Letting the Mud Settle

In ancient Greece, they had two words for time, Kairos and Kronos. Kronos was the rational word for the chronological time as we know it. Viewed as masculine, it kept a steady track of clocks, dates, and calendars. Kairos, however, a more feminine view of time, was used to describe the "quality" of time. Whenever we are doing something we love and are completely absorbed in it, we are out of the ordinary time, and in the Kairos time.

All time is certainly not born equal. I have been noticing my own inclinations towards different forms of time. In some ways, have been feeling so busy, to the point of feeling overwhelmed that I wish I could hit the pause button on everything. Meanwhile, in other ways, things that I really love seem to find their way into my day: making time for a friend, a relaxed cup of tea with the hubby, reading a few pages of a book I love.

Photo: Ian Barber
This got me thinking more about time as a concept in our culture, especially the pace at which we’re going now. All the things that were suppose to free our time, like email, (yes, that’s what we were told when "electronic"-mail first came out), social media and smartphones have slowly taken over our lives by commanding our attention, constantly. We are probably the last generation that knows how life was like pre-internet, pre-caller-id, pre-online tv. I know deep down that many of us are moving at a pace that feels unnatural and is probably faster than any of our ancestors. However, we may not be aware of the true impact that this will have on our well-being for a long time to come.

Recently, I had a couple of days in Bali to do nothing. And I recall sitting at the beach early one morning, watching the surfers and the waves -- and feeling like I’m missing something. There’s something my mind felt needed my attention. Something other than what I was already enjoying. In some sense, I had “fully arrived” and could actually take the day off, but my mind, however, had its own patterns to uphold. It was much easier to have constant activity than -- to actually do nothing.

The Italians have a beautiful phrase, that I don’t think Americans have an equivalent for, “Dolce far Niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing. Not just Italy but all over Europe and Asia, you can see people sitting outside of Cafes, on the streets, parks, just looking out and being with themselves. This is something that seems to be a part of every culture in the past. Imagine the hunters waiting for their prey, the farmers working their farms at the pace of the seasons, the fisherman waiting for the fish. The "sweetness of doing nothing" was automatically built into their days because they didn’t take out their smartphones every time they had to wait for thirty seconds. They allowed their mind to wander for a bit, and perhaps that allowed it to drift and eventually bring forth to the surface something -- something that was significant to the being.

Perhaps these are the moments when the mud of our mind starts to settle, and a deeper stillness takes over. This space between one activity and the next is where the truths can be more easily revealed, and this is where life makes sense of itself. The graceful silence between the notes makes each note that much more powerful. And maybe, just maybe this opens up the door to what the Greeks were talking about, and we suddenly find ourselves completely absorbed in the sacred Kairos time.


  1. Dear Guri, thank you for writing here again :) Your reflections cool the hot ashes and offer noble companionship on the path!

  2. Dear Zilong, thank you! And just a gentle reminder that I'm waiting on your writing that you mentioned last week. :-)