The Greeks had two different words for time as they perceived it. Kairos meant the eternal present moment. God’s time. Chronos was linear time, the way we mostly think of time as passing from past to future.
Chronos is a human construct. As far as we can tell, animals live in the present moment with no thought of the future or regret for the past. We measure Chronos with watches, clocks, calendars, and all manner of chronometers. Chronos determines how we order our days, our weeks, our months, our years.
Sometimes Chronos can be quite a taskmaster. “There’s not enough time!” we wail as we cannot get done all that we want or have to do. We order our lives by its dictates, yet never stop to think if there might be an alternative.
The more time I spend alone during this pandemic, the more I seem to access Kairos. I can drop into Kairos through practicing the piano, making art, or tending my plants. I can drop in when writing. I can even drop into it when reading an engrossing book, looking up at some point to find that some length of time has elapsed with my not being aware of it.
This used to scare me with the thought that I had “wasted” time or “killed” time. I have learned as I mature that I have simply “switched” times—Chronos for Kairos. After all, if Kairos is eternal time, it is God’s time, and maybe I have been companioned during that time with the One who knows me best. Comforting thought.
Various practices have been devised to help us access Kairos. Centering Prayer is one that I use most often, although as noted above, Kairos can come upon me unawares. In Centering Prayer, the Chronos is twenty minutes of sitting, but when one practices the four R’s of Centering Prayer, soon the sense of Chronos falls away. Many times I am quite startled by the bell of my timer. “ Has it been twenty minutes already???” At other times, the pace of time seems so slow as to be glacial.
Eckhart Tölle has a term for Chronos: he calls it “psychological time.” In his book, The Power of Now, he makes this statement:
All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. (p. 50)
Tölle goes on to say that most people cannot even imagine a life without negativity. I’m afraid I fall into this category myself. Yet even while remaining skeptical, I still practice the Presence (of God) as best I can, hoping for this sense of lack of negativity.
Sometimes it comes, usually for a short time only, and then my thoughts, which have known negativity for so long, reassert themselves. But I am getting better at noticing when this happens, and not allowing my thoughts to “lead me down the rabbit hole.” At times this results in such peace that I am astonished! And if the peace lasts only a few seconds, still it is welcome.
The four R’s of Centering Prayer are a big help here, even if I am not in a formal sitting posture for twenty minutes. I will pass them on to you as a way of disciplining the mind:
Resist no thought. “What we resist persists,” the old adage goes. So let the thoughts come, but. . .
Retain no thought. Instead of latching on to a thought, you note the thought and let it go.
React to no thought. This is the part where you don’t follow the thought “down the rabbit hole” of negativity. Emotional energy can be a powerful pull, so no reaction, even if you are shocked, angry, or dismayed at the thought.
Return ever so gently to your sacred word. This word is best if it is of one syllable, but it can be anything. It serves as a placeholder to keep you on track.
If you want a wonderfully full exposition of Centering Prayer, I recommend Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, The Heart of Centering Prayer. She wrote this second book on Centering Prayer after thirty years of practice, so she speaks as one who knows. Also, her mentor was Father Thomas Keating, one of the founders of the Centering Prayer practice in modern times.
Enjoy playing with Kairos and Chronos. Be sure to be gentle with yourself. We are all learners on this journey.