Everything changes in time. This is the one constant in a Universe where all solid things ultimately disintegrate. It is the core principle that drives our fears and that led the Buddha to proclaim that the understanding of impermanence was the first “noble truth” that must be mastered by anyone who hopes to attain enlightenment.
Me, I’m just trying to get my damn laundry done before I have to leave for the airport.
I have struggled with time since I was a very small child. I remember vividly lying awake the night before my 4th birthday, staring at the ceiling, worrying intensely over how little I had accomplished over such a long period of time. I assumed that all the other 4-year-olds were much further along in their life missions. By the time I was in high school I was virtually insane with time anxiety. I got into a bitter argument with a friend who asked me what bothered me most about this world. I said “transience.” My friend thought I said “transients.” To this day, I think he abhors my position on our nation’s homeless population. What I meant, of course, was that everything passes away, and that I could not reconcile myself to the continuous loss that is an inevitable aspect of linear time. On a more basic note, I never felt I had enough time to do everything I hoped to accomplish. If I had known in high school how dramatically time demands would increase in the 21st century I would still be under my bed.
At this point in my life, I am lucky enough to have help with many tasks that once filled my available time and spilled over into time I should have spent sleeping. Even so I always feel I am running behind schedule. A few weeks ago I lost the cheap plastic Target watch that I was wearing because I know that I am always losing watches. For a few days I was on the road without a clock on my body. I was shocked by how often I looked at my left wrist. I remembered a Haitian proverb that became popular after slavery was abolished on the island: “The white man’s shackles have been replaced by his watches.” I had been experiencing time as my prison, my limitation, and my overseer.
To my huge relief, I soon bought another cheap plastic watch. But this one had a feature I had never seen. To set the time, I had to bring up a screen that said “chrono.” Every time I saw this screen a strange thought would pop into my mind. Not chronos, kairos. Chronos is a greek word that referred to the passage of linear time. Kairos means the time of the Gods. A moment of chronos is simply the tick of a clock. A moment of kairos is an undetermined time when an opening appears for the entry of the divine into the material world. Chronos is clock-time, kairos is god-time.
Either my subconscious mind or a passing guardian angel seems to be telling me that in order to move forward successfully with my purpose in life, I must relinquish my death grip on chronos and surrender to kairos. I am only beginning to experiment with this–such is the obsession with chronos I’ve had since preschool. At this point, my practice (and I would suggest this for you too if it feels interesting) is to notice that every day is peppered with kairos moments. A kairos moment may occur when your schedule is so full you feel like screaming. The message is to stop, to forget chronos, and to feel the calming force telling you almost nothing on your schedule is really important. A kairos moment might be the double-take you do when your eyes catch something beautiful or awe-inspiring. Take off your watch: the divine is speaking to you. A kairos moment may be the burst of laughter that comes when you realize all your darkest fears are fabrications of your mind. They are not happening now in this moment. This moment is the doorway to god. Stop and open it.
To remind myself of this I have been taking off my watch for several hours each day. Each time I look at my wrist and see nothing but skin I remember to drop chronos and feel for kairos. Within the kairos moment nothing ever needs to be done, and everything can happen at once. Life can weave itself around my heart’s desires. In one instant of kairos, there is room for everything we have envisioned for ourselves and for one another. I’ll meet you there.