Beyond the Tick Tock
Chronos, Kairos and Awe
Like most people, I live my life ruled by chronological time – the relentless march of seconds, minutes, hours. While chronos time keeps life orderly, it can also leave us feeling trapped on a hamster wheel, especially when the backdrop to this chronos time is the silent sinking feeling that we simply don’t have enough of it.
The latest IPCC report gave a stark warning: time is running out to diffuse the climate ‘time bomb’. There is much we need to speed up. We quite literally have no time to lose.
Time. A short word for the most precious resource we have available. For the ache in our chest when we know we’ve got little left. The thing we don’t even think about when we’ve got a seeming abundance of it.
The ancient Greeks spoke of another kind of time - kairos. Not chronological but those brief, precious moments when you lose track of time. Moments of awe, joy, flow. Kairos reshapes how you see the world, opening new possibilities that were obscured.
Chronos represents chronological, sequential time that we typically experience day-to-day. It's the measurable time of clocks and calendars that governs our schedules and activities. Kairos, on the other hand, represents moments when time feels suspended. Unlike chronological time, kairos cannot be measured or scheduled. It arrives unannounced, transforming our perspectives and priorities. While chronos keeps life orderly, kairos opens portals to new possibilities and directions.
Learning to balance and transition between chronos and kairos time seems to be the key to both productivity and transformation. Chronos without kairos leads to burnout, while kairos without chronos is essentially aimlessness. What does it look like for us to integrate the two, creating a rhythm of work and renewal through which we can sustainably evolve?
It is not the time to walk faster. It is time to walk with care.
- David Whyte
What’s needed is not just change, but transformation. A fundamental shift in how we live, work, and relate. Transformation requires moving from chronos into kairos and back again.
In a fragmented world, we have little space for such magical timelessness. Our ancestors knew better, setting aside chronos for ceremonial kairos. Like monks seeking epiphanies in meditation - could rituals like those help burnt-out, eco-anxious activists and entrepreneurs find renewal?
Experiences of awe may be a gateway to stepping into kairos. When we experience awe, we diminish our self-focus and reframe our place in the world. Awe pulls us into the present. We might even lose track of chronological time. For a moment we inhabit a space where everything feels open. In awe, we don’t feel rushed.
I want to go back to our global planetary rush to save all we can. The feeling that we don’t have time. The urgency in this emergency. Could it be that some time spent in kairos has the potential to shift us from isolated urgency to interconnected possibility? What if it lays the groundwork for us to see solutions, possibilities and openings that is completely invisible in chronos time?
The occasional escape into timeless kairos won't by itself fix crises like climate change. But perhaps by dissolving barriers in how we see and think, it can unlock the creativity needed for the long work ahead.
With kindness and curiosity,