Time is constant, but how we perceive it varies. That’s why an hour spent watching our favorite Netflix show feels different from an hour stuck in traffic. To differentiate experiences of time, ancient Greeks had two words for it — Chronos and Kairos. By understanding the differences between Chronos vs Kairos, you can alter your reality and make the most of your time on Earth. You’ll have access to the gifts in the here and now and have more moments of magic.(Estimated reading time: 10 minutes)
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”— Michael Altshuler
Ever wonder why time flies when you’re having a good time but never seems to end when you’re not?
An hour watching your favorite Netflix show with a loved one is not the same as an hour spent in a boring meeting. It’s the same length, but they evoke entirely different emotions.
This happens because your inner experience of time in each instance is not the same. The clock’s time is unchanged, but your perception of time varies.
The implication is that we can control our perception of time based on how we process it. You may not be able to change the length of time in your days, but you can certainly control its depth — and that is a liberating truth if you feel like you never have enough time to do things.
In the past few decades, we’ve become more aware of our ability to stretch time based on our focus. Eckhart Tolle’s breakthrough book, “The Power of Now,” shook the world with its profound wisdom when published in 1997. Even before that, sages and yogis preached about the experience of timelessness by being in the moment.
Despite knowing the importance of becoming present in our lives, we can’t seem to block out thoughts about the past and the future. If we do, we succeed for a mere few seconds. This leaves us frustrated and wondering, “where does all the time go?”
Fortunately, you don’t need to meditate for hours or escape to a tropical destination to make time stand still. By simply understanding the two models of the time, Chronos and Kairos, you can alter your reality and make the most of your time on Earth. You’ll have access to the gifts in the here and now and experience more magic moments.
Chronos vs Kairos: how the Ancient Greeks measured time
The ancient Greeks had two words for time — Chronos and Kairos. Looking at how they measure Chronos vs Kairos can give us insight into their differences and use.
Chronos, the root of the English word “chronological,” refers to the time that can be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, and years.
Chronos is the forward propelling flow of time that we see ticking in clocks and the sun’s rotations. While Chronos carries a lot of weight in the human psyche, the ancient Greeks said that time does not end there and that there’s another concept of time, “Kairos,” that governs our reality.
While Chronos is qualitative, Kairos is qualitative. Chronos describes time numerically and is universal, while Kairos is defined based on a person’s subjective experience.
In Greek, the word Kairos means “the right or opportune moment” because that’s where choice lives. They also used Kairos to describe the weather, which in Greek culture, is based on the emotions of their mythological gods. The modern equivalent of this is the zeitgeist of a specific period.
Kronos was an elderly god — the lord of life and death. He was depicted as a tired, hunchbacked older man with a long gray beard, carrying an hourglass and scythe, similar to the Grim Reaper. He devoured his children to prevent them from taking his place, but his wife saved their last son, Zeus, who eventually overthrew his power-hungry father.
In contrast, Kairos was a lithe, handsome young man, portrayed as a winged god, dancing on a razor’s edge. He was the god of serendipity, able to tip the scales of fate and alter the course of life.
Kairos rules creativity, novelty and surprise, and he presents us with boundless possibilities. When we work with Kairos, we can overcome our fears and fixation on Chronos and deepen our experience of numinous time, which evokes a sense of awe, transcendence, the sublime, and the mystical.
In her book, “Sacred Contracts,” intuitive healer, Caroline Myss, writes that there’s an additional type of time called “cosmic.” Cosmic time is higher than Kairos, in the realm of timeless time and spaceless space. It’s not limited by the physical laws of time and space and is where miracles and spontaneous healing occur.
The next time you feel rushed and exasperated by the burdens on your time, let the symbolism and imagery of Chronos vs Kairos remind you that you are not alone. With their cosmic support, you can create a reality of time that serves your growth and evolution.
Time is money: overcoming our culture’s obsession with Chronos
In the past, the pace of life was significantly slower than it is today. People’s lives were serene and simpler. They felt more connected to the rhythm of trees, plants, and animals.
Their rituals and beliefs centered on celestial activities, the seasons, and the cyclical nature of life. They made up for what they lacked in modern conveniences with a sense of depth and reverence for time. Death and danger could knock on their door any day, and every moment was sacred.
Things look very different now. This is evident in our cultural lexicon, which consists of phrases like: “time is money,” “time waits for no one,” and “don’t waste time.” We demand express service, fast food, and instant results. Living in this fast-paced society has messed up our relationship with time.
We’re constantly afraid of running out of it, losing it, and being left behind by those faster than us. Time has become demanding and restrictive; if we aren’t conscious of its impact on our psyche, we risk being devoured by it. We become captives of Chronos and lose our freedom to live.
Instead of being cloaked in comfort and contentment, most people wake up worried that they’re already behind. I observed this during my recent trip to London. After entering Paddington station, I strolled through the shops while observing my surroundings. But it wasn’t long before I found myself drowning in a sea of people scrambling to their destinations.
Their facial expressions were tense, and their strides were forceful. I wondered what concerns and worries might be distracting them from the holiness of this moment. I wished they could slow down, even just for one second, and take a moment to catch their breath — to breathe in and out and acknowledge their fellow humans living in this time with them.
Unfortunately, this rushed way of living has become all too common. I occasionally get carried away by the raging tides of time as well. It takes conscious effort to bring awareness to my thoughts.
If you find yourself rushing through your day, checking off your to-do list, and feeling agitated when anything slows you down, you can be sure that Chronos dominates your life.
Living this way isn’t sustainable. Despite what you’ve been told, walking and talking faster does not increase efficiency; it depreciates it. If you juggle too much at once and don’t rest, you’ll lose steam and drop out of the race. Fortunately, there is a way to shift from a time-scarcity mindset.
Living more in Kairos (and less in Chronos) will reduce the compulsion to race against a clock that appears to be ticking faster every day. Time will become a motivating factor, not one you fear sabotages your growth and progress.
Moderation is key: developing a healthy relationship with the cycles of time
While experiencing Kairos moments makes life worth living, we cannot throw out Chronos completely. One is not better than the other. Chronos and Kairos are the two sides of the same coin, and we must master both.
We are biological beings with a finite amount of time on this planet; everybody gets 24 hours a day. There’s no escaping the fact that Chronos needs our attention and respect.
Like sands through an hourglass, our days pass swiftly. Moments can’t be re-lived — once you’ve lost one, you can never reach it again. Time accelerates as a person ages, which is why people don’t appreciate time until later in life.
We never know when our time to leave this Earthly plane will come. Because of this, we need to cherish every moment and make the most of the time we’ve been given. Each day is a gift; we can make the best of it and avoid wasting it.
You can achieve this by becoming mindful of how you spend your time and what you want to spend it on. Once you have a general direction, it’s easier to prioritize goals and plan your days. You can go to bed satisfied that your time was well spent.
Plenty of tools and coaching programs walk you through this process of creating a life vision. My favorite is “Life Book” by Jon and Missy Butcher. It’s a transformational lifestyle design system that empowers you to envision, plan, and achieve your best life.
Additionally, learning time management skills can equip us with the mindset and tools to manage our time effectively. The worst thing we can do is procrastinate and squander time. Learning and applying time management techniques can mitigate this.
Doing our part to manage Chronos opens up opportunities to experience more Kairos. The better we can handle Chronos, the more prepared we are to take advantage of Kairos.
How to experience more Kairos moments in your life
Kairos is the opportune time and place to do the right thing. It’s a fortuitous moment undefined by time, when the mysterious and unpredictable happen.
When living in Kairos, we’re coming from a place of trust, acceptance, and abundance. We attract synchronicities and experience flow, where everything seamlessly falls into place. Caroline Myss calls Kairos “soul time,” a window of opportunity to “restructure, resettle, reorganize and heal yourself.”
Kairos tends to occur when we stop forcing and controlling events and allow things to unfold naturally. Recall times in your life when the right people and chances appeared unexpectedly and in a way you never imagined. It might have surpassed what your ego wanted to bring about.
These events take place when we’re aligned with the universal flow. When we tune in and listen to our intuition, it guides us toward getting the timing right. Singer Rick Springfield once said, “If the timing’s right and the gods are with you, something special happens.”
However, Kairos isn’t just about life-altering opportunities – it can be something you experience in simple moments of bliss, like gazing at a starry night sky or relishing a warm cup of chai while reading a riveting book. These can count as Kairos moments if you notice them.
Creating more Kairos experiences is the path to a joyful life, but we must create space for them. Here are five things you can do to become a magnet for Kairos and balance Chronos vs Kairos:
1. Take care of Chronos by meeting your responsibilities and accomplishing ongoing goals. Once we take care of things that need to be done, we release our anxiety around Chronos. This allows us to be flexible and open to being steered in directions we didn’t anticipate.
2. Pause during your day to see if you are in Chronos vs Kairos time. Given our fast-paced and hyper-productive society, we tend to be in Chronos most of the time. Regularly ask yourself:
- Am I in Kairos or Chronos right now? How am I feeling at this time?
- What type of time is more suitable for the activity I’m doing right now?
- How can I bring more Kairos consciousness to this situation?
If Chronos is overtaking your mind, take a step back and find a quiet space that allows for reflection and a gratitude practice.
3. Pay attention to your intuition. Kairos can happen anywhere. If you feel the urge to attend a show, join a book club, take a walk in the park to clear your head, or cook a meal, listen and act on it. These moments of inspiration can lead to serendipitous events and meetings. But this can only happen if you’re living in the present moment.
4. Schedule activities during your day that allow you to access that timeless space of Kairos. It could be as simple as spending time with children, hiking up a trail, writing in a journal, dancing, or listening to music that touches you deeply.
5. Reflect and revisit your purpose regularly. Knowing the “why” behind what you do infuses meaning into it and inspires you to develop creative solutions to move you forward. With your purpose at the top of your mind, you’re more likely to identify and live in Kairos.
Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said, “we are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it’s forever.” When our life is viewed through the lens of cosmic time, we are here for a brief moment. But when viewed from the lens of our souls, it is a vast stretch of water with depths for us to explore. It’s in these deep waters where heart and purpose dwell.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What are your thoughts when it comes to the Chronos vs Kairos framework? Which time model do you tend to live in?
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