Paradise Island, Bahamas
Kairos is jump time, opportunity time, the special moment that you seize or miss. In Kairos moments you may feel you have been released from linear time, or that powers from outside time have irrupted into your world. The Greeks personified Kairos as a young, fleet-footed god, completely bald except for a curling lock falling over his forehead. Hence the phrase, "seize time by the forelock." If you meet this fellow on the road and fail to seize the moment, you'll find him very hard to catch. Kairos is slippery.
Brutus talks about Kairos time, the time of opportunity, in a famous passage in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
Kairos, in Greek, has related meanings in two interesting contexts: in archery and in weaving. In archery, kairos means an opening in the specific sense of a long aperture through which the archer must make his arrow pass, as Odysseus, at the start of the battle with the suitors, must fire an arrow through the holes in a dozen ax heads to prove himself. Meeting the test of this kind of Kairos requires fine precision and the force to drive the arrow all the way. In the art of weaving, kairos is the moment when the weaver must draw the yarn through the gap that opens - just for that moment - in the warp of the fabric that is being woven.On the last day of my visit to the Bahamas, where I was teaching at the Sivananda Ashram over the past week, I had an experience of Kairos that touched my heart. I had packed my bags. I was due at the dock on the other side of the ashram in a couple of minutes, to catch the boat to Nassau en route to the airport. My hand was moving to shut down my laptop and tuck it away in my carry-on bag.
In this instant, I received a message from a dear friend and student. Could I possibly offer a sea shell to the ocean for her deceased mother, who loved the ashram and stayed here many years ago?
There was no tick-tock time to do this, but Kairos - and the heart - take precedence over Chronos. I ran down the steps to the white sand beach in front of the ashram and hunted up and down until I found a small white shell. I padded into the shallows and released the shell, gently, into the streaming hair of the sea goddess, with a prayer for my friend's mother.
May her paths be open. I caught my boat. When Kairos is in play, ordinary time is either suspended, or elastic.
May we always be available to the Kairos moments when immediate action is required.