Time. We can be the master of it or be mastered by it. Or so we think. Whatever our position on this conundrum, we would only be partially correct.

As we are releasing the old year and preparing to embark on the new, time is weighing heavily on our collective psyche. Many transitions we experience throughout our lives are personal. We, and perhaps a few of our friends and family members, undertake them. The time between one year and another is significant. We are sharing this experience with people all around the world. As the ball drops at midnight, we symbolically leave the old behind and step into something new. The fact that time as we know it is a social construct doesn’t matter to us much on New Year’s Eve.

Tale of two takes on time.

As New Year’s Day dawns our understanding of time has the potential to inform how we choose to use it in whatever time we are gifted. The Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to time as we usually understand it. Chronos time is chronological time. It is measured by calendars and clock hands. Chronos time allows us to navigate space based on transits of the sun and moon across the sky.

Kairos time is a bit more difficult for us to wrap our heads around. Kairos time refers to the moment at hand. Actually, it is the only time there really is. Both the past and the future are illusions. I know, I know, they seem awfully real! Consider this. Perhaps two people go on a blind date. One of them thoroughly enjoys themselves. After the date, they tell their friends that they can’t wait to see their date again. The other person has a very different experience. Even though this individual their friend set them up with was nice, they were terribly bored, constantly looking at the clock, and glad that they would never have to see this person again!

The two people recall very different experiences of their time together. Who is correct? Well, neither. Or both. This is time’s illusory nature. What we recall about the past is our perspective of an experience. In reality, the past we remember never really happened at all.

The same is true for the future. As Yoda says, “Always in motion is the future.” We may have an idea about how we think the future will go, how we think we would like the future to go, or how we think we would not like the future to go, but we cannot say for certainty what will happen. The universe is governed by both chaos and order. Humans have the ability to choose (chaos), and there are always consequences for our choices (order).

How we use our time.

Both ways of understanding time serve a purpose. One is a tool we use, the other just is. Chronos time is a social agreement we’ve made as a species that governs how we navigate time. We need this tool to help us get things done! Chronos time allows us to plan, organize, and set and achieve goals. In Chronos time we can choose whether to use our time productively or to waste it. Chronos time gives structure to our lives.

Kairos time requires we remain in the present moment. The character Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean movies is a master of Kairos time! Captain Sparrow finds himself in all sorts of challenging situations. Because there are so many variables that get him into these sticky predicaments, there is no way he can plan his escape in advance. Jack is not one to sit around worrying, “I wonder what I will do if a gigantic sea monster swallows me alive?” Instead, he uses the resources available to him in the moment to handle whatever he faces. Brooding over the past and worrying about the future does us no good. By remaining present we can most fully access all that we need to address whatever situation requires our attention.

It is important for us to learn how to harness the benefits of both concepts of time without allowing one to get in the way of the other. When we rigidly cling to our routines and schedules, Chronos time limits our ability to be fully present and enjoy the moment at hand. However, if we do not set goals and ignore our deadlines, we are not living as fully as possible. Goals help us grow and deadlines keep us accountable.

Reflecting upon how we will use time in the new year.

Do you find yourself adhering to one approach to time more than the other? If so, would it be helpful for you to incorporate the other aspect of time more fully into your life? How? Whatever approach to time we favor, the most true thing we can say about time is that it is not guaranteed. Our work is to use whatever time we do have wisely.