“How Did It Get So Late So Soon?”
“There’s not enough time. Don’t waste time. Where has the time gone? Living on borrowed time. Only a question of time. Stuck in a time warp. A race against time. Ahead of time.” The idioms about time are endless!
But what is time actually?
The ancient Greeks understood that time was too complex to be contained in only one word, so they had two concepts for time: Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos time is chronological or sequential time and we know it in the modern world to be measured by clocks and calendars. It ensures life to be predictable and provides an order and rhythm that offers stability and security to our days and weeks, months and years.
In this paradigm we wake up every morning to 1,444 minutes of time in a brand-new twenty-four-hour day. Roughly 420 of those minutes are spent unconscious (if you are averaging seven hours of sleep per night) which leaves 1,024 minutes to use as a metric for life in Chronos time.
Unless one lives in a cave, we can all recognize both the value and stress inherent in Chronos time.
On one hand, there is unquestionable benefit from a social system that uses the calendar and clock as a chronological measure for order and offers agency for control in our lives.
On the other hand, to be ruled exclusively by chronological time we run the risk of life becoming too routinized, rigid, and devoid of the spontaneous moments that can foster mystery, wonder, and awe.
Kairos time has a more indistinct meaning. Although it doesn’t have a corresponding word in English, a worthwhile translation could be ‘in-between time’ – a suspended moment outside of chronological time in which something occurs that has a surreal, transcendent, or eternal quality. It can feel numinous, supernatural.
A Kairos experience catapults consciousness into a mysterious place for an undetermined period often during which something metaphysical (beyond the physical) happens. Some describe this as a sort of waking dream where there is a suspension of everything that we know to be ‘real.’
Whereas Chronos time relates to an experience of quantity, Kairos time is marked by an experience of unequivocal quality.
Although Kairos moments cannot be commanded or planned, we can create an opening for these experiences.
“More than ever we need to anchor ourselves in what is outside of time, larger than us, and not contained in the latest CNN update to come into our awareness” writes Pico Iyer.
In his TED Book, The Art of Stillness, Iyer draws upon travels from North Korea to Iran to remind us how to remain focused and sane in an age of frenzied distraction. As he writes in the book, “Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds … All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world.”
Can you relate to that longing for more spaciousness and stillness in yourself and in your world? I certainly can. We need to be willing to step outside of the noise and busyness of the external environment and the narrowness of our internal world to know this place of liminality, perched on a threshold of betwixt and between.
This may be found in the quiet of nature. Or it can be an experiential insight that emerges from an evocative poem, a complex work of art, the divine grace of a dancer, or high aesthetic fulfillment of some sort.
It may also arrive gently and seamlessly, woven into the fabric of a deeply introspective or prayerful state.
And for some people, the shock of a sudden traumatic experience can jolt them out of Chronos and into Kairos time when the proverbial veil between the worlds is briefly lifted.
But outside of trauma, which nobody wants, our availability for these unsolicited Kairos moments is fostered by a willingness to slow down the hectic pace of our minds and the frenetic routines of life. In periodically stepping off the complicated carousel that forms the infrastructure of the modern civilized lifestyle, we can entrain to the spaciousness and stillness that is always there.
Just remember the last time you were alone with the magnitude and mystery of the breathtaking beauty of the night sky.
What is the value in making yourself accessible to Kairos time? You just never know – you may step into a moment of eternity and discover a secret there.
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”
~ Rumi, 13th Century Sufi Poet