Time interacts with attention in funny ways.

At one extreme, when Ruth was gripped by the compulsive mania and hyperfocus of an Internet search, the hours seemed to aggregate and swell like a wave, swallowing huge chunks of her day.

At the other extreme, when her attention was disengaged and fractured, she experienced time at its most granular, wherein moments hung around like particles, diffused and suspended in standing water.
— Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

When I read this part of Ozeki's heartwrenching novel, I remember that I had to put down the book for a solid couple of minutes to fully take in this quote. Ozeki wonderfully articulates something profound that I had thought about in odd moments, but never in great detail – namely, that time can be experienced in diverse ways.
We tend not to question 'time' itself very often. In our modern cultures and lexicons, it's typically held as the background stage on which the human drama unfolds, and/or as a precious resource ('time is money') not to be wasted. Time is ever-marching forward, yet also stable – it is the same everywhere (or at least, everywhere relevant to us humans on Earth). Many of our modern socioeconomic systems rely on this stability, from the precisely defined trading hours of global stock exchanges to strict transportation timetables. Deadlines dictate the pace of our work, and even our leisure time is often scheduled. This temporal steadiness keeps the cogs of globalized society running smoothly.
As Lewis Mumford notes in Technics and Civilization (1934): "Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing. ... The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age."

It's just a social construct, dude

Yet, time is far from being straightforward & stable. Even with a basic understanding of modern physics – specifically Einstein's theory of relativity – we know that time can warp and bend. It passes slower the closer you are to a gravitational field (like a planet), so a clock on a satellite in space runs slightly faster than a clock on Earth. Rather than being absolute, time is thus surprisingly flexible, and relative to the observer.
Still, this doesn't stop us all from going around pretending that time is some fundamental law that governs reality. In fact, it requires major upheavals to the status quo for us to recognize that our perception of time is largely socially constructed.
A great example of this came up in one of my classes on modern Japanese history: Japan's transition from the lunar to solar (Gregorian) calendar in the early Meiji era. The year was 1868. It was a time fraught with turbulence. After an intense civil war, the imperial system was just re-established under the leadership of Emperor Meiji. This new government was resolute in their aim to modernize Japan. All the standard modernization stuff: industrialization and the establishment of a centralized government, introduction of compulsory education, etc.
However, a less frequently highlighted part of the early Meiji modernization was the imposition of Western rhythms of time. For one, modern clocks were introduced, and swiftly became the primary devices for marking the units of the day. During the prior Tokugawa era, the division of day (お昼) and night (夜) was much different, each being split into six unequal segments, and denoted by an animal ranging from rat to horse. These fluid divisions were subject to changes based on the season, latitude, and horizon, and were tied to the ebbs and flows of nature. Modern clocks displaced this, bringing a more precise, regular, and universal perception of time.
Alongside this change was the seemingly mundane shift to the solar Gregorian calendar that (almost) all of us are familiar with today. For the Japanese government, these reforms were organic administrative steps to synchronize the archipelago with the temporal system of Europe and the United States. A way to facilitate the burgeoning nation-state's interactions in the international arena.

The Meiji Restoration (明治維新) (source)

But for ordinary Japanese people, these changes were seismic – causing chaos, confusion, and sparking many protests. When the reckoning of time changed, peoples' very relation to the world was fundamentally disoriented.
In New Times in Modern Japan (2004), Stefan Tanaka details the lamentations of commoners at this historical moment:
“Why did the government suddenly decide to abolish [the lunar calendar]? The whole thing is disagreeable. The old system fitted in with the seasons, the weather, and the movement of the tides. One could plan one’s work or one’s clothing or virtually anything else by it. Since the revision . . . nothing is the way it should be.”
At a public bath in Tsukiji, an old lady allegedly complained while bathing:
“This year is very strange: the head priest will not even offer a Buddhist service— nothing like it in all these years, and they say that, even though the year has not ended, on the third day of the twelfth month the new year begins. I’ve never experienced this!” The [woman] next to her said, “Well then, that means that yesterday was the first of the twelfth month and tomorrow is the Imperial Court’s first day of January; but that means that in two days the moon will have worked thirty days. Impossible! For us the Tokugawa calendar is better.”
This Meiji era calendar change is a prime example of how time, as we know it, is shaped massively by our day-to-day collective rhythms and rituals. It also segues us into a discussion of the 'new time' we presently inhabit – one of clocks and calendars. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks had already coined a term that aptly encapsulates this perception of time - Kronos.

two gods of time
Kronos (also known as Saturn in Roman mythology), was one of the primary Greek gods associated with time. He held the title of the Lord of the Universe, being the source of both life and death. In a desperate bid to maintain his status as the supreme god, he resorted to eating his own offspring (quite horrifyingly depicted in Francisco Goya's famous painting Saturn Devouring his Son.) However, his wife intervened, saving their youngest son, Zeus (you might've heard of him), who later toppled Kronos' relentless reign. And so, the pantheon of Greek mythology began.

One depiction of Kronos (source)

With this archetypal backdrop of mortality, Kronos refers to the kind of time that we typically experience – chronological (hmm, I wonder where we get this word from 🧐), sequential, charging relentlessly forward on a linear track from past to future.
This 'Kronos time' is our modern time. It is the segmented time that can be accurately measured. The mechanized time of calendars and clocks. The abstract, universalising time that unites our individual and collective lives into a coherent, functioning whole. From global markets to our weekly planners, this time governs us. Kronos also draws attention to the teleology of our lifetime and inevitability of our demise – like Saturn's sons, we too, will be devoured by time.
But hold on a minute – there's another Greek god of time that doesn't get nearly as much press – Kairos. Depicted as a winged deity with a trickster attitude, one of his hands grasps the scales of fate, while the other extended to tilt those scales, shifting the trajectory of destiny. The god of lucky chance.
A stone carving of Kairos, posing like a defiant rockstar (~200BC) (source)
The Kairos archetype of time is very distinct from Kronos', and harder to pin down. Kairos signifies the perfect, critical, or opportune moment or season. This term was frequently used in two specific areas of ancient Greek practice – archery and weaving. In archery, Kairos symbolized the exact moment when an archer found the ideal opportunity to release their arrow and strike a target. In weaving, Kairos referred to the instant when the shuttle could be passed through the threads on the loom. In these moments, time doesn't move in a linear, Kronos-y way. Time is suspended, opening up to a more spacious subjective experience.
We've all encountered this expansive Kairos time at one point or another. It's found in those simple, seemingly inconsequential moments like watching a sunset, gazing out a window, losing yourself in a great song, or deeply listening to a friend. It's felt when we slip into flow states, fully absorbed in a task that matches our skill level with its challenge.
This distinct sense of time also often emerges during meditationpsychedelic experiences, or when we're engaged in deep, focused work (for me, particularly when I'm writing). What happens during these moments? Linear time fades away. An hour can slide by unnoticed – or, we experience 'eternity in an hour'. In these moments, Kronos takes a backseat. As Marney Makridakis puts it in this post:
"Kairos is numinous time. Kairos is a time of festivals and fantasies; it cannot be controlled or possessed. Kairos is circular, dancing back and forth, here and there, without beginning or ending, and knows no boundaries."
Where Kronos is concerned with the quantity of time, Kairos is concerned with the quality of time. Kairos tells us that each moment or season is distinct in its quality, and thus different moments and seasons are valuable for different reasons. Before our modern technologies that enable precise temporal measurement, Kairos was the principle that predominantly governed how we navigated the world, how we planted our crops, and how we made decisions.
In Japanese culture, we find the Kairosian sensibility beautifully embodied in the phrase 一期一会 (ichi-go ichi-e, literally 'one time, one meeting'). Originally used during tea ceremonies, this term served as a reminder to appreciate every gathering one participated in, acknowledging the unique, irreplaceable nature of each moment. Even if the same group of people reunites in the same location, that specific gathering can never be exactly duplicated. Consequently, every moment becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a precious snapshot of Kairos time.
The teaching of this winged deity is thus about seizing the numinous moment, while it is there. We see this even in his mythological imagery: He moved with swift, winged feet, darting about nimbly. Yet, if one was vigilant, they could catch him by the lengthy lock of hair that cascaded over the front of his otherwise bare head (wait too long, and you won't be able to grab his hair from behind!)​​​​​​​
Kairos' single lock of hair out the front – catch it while he's in front of you! (source)
I find the mythological roots of Kronos and Kairos absolutely fascinating. They're also a really good shorthand for talking about our diverse experiences of time in our daily life.
In the 21st century, I think we're quite overwhelmed with Kronos. The nature of modern work is more fast-paced than ever, demanding us to increase our productivity and efficiency to keep up. We find ourselves with ever-growing to-do lists and a seemingly dwindling amount of time to accomplish it all. Even social interaction requires us to be constantly online, tied to the rhythms of a digital world that never sleeps. I could go on. If you find yourself rushing through your day, feeling agitated or impatient, or obsessing over all the things you 'need to do', you're probably in Kronos time.
Naturally, balance is key — we can't simply abandon Kronos. It's an integral part of how our world operates. Indeed, Kronos can serve us well – being time-bound or setting ourselves a deadline, for instance, can be immensely useful for productivity, giving structure to our work and a healthy dosage of eustress. Depending on your personality type (or even culture), working in a Kronos way may even come most naturally and comfortably to you.
However, the question still arises: how can we foster a deeper connection with Kairos?
For one, I think simply pausing to tune into what modality of time we're operating in can be super powerful. I now regularly ask myself the question: "Am I in Kronos or Kairos right now?" Sometimes, I'll notice that I'm experiencing some kind of misalignment — for e.g., attempting to engage in Kairos activities within a Kronos timeframe — like forcing creativity to flow on a tight deadline (which often leads to less than satisfactory results!)
This has been SUCH a helpful question for me. I'm now experimenting with 'batch' completing tasks (thanks, Tim Ferris) according to Kronos-Kairos categories – i.e., doing all time-sensitive stuff like replying to messages, emails, and household chores in one go, and creating big blocks of Kairos time in my schedule to be in deep work mode for bigger projects. This allows Kairos timelessness to enter my day and help me do my best creative work.
Second, we can befriend Kairos by asking: "What sort of time/season is this?" All moments are valuable, but not in the same way. You might notice a feeling or intuition that it's a season of rest and recovery, or it could be a bustling period of continuous action and accomplishment. By asking this, we can cultivate our ability to recognize the quality and nature of the moment, and how we can best channel our energies and attention towards whatever we're doing. 
Finally, I feel that the most fun way to be enthused (lit. infused with, or possessed by, the spirit of a god) by Kairos is through listening for magical moments of serendipity. From spontaneous impulses to clear your head with a walk or reach out to a friend in need, to bigger decisions like changing job or moving to a new country, life constantly presents us with unexpected moments of synchronicity. In these moments, Kairos behooves us to deviate from our standard routines and pay particular attention – to take pause, see with clarity, and respond wisely. But we can only do this if we're living fully in the present moment.

What Kairos moments have you experienced recently? How can you balance Kairos and Kronos in your life?
Happy dancing with Kairos!​​​​​​​

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