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: archery and 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 his battle with the suitors, must fire an arrow through the holes in a dozen ax heads standing in a row, in order to prove himself. Meeting the test of this kind of Kairos requires fine precision and the force to drive the arrow all the way through. 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 a visit to the Bahamas, when I taught at the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island, I had an experience of Kairos that touched my heart. My programs were over. It was my last morning in the Bahamas, and I had packed my bags, ready to return to the frozen Northeast. 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 seashell to the ocean for her deceased mother, who loved the ashram and stayed here many years ago?
There was no ticktock 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.
Key elements in the experience of synchronicity that came into bold relief in the informal survey I reported in the last chapter include these: You know that coincidence is meaningful because you feel it. You know this is a special moment; sometimes it feels like time has stopped or, alternatively, as if something that is timeless has entered the realm of time. You may feel blessed or challenged by the presence of the numinous. And very often you want to do something. You want to say thank you; you want to tell other people; you want to check whether you have received a message and then figure out what to do about it.
In the ancient world, you knew a god was present because everything started to quiver or shimmer. The special moment was itself a god. We now know his name, Kairos. He is the antithesis of the old god Chronos. While Chronos represents linear time, the time that moves relentlessly in one direction, time that binds, Kairos represents that special moment in which you can break the bonds and operate in a spacious Now.
Thinking about the special quality of the Kairos moment, I want to offer a new word for the practice of navigating by synchronicity. The word is kairomancy. Translation: divination by special moments. Alternative version: making magic by seizing those special moments. Kairomancy trumps and contains other Mancies — bibliomancy, cartomancy, chiromancy, and their kin — as the Fool (to those who know the greater tarot) contains the secret of the whole deck and carries all the patterns of the world in his sack.
To become a kairomancer, you need to learn to trust your feelings as you walk the roads of this world, to develop your personal science of shivers, to recognize in your gut and your skin and in free-floating impressions that you know far more than you hold on the surface of consciousness. You need to take care of your poetic health, reading what rhymes in a day or a season. You want to expect the unexpected, to make friends with surprises, and never miss that special moment. The kairomancer understands that the time is always Now, except when the time is GO.
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Excerpted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life ©2015 by Robert Moss. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com