Time has passed rapidly since the beginning of the semester. It feels as if Feb. 1 was just yesterday, yet March is already here. If any of you feel as I do, you might think that you are not ready for the semester to be over. It seems as if classes have just started and that we have only just gotten into the material. Yet, in eight weeks, we will be done with the 2017–2018 year.
Thinking about the rapid passing of this semester has made me wonder about time and the many ways to track its passage. To some, time passes in days or weeks. To others, time elapses in breaths or heartbeats.
However, to most, time is measured via dials on our wrists with infinitely turning hands. It seems strange to me that these knobs govern our daily lives. From needing to wake up on time, get to class on time, walk to work on time and meet up with friends on time, we as humans find ourselves constantly looking at our watches, our phones and any other time-telling device for answers. A cultural fear of death generates a fear of losing time, and people are constantly afraid of wasting time.
Time clues are present everywhere. Bell towers chime and electronic signs broadcast the time and temperature. Access to the time is nearly universal through phones, wall clocks, car radios and the news. The concept of time is figuratively forced down our throats, seemingly constituting the force that keeps all life going, without which the world would collapse and cease to function.
However, is it really? If time cues are ignored, there is no such thing as early or late.
The stresses of being on time are gone. One is given a luxury seldom acquired in our modern world. Guided by the trajectories of the sun and moon and the human internal clock, without the constraints of time, people are able to do what they want, when they want. From this comes creative freedom.
Without time cues, humans’ dependency on technology would substantially decrease. People would spend more time connecting with one another, talking and sharing stories and experiences. Bodies would be allowed to relax during down-time instead of being required to worry about how much time is left before the next commitment arises.
Many people and many communities live without time cues. For example, the Pirahã are the original inhabitants of the Amazon Forest in Brazil and their language, also called Pirahã, has no numbers, no words for colors, no quantitative terms and no past participles.
Additionally, there are no leaders and no social hierarchy within the community. The Pirahã do not rely on time cues to govern their lives. They rely solely on current, personal experiences and do not even keep records of community history. The Pirahã rely solely on the here-and-now (The New Yorker, “The Interpreter,” 04.16.2007).
It is a bit easier to live without the concept of time in an isolated rainforest, but for those of us who live in the hustle and bustle of the capitalist, consumerist realm, it is difficult to exist without time cues for extended periods of time. Our society is devoted to constantly improving and progressing, usually within time constraints.
Efficiency equals perfection and idleness is seen as a waste of energy and resources. In such a world, it is difficult to find time for oneself; however, it is beneficial, at times, to switch off our phones, ignore the passing of time and enjoy the moment.
Kairos time is a concept that I was introduced to a while ago. The idea was popularized by the Greeks, who distinguished the difference between chronos and kairos time. Chronos is quantitative, the time to which we are accustomed.
Kairos, however, is qualitative, measuring opportune moments or permanent time. The idea around kairos is to ignore the happenings of the outside world, including the passage of time, and to focus on enjoying the moment. Without the pressures of time, one is allowed to reflect on one’s life, one’s relationships and oneself. Inward thought is beneficial in coming to terms with experiences of our presents and our pasts, provoking less worry when we return to the real world.
Kairos is extremely beneficial to one’s mental health, and should be practiced by everyone. I find it helpful to have a day of kairos time once every month, or whenever I am feeling especially stressed. There are several ways to go about stepping out of the real world, forming a space that is conducive to kairos time.
The night before, I prepare my space. I make sure that I have no prior commitments to attend to. Either I choose a free day or I take a mental health day, making sure to cancel all my appointments. I then get rid of all time cues, turning off stove or radio timers and making sure all my clocks are stopped. I put my phone in airplane mode and do not check it unless an emergency arises. Without setting an alarm or checking the time, I fall asleep.
The mornings of my kairos days are regulated by my body’s internal clock. I wake up when my body tells me that it has gotten enough rest. I don’t check my phone to see the time or what has happened in the world while I am asleep.
Instead, I marvel at the beautiful sun’s rays shining through my window. I hear the birds chirping and the buzzing of street-life below me. Yet, remarkably, I do not hear the ticking of clocks. It is refreshing.
I then take the time to make the kind of breakfast my body tells me it needs. Not worrying about how much time it takes to make or eat it, I can fully engage in the preparation of my meal. I take time to actually taste what I am putting in my body.
Afterwards, I let the fate of the rest of my day fall to my body’s needs, along with a bit of serendipity. Some days, I simply read in a comfy chair. Other days, I take walks, exploring my neighborhood. I take the train and, instead of worrying whether I am on time, I observe the beauty of my home. High-rises are juxtaposed with elegant trees, stubby bushes and green fields of neighboring parks. I observe how lucky I am to get to live in such a beautiful city.
Sometimes, I find a café and try to read, but inevitably I end up people-watching. I make up stories for the people I see on the street, observing strange encounters and staring at their cute dogs. Once, I saw an elderly man walking a tiny pig, and for the rest of the day, I wondered how their relationship formed and how one cares for a pig in a city.
I think of my kairos days as retreats. I retreat from the obligations of my everyday life to organize my thoughts, to make sense of and re-evaluate my current life-status and to allow my body to rest and recover from day-to-day stresses.
Over the course of the day, I settle into a headspace that makes no sense of the numbers that create time. Even if I glance at the clock in the train station or hear the chiming of a bell tower, the stimuli mean nothing to me. I am truly living in the moment.
Everyone should make time for kairos, whether it be as long as a day or simply a few hours. After all, if you never pause to take a breath, are you really living?