By: Benjamin Reisterer, MA, LLPC
With the new year upon us and as I accumulate more and more experiences, the idea of time has weighted heavily on me the last several months. The ancient Greeks described two ways to measure time, the quantitative chronos and the qualitative kairos. Chronos is a chronological view or “clock time” that measures from start to finish or birth to death. Kairos is measured in the moments of meaning and opportunity that have impacted our lives, it measures time through growth. Kairos has a sense of “readiness” to it that is outside of any assigned timeline.
Chronos is necessary as it gives society a common reference point and expectations. It creates scarcity of time which can be motivation to pursue purpose and passion. It’s a signal for beginning and end. However, chronos is only part of the picture and unfortunately we find ourselves in a society that almost exclusively relies on this partial understanding. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself (and others) when you should…fill in your own blank. You can fill it with graduate, go to college, begin a career, get married, have kids, buy a house, get promoted, retire, or any other number of things that come to mind. We all know the kid who went to college after high school who didn’t really know if that’s what they wanted to do, but went simply because it was the next step to be taken. The point is that almost everything has either a self-imposed or culturally imposed timeline to it. Have you ever felt pride for a milestone being accomplished faster than expected or shame for it happening later than hoped? Have you ever given up on pursuing something because it was “too late”? These are functions of chronos that kairos is not bound to. Without a balanced perspective on time, we can experience undue pain, depression, anxiety, or miss out on important and edifying experiences. In other words, we should base our actions, opinions, self concepts, expectations, and judgments less on when something happens and more on the circumstances of how and why it happens.
The work done in therapy is a process focused on bringing about healing and change while pursuing purpose through honest and meaningful experience and relationship. Therapy then becomes a good place to build this balance between chronos and kairos. Therapy sessions are scheduled very much through a chronos understanding of time, while the therapy process plays out on a kairos platform. Inevitably, early in the process of therapy I am asked about the number of sessions that should be completed to achieve a particular goal. I hesitate to assign a chronos expectation to kairos experiences as it often injects undue pressure into the process which can complicate and paradoxically extend the timeline.
Chronos, as stated before, creates a motivational timeline but it is often of singular focus. Kairos allows us to go where the experience will yield the most growth. Furthermore, kairos gives us permission to uncover insights and work towards transformations when we are truly ready for them, as opposed to when a schedule says we should. Facing some things without being truly ready often leads to prolonging the experience of insight and transformation. Honestly working through and facing our discomfort and pain is quite often a catalyst for some very meaningful growth in our lives, so we therefore sell ourselves short when we put our growth on a deadline. Productive individuals moving closer to healthy meaning and purpose actively balance the impact of chronos and kairos in their lives. The good news is that it’s never “too late” (get it?) to begin shifting towards a more kairos perspective of time. This allows one to slow down and appreciate their experiences, activities, failures, and accomplishments while being viewed through a more stable lens of growth, meaning, and purpose.