What is Cosmic Time?

Last week, at our monthly retreat day, we took part in a guided meditation – travelling on the Road of Your Life.

It’s a popular meditation but it hadn’t been done for many years so it was a surprise to find that it still had a ‘freshness’ about it.

In a meditation like this, we tend to look back on our life and the kind of road we’ve walked – stony or smooth? And we look forward to see how we are feeling about the future: hopeful or not.

The ‘road travelled’ is mainly about past and future; linear time or ‘chronos’ time. In our contemporary Western societies time is usually seen as ‘linear’. We look back at history in a chronological way – ‘before the Christian Era’ or so many units of time after it.

This clarifies the concept of time for us; makes it manageable and concrete.

But there is another description of Time as Cosmic or Kairos-time. This experience of time happens, I think, when we have a sense of time as ‘standing still’. We seem to be in another reality which is fullness, infinite, mysterious and yet somehow familiar.

We have all had moments when time seems to stand perfectly still and we are held in that stillness; it could be a moment of utter beauty – or otherwise.

The Victorian poet, Edward Thomas, described one of these moments of what we could call ‘ kairos time’ in his little story-poem: Adelstrop.

He is in an express train travelling through the English countryside. Because of the Summer heat, everyone in the carriage is dozing. Unexpectedly, the train stops at a station, there is the hiss of steam and no other sound in the quiet afternoon. In that moment, a kind of hiatus in time, he sees the countryside with a clarity and beauty he has never experienced before.

‘And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.’

Time and space expanded for him in that moment when he was held in the stillness of the present.

(Sadly, Edward Thomas was killed not long after in the First World War.)

We can all remember moments like his – perhaps holding a newborn baby or watching a sunset or standing in the Australian bush.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now,  urges us to practise staying in the Present. It can be quite difficult for some of us but he describes it as powerful- a different experience! Our culture doesn’t encourage us to find these moments of presence but if we can, life can expand for us and we may see things in a new light.

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