Sunday, August 28, 2022

About Time

     The ancient Greeks had two different words for time: Chronos and Kairos. You could think of them as left-brain time and right-brain time. Chronos is the kind of time measured by clocks and calendars, by which we make appointments and set deadlines, and generally coordinate our activities with those of other people who aren't alongside us all day long. It's linear, it's sequential, it runs out. Chronos can be wasted by procrastination or indecision, maximized by efficiency, extended with a healthy lifestyle ... but nothing in the world stops it. It is relentless, bearing each of us onward from birth to inevitable death, with (sometimes it feels like) nothing but shoulds and musts, hurry up, and what might have been in between.

    Kairos is a whole different kind of time. Kairos doesn't point to "2:00 next Friday," or "when you turn 30," it points to "when the time is right." When the idea has matured, when the market is ready, when the kids have started school, when the rains come, when the fish are biting, after the last hard frost, when you've learned all you care to learn about your field and it stops being challenging, when you realize it's still challenging but for all the wrong reasons, when your children have their first children.... Lunchtime, according to Chronos, is 12:00; according to Kairos, it's when you feel hungry. Time to go to work is Chronos; Sabbath is Kairos.

    Both kinds of time are important to live by. My life, as a monastic contemplative, is ordered by Chronos in the forms of the liturgical year, with its seasons and feasts, and the daily liturgy of the hours, with its bells ringing at set times throughout the day to call me back to prayer and meditation. That actually helps me to stay balanced in Kairos, because every bell is another opportunity to reassess where I am in my day: is it the right time for a meal, or a walk, or another glass of water or cup of coffee? What is on my to-do list, and do I need to make any adjustments to stay (or get back) on track? Is there a friend or relative on my mind, who I want to reach out to? Is there anything I want take some time to explore in my journal, maybe about something I've read, or what came up in meditation this morning?

    I can use Chronos to remind myself to periodically (put it on my calendar, daily, weekly, yearly) spend some time comparing my daily left-brain tasks against my big-picture, right-brain, vision and values. How is my interior life, how am I wearing the title "contemplative"? Am I getting lost in the weeds? Am I using a fussy little to-do list to avoid the anxiety of big decisions and big plans? Is the life I have leading me to the life I want? Do I have any clear picture of the life I want, or any sort of road map from here to there? Am I stuck in a rut, or spinning my wheels with no direction? 

    Chronos is good, but we get tyrannized by it, too. We think we should always be productive. We think we should have it all and do it all, and we feel like failures when that turns out to be false advertising. We're afraid of missing out. And those of us with ADHD have this extra layer of so-called "time-blindness." Really, it's "Chronos-blindness," but making up for it can be such a burden that it robs us of our Kairos time, too. I am far luckier than most people, because I have a pension, which frees me from a lot of the tyranny of Chronos, and I find that since I stopped working for a living I stopped being late for absolutely everything. But even neurotypicals in our modern culture are weighed down by Chronos, with its "shoulds" and its "musts," its "hurry up" and its "what might have been." 

    So, how do you escape that tyranny if you're not lucky enough to be able to quit your job already? The first, most important thing: take your time. By this, I mean schedule down time first. The ancient Israelites made the Sabbath one of their most important laws. I don't know what was in the lawmakers' minds, or what social sweet spot it hit, that made "stop, rest, all of you, for a whole day every week" into a bedrock of a whole national culture. Not a rich, comfortable, privileged culture, either, but one that lived by agriculture in an arid, rocky land that was always being fought for with its neighbors. What an amazing historical phenomenon the Sabbath is!

    And OK, so maybe that's hard to implement in a society that doesn't all observe that same rule together. And maybe, it was made in an agrarian society, where both men and women worked at or around the home, so housework and gardening and marketing and all were normally done as part of "work," not crammed into the evenings and weekends. But with all that, we need some down time. We need time to sit and read, or go for a walk, or play fetch with the dog, or go on a picnic with the kids, or paint. I know we also need to do things that bring in money to keep a roof over our heads -- but to avoid burnout over time, we need to rest and relax sometimes.

    There are other things to do to put Chronos in its place. Learning to say "no" is a very big one. Simplifying our lives and spaces. Getting clear about our long-term vision. Embracing the power of choice instead of the illusion of "having it all." Celebrating each year with gratitude and grief for what has been, to make heart-room for what is to come. Practicing mindfulness in all the ways. Paying attention to now, and questioning our assumptions about who we are and what we're capable of.

    But observing Sabbath-time -- whether that is literally a day a week, or 15 minutes a day plus an hour on the weekend, or whatever you can manage now -- scheduling down time, putting it first, not sacrificing it to the ideal of "productivity," is a really important part of re-balancing Chronos and Kairos. Try it. You'll like it!

~~~ PEACE ~~~

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