When we moved from the city to the countryside this summer our belongings and furniture heaved a collective sigh of "Oh good, we can just be ourselves now, that apartment was too swank for us." Among those belongings was a wall clock that belonged to my grandmother. It never worked since it was in my ownership, and so hung on the wall with the rest of the art, a sort of homage to time.
Dan is always doing thoughtful things, and he loves to make things work, so he ordered a new movement for the clock, and a new pendulum, and now the clock sings the Westminster chimes on the hour. It has made me hyper aware of the passage of time. It also made me fill up my grandmother's candy dish. Why not? I need caramels. We are now the couple with the chiming clock and candy dish that is always filled.
Sometimes when the clock sings, I hear: "You're getting old/the time is now/get off your butt/you lazy cow." Ow. The part of my brain that enjoys making up lyrics, impromptu musicals, and jingles can be a real meanypants smartass. But she also has a point.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time,
and kairos signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in
which everything happens. I think of kairos as spiritual time. Chronos is quantitative, but kairos is qualitative. Kairos, to me, is time well spent. Chronos is a demanding schedule.
We say we "spent time" working on a new logo or cooking a meal. Spending is a good word for it, because time is a currency. It's an odd bank account where you never see your balance. No one wants to think of what number remains on the statement. Is it close to zero? Have I been squandering what I have left?
Unitasking is kairos. You are focused, in the moment, and working on one thing at a time. You are appreciative. You're in the flow state, or what some people call "the zone." Kids are brilliant at hanging out in kairos. They are unitaskers by nature. I love spending time with children, because it is time well-spent. My mother is also a unitasker. I love spending time with her, too. I learn from her.
Multitasking is chronos. When you find yourself saying, "I have to go to the cleaners, and then pick up that script, and run to the post office ... oooh ... maybe I can get a few more hours of that volunteer data entry in after that and get it finished," you're in chronos. Chronos can feel like an infinite loop. It's an endless to-do list, where you don't have time to appreciate the little things, like the wooly worm on the sidewalk.
This morning I made a list of things I consider chronos, and things I consider kairos, and it was interesting to see that some overlap. Riding a swing is kairos, but the pendulum nature of the movement throws it into the chronos zone. Cooking a meal is kairos, but then there's the chronos of coordinating the cooking times.
If you've ever been in a casino, shopping mall, or grocery store, you've been manipulated into thinking there is no time. They are all designed to put you into what you think is a state of kairos, but it's really chronos as you flit from aisle to gleaming aisle (or game to game) like a drunk bumblebee.
Jenny's List of Kairos Activators
looking at the sky
reading a good book
listening to someone's story
writing (not journalism)
reading a letter
taking a walk
floating on your back on a lake (especially good if still wearing a dress)
taking off stage makeup
baking bread, a cake, or cookies
playing a game with a child
performing (the moments I'm performing, not leading up to it)
meditating and coloring
riding a swing
holding the hands of someone dying
looking into another person's eyes and really seeing
watching the ocean waves
library and bookstore browsing
eating a really great meal
dancing with a partner
typing with a typewriter
helping someone who needs it
hooping with a stack of hoops, or just one, or an invisible hoop
listening to wind in trees
wiggling my fingers in a jar of buttons, or a bag of rice, or a sack of marbles
pretty much anything in nature, with the exception of being chased by a wild animal, that's definitely chronos, chronos with fangs and claws.
Jenny's List of Chronos Activators
being in an online social network
my smartphone, which is not "smart"
the computer (software, organizing files, all of it)
packing for a big trip
late night worrying
worrying about being ill, or losing your memory
These aren't comprehensive lists, and if you've read all the way through this far I owe you something. Like a hug. Oh, hugs! Hugs are kairos. So is eating a caramel from the candy dish.