According to the calendar, it’s Monday today. Tomorrow will be Tuesday. Then it’s onto Wednesday. The exact time at the moment is 11:55 a.m. In exactly 60 minutes, it will be 12:55 p.m. In precisely 24 hours, it will be the same time that it is now… but tomorrow, not today. Everything is marked by time as we currently define it. Our calendars and our clocks advance in continuous motion. The passage of time is seemingly linear. Neatly propelling us onto the next thing in life. We regularly look at our digital clocks, our watches, or our smart phones to confirm that we’re not late. We gaze at the numbers in order to mark and control our progress today. This is what we call Chronos Time— measured in chronological days, hours, minutes, and seconds. It’s a major part of how we manage our respective lives.
As human beings, we do need Chronos Time. We live in temporal, sequential ways and are subject to their influences. We have appointments to keep and deadlines to meet. Routines are important and helpful in stabilizing our lives. Human meaning, itself, is time-centered to an important degree. Even our bodies are internally ‘wired’ around repeated cycles of day and night. But it’s easy to forget that our notion of time (within these cycles) is a strictly human invention. And far too often, we live almost exclusively within a framework of constricted, narrowly based Chronos Time: Present, Past, and Future. We chase today, yesterday, and tomorrow. And wholly identify with them. This can be unsettling and unhealthy for us because of the extent to which we do it.
For starters, many of us experience the Present anxiously. Without nearly as much spontaneity and joy as we should. This is partly because we’re stretched too thin and we’re stressed. We’re acted upon and distracted. Further, we tend to try too hard at everything. Often letting ‘great’ get in the way of ‘good’. But, perhaps most importantly, we feel judged. Imprisoned by the hyper-critical opinions of others regarding how productively and effectively we use our allotted time. And, in turn, we impose heaps of self-judgment on ourselves. We ask things like, “Why can’t I do more with each day? Why don’t I accomplish everything that I set out to do with my mornings? Why can’t I become more organized with my time? What’s wrong with me, anyway?”
But it’s not just the present. For when we look back in linear, Chronos Time to our Past, we often swim in regret, as well. We ask ourselves things like, “Why in the world did I do that yesterday? How could I have messed up so badly? What was I thinking?” We analyze our previous missteps, mistakes and failures with regret. We feel sorry for ourselves. We wallow in things, actually. Sometimes it’s even worse, though. We feel outright shame over it. Shame toward ourselves or others. Often followed by anger. Self-directed. Or sent outward. Sometimes with laser-like accuracy. Right on target. Alternatively, sometimes directed in a diffused, generalized way. Nowhere specific, but with high collateral damage to everything and everyone around us. So much for learning anything useful from our past in these situations.
Conversely, we often look to Future Chronos Time with fear. With real anxiety. We say things like, “What if things don’t work out for me next week? What if I fail tomorrow? What if something unexpectedly bad happens?” And when we do, we become fixated on the worst possible outcome. We worry and we fret. We get terribly overwhelmed. Literally swamped by all the bad possibilities out there. Even if they’re highly unlikely. Yet the more we worry, the more we can actually ‘set up’ the potential for our failure. Because we end up unconsciously gravitating toward the things that we think about most regarding the future. In other words, our future-worry creates an efficient, but highly damaging, self-fulfilling prophesy for us. So, when all is said and done, we’ve created quite a Chronos Time quandary for ourselves. We can lose the present. While we regret the past. And fret the future.
But what if there’s another way to see time? What if there’s a path for living that uses a different kind of time ‘frame’? This path can open unexpectedly when we’re suddenly jolted from the things that typically mark Chronos time for us. It can happen when our usual routines become blurred for some reason. When our existing ways of being, relating, communicating, and processing events become distorted or distended by a human crisis. Or, conversely, when we make a healthy, conscious effort to periodically break out of the ‘prison of time’ that we’ve created for ourselves and for others. The Ancient Greeks were onto something in this regard. They coined the term Kairos Time. Kairos Time isn’t linear and sequential by definition. Instead, it means ‘the exact right moment’. The most opportune, appropriate time.
Kairos Time refers to something of significant meaning that is possible for us right now. Something qualitatively important to us, not quantitative relative to the time lapsed on our clocks. As qualitative in nature, Kairos Time is relational, connective, and transcendent. It’s filled with mystery, awe, and wonder. It can also be healing and transformational to our very souls, spiritually speaking. For unlike Chronos Time, our Kairos ‘clock’ is less about our chronological movement. Less about our specific step-by-step, sequential actions and progress. Less about our own control. Instead, it’s more about the countless sacred moments all around us at this time. More about our healthy being and our presence between each breath we take.
In order to enter into Kairos Time, we have to slow down more often each day. Or even stop for a minute on occasion. And consciously breathe. Then take a few seconds to step outside our own minds and to curiously observe. To be ‘present’ in a sensory eyes-and-ears-open, mindful kind of way. Buddha explained this phenomenon long ago when he was purported to have instructed,
“See clearly on the spot. See the object which is now. While finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.”
That said, Kairos Time isn’t simply and solely about ‘being’. It also demands that we recognize and wisely discern the shape, scope, and actual possibility of the moment at hand. It requires that we readily and thoughtfully adapt to any changing circumstances surrounding this possibility in order to actually take advantage of it in the here-and-now. But in doing so, we’re not constrained by a single season. Nor by a single month, week, or day. Kairos Time knows no stopwatch. It knows no limitations. Instead, it’s grounded firmly in the Mindful, Meaningful Now. And it’s about all the uniquely ‘living’ moments before us. Moments that transcend our frail, narrow human notions of linear time.
As a spiritual person, I believe that we’re not alone as we fluidly move within these moments. God is with us. God is moved by us. God is moving within us. Moving alongside us. Guiding us if we’re willing to engage, participate, and respond in meaningful ways. Ways that reflect our intentionality in humbly helping to foster God’s loving and imaginative plan (whatever that might be) in the special moments that we are given. It’s about playing even a small part in creating something bigger than ourselves in the process. Beyond time as we currently understand it. Our role is to nurture the soil in which loving, possibility moments (ours and others’) can germinate and sprout. Then to water, till, and fertilize the soil in order to help these moments to grow and flourish. Using a different metaphor, it’s like our creating ripples (however small they may seem) that God can use in God’s own boundless ways. We participate. God redeems and completes. In turn, we can experience enormous joy in knowing that these moments are forever etched in God’s limitless purposes.
Living a more ‘momentary’ way of life means that we can hold less tightly onto our arbitrary (and overly individualized) notions of time. In turn, we can live with less judgment and guilt. Less fear. Less worry and stress. Less obsession with our own selves. And less subservience to Chronos Time than we’ve ever known before. This kind of life is ‘Heavenly’ in every sense of the word. It’s a profoundly different way of being. To be sure, we’ll never find it by dwelling on our past. Nor by obsessing about our future. That’s because it’s right in front of us. In this very Kairos moment. Forever timeless… if only we’ll briefly turn away from our calendars, watches, daily planners, and our own individual self-interests every once and awhile in more intentional ways. We’re long overdue. And it’s about time.