Martin Heidegger presented to the West a fundamental truth of Eastern thought. That is the very simple fact that Being, that is to say existence in the sense of I am, is a verb rather than a noun. Existence is not a thing, but rather, a process. This concept, as presented in Being and Time, is central to Buddhist thought. The implications for shifting one’s sense of being from an object to a process, one radically transforms their experience of existence. This is a radical shift that can have a liberating effect in one’s life.
The first consideration is that of what Heidegger discusses as living towards death. When one experiences the loss of someone close to us, whether this is through actual death or symbolic death (the end of a love affair or a friendship) we experience a sort of deathlike loss. Sigmund Freud discusses the loss that occurs and how this mourning leaves us with a sense emptiness and despair. It is during this time of loss that Heidegger describes a certain clarity that enters into our lives. We typically live, he tells us, in a state of forgetfulness-of-Being, a sort of mundane, taken-for-granted experience in which life or our existence, our finite mortality is forgotten. Like the gold benchmark that gives meaning to a currency, our lives lose meaning when we forget the benchmark by which it has value: death. When someone close to us leaves, or dies, we are thrusted into a mindfulness-of-Being, a state in which we are fully aware of the temporality of our existence. This shift into one of clarity is typically accompanied by a sense of wisdom, insight, and perspective. Living within a state of mindfulness-of-Being cannot be sustained, and after some period of time, we drift back into a state of forgetfulness-of-Being.
When loss of love, loss of friendship, or death brings us great sorrow we can also find great clarity and an opportunity for wisdom. We must make use of this moment of insight, because it soon slips away with our return to the illusion of being as an object, rather than a Being of time. This sense of time is not chronological, “clock time”. Time as we know it on the clock is an objectification of time, an artificial transformation into time as quantity. The Greeks referred to this as Chronos time. Instead, Heidegger points us to God’s time, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. This is the right time, time as a process rather than as an object. Time flies when we are having fun, or rather, when we forget Chronos we experience Kairos. When the machinery breaks down, when death and loss visit our world, we are forced closer to our own existence through a breaking-down of Chronos and entering into Kairos. This brings us closer to what is important, meaningful, and ultimately the purpose-giving wellspring or our lives.