Time is a weird thing, especially lately.

Most of us had been living by the clock and the calendar, our motions dictated by Chronos. Catch the 8.15 to make it in, meeting at 9.15, call at 11.30, appointment on the 12th, party on the 16th, everything was laid out by the numbers for us, be they hours or days. It’s something I’ve observed before, that living so tied to the clock and the calendar disconnected you from ever truly being in the moment. You don’t need to think about what you want to do, because it’s all planned ahead of time, and there’s no room to pause and ask yourself how you feel at any particular moment. You’re not encouraged to wonder “what do I really want right now?” (with the most important words in that line being “right now.”)

Living with COVID-19 has meant withdrawing from the familiar, which is funny to think about when the retreat from the familiar in this case means closing yourself up in where? Your home? That place that’s theoretically supposed to be comfortable and familiar? It’s meant not going in to work with colleagues or out to play with friends. And while there are some demands still for those still beholden to an employer (which is it’s own beast, being Zoomed out is a thing), people are starting to have to learn how to deal with time outside of the realm of Chronos.

Let me back up for a second. Ancient Greece. (i said back, didn’t i?) They had two concepts of time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos covered what I talked about just now, the clock, the calendar. It’s measured, precise, exact. Kairos, on the other hand is more ethereal than that, less measured and more felt. It covers the spirit of the moment, the opportune time to act, which tends to come from being present enough in the moment to recognize that the time is indeed right.

Multiple calls over the past 6 weeks with clients have touched on folks feeling uprooted, uncertain, uncomfortable, and unable to deal with not having a hard and fast schedule to stick to. People are having to become more self directed, which may be unfamiliar when you’re used to being guided so strictly by a clock and a calendar. With large chunks of loosely managed time, there’s a bit of uncertainty that creeps up. “Am I wasting my time?” comes up over and over in conversations. There’s a strong sense of unease because we’ve been living in and identifying so strongly with Chronos as a way to manage ourselves and dictate terms of success that when that’s gone, we don’t know how to act.

How do you let go of having that kind of structure? What happens when you move from Chronos to Kairos? Some try to impose order the only way they know how, scheduling every single thing, but that opens the door to beating yourself up if you don’t hit those times. What happens if you relax into it instead of trying to manage it? What if you don’t call yourself a failure for not meditating every morning at 7 like your calendar says, and decide to tell yourself that “when I get up” is a perfectly fine alternative?

It’s hard to shake the unease, especially when we’ve been told constantly that our value as people is directly tied to our productivity, and we measure that productivity via Chronos. The clock. The calendar. This is how we’ve been running for years, decades, hell, centuries. If that’s something you want to use as a guide for your life, then feel free to schedule away. If you’re looking for a way to make friends with Kairos, however, I’d like to suggest some form of mindfulness.

Deliberately investigate your own thoughts and habits. Ask what it is you want. Then ask if that want is something someone else prescribed you. Make friends with how your body feels. Learn how to listen to your gut. It sounds self indulgent to lots of people, you may wind up fighting guilt doing it. Get curious about the guilt. But connect with yourself. By connecting deeply with yourself, you wind up dropping into the present moment. You’re able to feel and tell the opportune time to do something because you’re not on a hamster wheel, you’re present.

This kind of curiosity about yourself and deliberateness about your actions runs counter to consumption (which is fine by me, it means fewer things needing to be organized). Moving through your life with that kind of intention puts you at odds with Chronos. You disconnect from the constant grind. What would that free up in your head? Your heart? Your life? What would happen if you stopped breaking yourself to fit a system that only sees value in you being broken?

Tuning in to Kairos is a practice. A path. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, a little scary, imperfect. Tuning in to Kairos is what’s been shoved on us this spring, and different folks are handling it in different ways. I can’t speak to what this will be eventually, but time, and our collective experience of it, is going to continue to be funky for a while. A week will take 6 years, a day will pass in 20 minutes. Through it all, ask yourself what it is you need in that particular moment.

Right now, on the inhale.

Right now, on the exhale.