive with your own life and heart.
I hope you can learn to love the Kairos.