As the events of the world continue to deepen into an unprecedented state, I have been sitting with the question of service.
What is it to serve in these times of crisis?
How do we give what we have—if indeed we have space to give—in the midst of these extraordinary times?
My thoughts crystalized last week as I sat in ritual by the fire outside my home. During my vigil I listened to a question and answer session with futurist Jordan Hall. And it was in one of his answers that things started to come together.
He provided a mytho-poetic frame that helped me make sense of the strong intuition that I wrote about in my previous article—that this was a time to double down on the change work that so many of us are dedicated to.
And so it this article, I will extend those ideas, and speak to the question of service, leaning on the scaffolding that Hall provided.
For I continue to feel a deep conviction that not only is there a great opportunity before us, but that the changes that can be made are considerable.
But to answer the question of how we are asked to serve in these times, we must first understand the dynamic of change itself.
The Hero’s Journey
Mythopoetic maps give us—if we are able to grasp their nature—the blueprints for the deep dynamics of reality.
The mythopoetic map that charts the nature of change is the Hero’s Journey.
This journey at its essence, is the consensual adventure through the cycle of Order and Chaos, such that the old is destroyed, and the new can be born.
The Hero in the myth leaves the Order of their village—stable society and life—because of a call from beyond. When they consent to the call, and step outside of what they know they enter the domain of Chaos—the trials and initiations that stretch them beyond their competency, preparing them for the culminating fight with the mythical dragon.
The dragon is the symbol of what the adventurer is most afraid of—whether consciously or not. It is Chaos condensed into a great enemy who seeks the Hero’s destruction.
But it is through the fight with this dragon that the Hero is reborn. The old self, the one that lived in ignorant bliss in the village, is slain. And from the ashes of the old, the new arises. The Hero, is simultaneously destroyed and remade.
As they come to terms with who they now are, the inner transformation becomes complete. They integrate the unconscious gifts and treasure that they recovered by facing that which they were most afraid of—the dragon— and become a new whole.
And now, changed, they return to the village—to Order, to society— ready to serve in a whole new way.
This is the journey of individual transformation.
It is not a single journey. It is a constant cycling of Order and Chaos. If we are sensitive to invitation, it is the process by which we are constantly re-made.
This journey occurs on micro-scales—the process of learning a new skill, feeling the pull to try it, coming up against your incompetence, facing the heart of your fear, and coming out the other side more skilled than you were ready to engage anew.
This journey also operates on existential levels. These are the great times of change, when we must face the very notion of who we are, and have great swathes of our identity destroyed, such that the truer aspects of ourselves have the room to grow and become real.
For those of us dedicated to the path—to becoming who we are asked to be—this cycle is part of the work. A foundational aspect of our job.
This is the way we are change, and become agents of change in the larger world.
But we live in unprecedented times. The territory we live within, and must travel through, has changed fundamentally.
Chronos and Kairos
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos is linear time. It is chronological. It proceeds in an ordered and predictable way from before to after. This is “business as usual”.
Kairos is the time between time, the pregnant moment. This is the time when Chaos descends, time bends, and what was normal falls apart.
As I listened to Hall last week by the fire, he said something, which struck me deeply. The more I’ve thought about it since, the more I realized he was absolutely right. His point was this.
For those of us whose work is dedicated to change, Chronos is a time of limited return-on-investment. The structures of Order are tight, leaving little room for the crow bar of transformation to find purchase. Everything is working. Why would we need to change?
But when the time of Kairos begins, those structures crack and crumble. The openings are created. The deeper and wider transformational work has the conditions it needs to gain purchase.
That time is now. For we are living in a time of great Kairos.
And now, the Hero’s Journey is flipped on its head.
During times of Kairos, Order and Chaos are reversed. Now, the village from which the hero comes—society at large—is in the domain of Chaos. The Order of society has disintegrated, and the mythical village is in disarray.
And so the Hero now makes a different journey. This time it is to leave the Chaos of society so as to build new Order out in the hinterlands, at the edge of what is known.
The old structures have come to the end of their lifetime, and the new order that will replace them must be built. This building will be done by those who did their preparatory work—the myriad individual hero cycles—during the previous time of Chronos.
Your choice amidst the crisis
We are in crisis. The time of Kairos has begun, and the world is falling apart.
How can your serve?
There are two essential roles. And your fit for each stems from your relationship to the crisis.
The word for crisis in Chinese contains two separate characters. One of them is the word for threat, the other the word for opportunity. It is this difference that points to the difference in our role.
How are you relating to this crisis?
Are you anxious and afraid? Are you struggling to keep your head above water, whether psychologically, economically or otherwise? Are you plugged into the air of fear, struggling to see the end, and hoping that help comes soon?
If so, then Kairos has thrown you into the individual hero’s journey I outlined above. The one that asks you to face your own inadequacies and fears. The invitation is to face that which you’ve spent peacetime avoiding.
Now is the time to find help from those who are resourced. Now is the time to get support and help as you venture into the depths of yourself in search of the stability that eludes you. Maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at the way you create money. Maybe it’s time to really face the fact that you’re not doing the work you feel called to. These are the questions that want to be gently encountered, as you do the short-term work of finding Order amongst the Chaos that this crisis has erupted into.
How best can you serve yourself? Put your own oxygen mask on first. Always you first, then you build the strength to help those immediately around you—your friends and family.
And then there is the second role.
If instead, you are predominantly tuned to the opportunity frequency of the crisis, then your role is different. Are you excited by the chaos that is ensuing? Does your energy rise as you consider all the things that could change as a consequence of this crisis?
If you’ve done your work during Chronos—if you’ve run through the hero cycles that strengthen and empower you, then now comes the time to jump into the breach.
If so, then Kairos is inviting you into the breach.
Now is the time to step in.
For the underlying cracks in the Order of society have become great gaping fissures. And you have juice to give—power and skill that you’ve diligently developed—how are you called to give it in service?
I’ve spoken with friends and peers over the last few weeks who have been doing exactly this—stepping into the breach. My friend Mark trained 500 yoga teachers to take their classes online. My business mentor Rand has gathered his community of CEOs each week to explore how they can go on the offense, in service to their customers. My partners and I in my other business are mobilizing to offer our community resources to deepen their own leadership.
I feel the tremor in my legs as I consider the things that have been slowly percolating over the last year. I feel that unmistakable sense of vulnerability as I too prepare myself to step into the unknown—the places that I have feared to tread.
How about you?
What is your role?
How are you asked to serve during these times of crisis?
Is your deepest service to bed down, get help, and tool up?
Or is your deepest to service to stand up, step out and help build the new?