When have you been so fully present in the moment that you lost track of time? Were you lost in another person’s story? Reading a totally engrossing book or watching an all-absorbing movie? Swept up in nature? Having a marvelous massage? Playing with your child? Being intimate with your lover? If these were times of centered awareness where you were paying attention solely to the present, then these were moments of “kairos.”
“Kairos” is a word that means the opportune or fitting time, the qualitative and nonlinear time, the indeterminate or time lapse period, and the fullness of time. It is “the moment spilling over with life and God,” according to Sue Monk Kidd in When the Heart Waits.
Most of our lives are lived in “chronos” or sequential, linear, quantitative, ordinary, minutes-and-seconds time. (Note: Both “kairos” and “chronos” are Ancient Greek words from the Christian scriptures, which are the only two words for “time” found there.) We are not usually very attuned to what is happening in our lives. For example, many of us have had the experience of driving somewhere familiar on auto-pilot, without remembering quite how we got to our destination. Being “zoned out” is not “kairos.” Following a schedule at work and ordinarily watching the hours go by is being chronologically aware of time. It is “chronos.”
I will give an example of moving from “chronos” to “kairos.” My husband and I decided to visit an Obon Festival and Flower Lantern Floating Ceremony at the Byodo-In Temple in our neighborhood. We had watched the Obon dancing, dragon drum demonstrations and Aikido last year. We wanted to remember our deceased family members by writing their names on the flower petals of a lantern to float during the ceremony this year. Our little dog Rafa was pulling and rushing us along through the covered exhibit area when the heavens unleashed a sudden, torrential rainfall. Normally, we would be walking quickly through this area anyway, because my husband’s normal pace is very fast. The rainstorm stopped us; we were protected by the roof.
I pointed out the flower arranging table, where we could sit down and make our own small paper-wrapped vases of one flower, baby’s breath and other accoutrements. An older Japanese woman suggested ideas for our concentrated endeavor. It became “kairos,” lost in our flower arrangements. Rafa had settled under the flower table. The rain continued to fall. When we naturally finished, we thanked the flower lady and moved on to the Japanese Tea Ceremony table, underneath which Rafa settled down again. The tea ceremony was performed by a kimono-clad Japanese woman. She very slowly cleansed a bowl, meticulously poured out the green matcha powder, added boiling water, and whisked it with a bamboo implement. Almost everything was in slow motion. Ritually offering it, she gestured how one should drink it, turning the bowl twice between sips, or so I thought. She bowed. It was “kairos.” We bowed in return and said, “Mahalo!” The rain had done us a huge favor. It had stopped us from rushing along so that we could see where we were and pay attention to the people there, just waiting to gift us with flowers and tea. We are meant to truly see everything around us.
We tend to live by “chronos” and not even cultivate the “kairos” of our lives. Yet, if we slow down and center our awareness on the present moment, we will find more “kairos.”
May you have the “kairos” of your life!