Mind Matters — Time, Time, Time

Summertime is coming, and the livin’ is easy—or not. But let’s just consider the word time for a moment. Many of us seem to languish under “time” constraints: not enough time for one thing or another; not wanting to “take time” or “waste time.”

Writer Marney K. Makridakis decided she would “create” time since she found herself unable to “manage” or “save” it! In her book, Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life, she describes new ways to imagine, view, and experience time. Makridakis notes how we have the illusion that we are always in linear sequential time yet we know by experience that the perception of time is influenced by emotions, values, assumptions, expectations, relationships, values.

Who has not been amazed at how time “flew” while fully participating in an event or how time “slowed to a crawl” when we have been in pain—or even bored. We want to be present to the present, yet the present itself is impermanent.

We can thank Leonardo da Vinci for saying, “The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present.”

However, Makridakis believes that the more aware we become of the present moment, the less overwhelming and focal time becomes. Instead of perceiving a “lack of time,” we perceive the “gift of time.”

Who hasn’t felt a lack of time when looking at the to-do list of the day, or week, or month? Makridakis suggests we augment our linear view of time that relies on clock numbers and calendar squares by moving from quantitative measurements to the qualitative. What if we asked ourselves, not “How long did this take?” but “What did I learn from this?” or “How relaxed am I doing this?”

The Greeks had words for the subjective experiences of time! Makridakis explains the difference between kronos versus kairos. Kronos time—from which the word chronology is derived—refers to our everyday linear relationship to the time of schedules, clocks, and calendars. It is quantifiable and measured.

Rather than linear, kairos time is circular. Where kronos may be the relentless march of time, imagine kairos as a flowing spiral dance. We have all experienced kairos time: when we are so savoring the moment that clocks melt. Whenever we play, allow ourselves to wonder, or to be curious, I think we may be in kairos time. Kairos is not reserved for fun escapes, however. We can experience kairos in our work, when we find ourselves so engaged that kronos time is forgotten.

Perhaps the difference is in being engaged and in relationship to the process we are in or the person we are with.

Of course, we need kronos time. I am aware of my deadlines for writing this, for example. Yet I see kronos to be in the service of kairos. Kronos time gives us the structure in which kairos can flourish.

I recall observing my children when they were toddlers, playing and dancing before getting into the car. They were, as children are often, in kairos time. I was kronos mother, wishing I could be poet of the present moment but knowing that I was the keeper of schedules and my job was to gently gather these kids into the car for some mundane appointment or other. It was a poignant moment for me to see the difference between kronos and kairos. Of course, there were other times when I could let go of kronos and join the kairos of their experience! Children can be a wonderful entry into kairos time.

Makridakis describes ways that kronos time can be the structure, the container for the creativity of kairos to flourish. Even for adults!