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Today, most people regard time as something straightforward and mystery-free. To know time one must simply consult a Gregorian calendar to know the day of the week, month and year, and a calibrated clock to know one’s more minute temporal location.
Based on these accurate and explicit technologies, society as a whole functions, be it on the micro-level of me setting up an appointment with you, or on the macro-level of global on-time shipment of industrial raw materials.
So have we got time pinned down? Is this all there is to say about it? Are there other aspects of time that the mechanical calendar/clock tool-set cannot gauge or assist in understanding, let alone controlling? Dimensions of time that require an altogether different set of ‘tools’?
The subjective experience of waiting for something can draw time on, like being in a prison cell. When everything’s great and I’m happy, time means nothing. It simply flies by. When I’m late submitting my work as agreed upon, time flies again, but this time against me.
The ancient Greeks and Mayans knew something very important about time; something that has been long forgotten.
All roads begin in Greece
The Greek god Chronos represents physical/mechanical time. The kind of time you and I can measure and agree upon to organize a party. Like many other ancient gods, Chronos was known by several names, and depicted in several variations when sculptured: ‘Father time’, ‘Saturn’, ‘Death’, ‘The Grim Reaper’. Common items associated with Chronos were his hourglass and his scythe.
The hourglass has a finite number of grains in it, that fall at a steady rhythm from the top sphere to the bottom one. When the last grain falls, Chronos uses his sharp scythe to cut the line of life and bring eternal death.
Chronos’s ‘spiritual brother’-in-time was Kairos. On his feet he wore winged sandals, so rather than sitting or standing behind a maiden like Chronos, he was on the move constantly (like the Road Runner). He bore no weapons, save the razor on which scales were balanced, and his head was half-shaven.
Kairos is sacred time. He is opportunity and ripeness. If I’m tuned into Kairos –figuratively grabbing him by his frontal ponytail – he becomes my ally and friend. At my side, Kairos’ gift is intuition and a heart connection; what’s also called ‘gut feeling’ or ‘hunch’.
And what means do I have to become Chronos’s friend? He reigns supreme and answers to no-one. He loves and keeps his ‘peerless’ position going. In other words – he’s nobody’s friend. Even when he comes to claim your life he’s never nice. Like the mechanical contraptions that follow his rhythm, his unitary intent on uniformity and certainty leaves no room for mystery or subjective interpretations of time, and so much of the experienced and natural world remains unaccounted for.
Chronos asks: “what time is it?” To which woman replies, very accurately and unequivocally, using the calendar and watch she has developed to describe natural regularities just to herself. Her accuracy is Chronos’s scythe.
Kairos asks an altogether different question: “am I on time?” or “am I early or late?” While the same tools can provide a straight answer in some cases, in more profound cases and levels certainty can never be achieved.
Was I on time becoming a father? Am I late in kicking my destructive habit? Am I pushing my son prematurely? How long must I endure until I’ll finally be rid my chronic ache?
Chronos is the cerebral and reason-oriented approach, which is complemented and countered by the more elusive, experience- and emotion-based mojo of Kairos.
The flip-side story
Time-keeping and the deep study of Time are world-known hallmarks of the Mayan heritage.
The Haab calendar is the Mayan equivalent of our Gregorian calendar. It measures the tropical (sun-based) year of 365 days, but instead of being divided into 12 months of various lengths, it consists of 18 months, each lasting exactly 20 days, with an additional ‘mini’ month (Wayeb’) lasting 5 ‘nameless’ days at the very end of the calendar.
The Haab is a civilian calendar, primarily facilitating the planning and execution of agricultural, financial, and administrative activities. It is crucial, but unlike the calendar most of the world uses, it doesn’t stand alone, and was never meant to.
Sacred time is kept (and not measured) by the 260-day Chol’qix (or Tzolkin). A personal time-map containing a distinctly human frequency. What makes this ‘calendar’ (for lack of a better word) unique and peerless is the fact that it measures a human activity (gestation) and cannot be calibrated. It measures a sacred Adam-and-Eve rhythm, which is not based on celestial movements. When tuned into this frequency, the more acute questions of Kairos timing, which are subjective and personal, can finally be viewed through the right glasses.
My intention is not to draw direct correlations between two, very different systems and cultures. Chances are Kairos was not a household name in the Yucatan peninsula, but it’s certain that time meant a great many things to the indigenous people living there. The liberating fact for me is that we can experiment and measure time in many ways, and that there is no one true and precise answer to time’s questions.