Kronos and Kairos

Kronos (Κρόνος) is an ancient Greek word meaning chronological or sequential time. It is measured by clocks, we tend to race against it and somewhere along the way we began to equate it with money. While virtually everything in modern civilization hangs upon this word, there is another type of time that is often overlooked, kairos (καιρός).

Kairos signifies the “right,” “opportune” or “supreme” moment. It is the perfect time in which the archer must release his arrow to hit his desired mark, the ideal moment in which a weaver passes the shuttle through the shed on his loom or even the educated rider’s ability to make best use of the constantly changing forces he encounters while training his horse.

Kairos cannot be measured as can kronos, yet it intersects the linear path of time we are so familiar with in our daily routines. One way of looking at it is this: kairos is to kronos as wisdom is to intelligence. Those sensitive to kairos develop an uncommon sense of the fitness of things, or as Isocrates wrote, it is seen by those “who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action.”

François Baucher was a nineteenth century French horseman of great merit. Baucher developed a system of schooling horses based largely on principles articulated in classical equitation that had as its goal the total disposition of the horse’s strength, making the horse “a docile instrument, submissive to all the impulses of his will.” Count Antoine Cartier D’Aure was a similarly talented rider who preferred the modernist (at the time) approach, which was more or less in direct opposition that of Baucher. D’Aure sought a more natural balance and he summarized his method as going “forward! always forward! and once again forward!”

As you can imagine, the friction between these two men was the source of significant controversy in French equitation, at a time when the entire French nation was moving through a crucible of ideas and movements that were redefining its national character. While I do not claim to know whose method was more correct, it is interesting to me that in kronos these two men represented opposing forces but in kairos they were united. Both were not only able to take into account the contingencies of the forces at work in and on the horse while considering the opportunities to counteract the bad distribution of those forces and the stiffness caused by bad conformation in a way that compels the horse to greater lightness and equilibrium, they were able to do this – which incidentally sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice – with sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura in its purest form is the spark which flies from the flint of kairos as it is struck upon the cold and steely march of kronos. It is the quality which leads men to say, “he made that look so easy.”

I am convinced that life is meant to be filled with such moments. We are not here to bide out time until the bitter end, to march through the minutes, days and years with our heads down and our spirits low, rather, we are here to bring the spark of life to bear upon the tinder of the world around us. If we are living correctly, we are motivating, compelling, entreating and assisting the world around us to rise up and refine. Every thought, word and deed can be harnessed to this aim and it can be done without sacrificing the joy of living.

Why not see your world as a green and young horse who longs to be mastered and to serve with you, to be brought into communion with you in the accomplishment of higher purposes than either of you could achieve on your own? Kairos is withheld from no one, but you must do the preparatory work to be in position to perceive it.

Why not start now?

12 thoughts on “Kronos and Kairos

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  4. Colin

    I really enjoyed the anecdote about the two French equestrians. I wonder if they felt a sense of conflict with their opposite methods or if they had a camaraderie in their mastery of a shared field. There are many kinds of sprezzatura, just like there are many angles at which Kronos and Kairos meet. In some ways, a life well lived can be characterized as a series of masteries where Kronos and Kairos are well acquainted. After reading this post, I am reminded of all the opportunities that I have to live a life that is light, easy, natural, and full of accomplishment, thanks to Kairos.

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  5. James

    Great post, Gregg. Always a pleasure to come across new concepts that you instinctively know, but have never seen discussed. After 5 years of doing essentially the same job, I had a moment of Kairos yesterday evening, that I have never experienced.

    Thanks again!

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  6. happytobehere

    Excellent post. The timing was perfect with something in my life, thanks. I love new words they are the crayons to the paper of our lives.

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  7. MMc

    Those rare folk that make most everything appear effortless also have another trait, they are not martyrs basing their value on how hard they have it. To live your life with sprezzatura it requires the exact opposite of martyrdom. The first delights in perfect timing the latter in suffering. Thanks for sharing your thoughts they help me distill my own.

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    1. Gregg Hake

      Nice…you caught one of the more subtle points I was hoping to make! I could write a book on that point, but alas, no time for that at the moment.

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  8. Ricardo B.

    Many challenges face us today, we all have them. One thing I must say I am learning in working with people in a cooperative work setting, is this thing you are describing. Working with our awareness of what it takes to create an effective and uplifted atmosphere, I think it’s safe to assume that generally we do not realize enough what our personal moods have on the space around ourselves because if we did, we’d be a bit more careful. Coming at it from this angle when confronted with various situations, there’s a time and place that’s better than just any random time and place to step in and say or do the right thing. It’s not meant to be dragged on of course for there is a feeling of expectancy; alertness reigns here. Moments are defined by their ripeness of situational opportunity, and you simply have to develop a sense for this kind of thing which is where the preparatory work you mention has to be done; you have to be in shape to climb the mountain.
    Enjoyed the post. Nice expose on the perspective of time.

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