Now. This is your time.
Time. What is time? It is often thought of as the interval between two events measured in units – perhaps as small as microseconds or mindboggling expansive as eons. But, time is more than that and is experienced by each of us differently. It may stretch or compress and is influenced by our sensations, expectations, emotions, and memory — a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “mind time.” As William James asked: “Where is it, the present? It has melted in our grasp… The knowledge of some other part of the stream, past or future, near or remote, is always mixed in with our knowledge of the present thing.”
Time is the means by which we experience life. It structures our human experience.
The Greeks observed this and in fact had two notions time: chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the vast, continuous stretch of time that is quantified by duration. It is reflected in our feeling that time is a universal constant, as in the tick-tock of a clock that will continue to infinity, but can be marked and identified. It is the five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes sung about in RENT. It is the number of hours in week: one hundred and sixty eight.
Chronos, as it relates to a life span, is finite and this is considered a precious commodity. Books and advice abound about how to be more effective with your time. How to get the most out of the 24 hour a day cycle. How to prioritize and multitask. For some, chronos time creates the feeling that “time is running out.” It is this orientation that motivates us to take action now.
But, there is another notion of time that seizes on the qualitative and experiential and that is kairos.
Kairos is that crucial, right opportune moment that is of no specific duration when possibility unfolds and something unique can happen. It describes an opportunity ripe for change and growth. It can be when life pivots – those watershed moments where there is a feeling of before and after. I have heard Kairos time likened to when you take a breath, and in the pause before you exhale, fate can be changed.
If kairos passes you by, then that moment is lost. Indeed the Greeks personified Kairos, son of Zeus, as young and handsome with wings on his feet and back, long hair growing from the face but not the top or back of the head. The opportunity to grab Kairos was only as he approached and if he passed you or you passed him, then that opportunity was gone. One could reach out, but if Kairos passed, there would be nothing to grab.
“And why does your hair hang over your face? For him who meets me to take me by the forelock”
“And why, in Heaven’s name, is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now, though he wishes it sore, take hold of me from behind.”
So, when we say, if not now, when? We also mean that now is a kairos moment — a unique opportunity to be seized because your future will turn on whether you do.