As society opens up again, this is now our moment in time to seize the day
Pandemic created time to take stock, and now we can put what we’ve discovered into practice
The Ancient Greeks had two words for time: “chronos” and “kairos”. Chronos is ordinary time — the time of day, the stage you are at in life, the way you measure how events unfold. Kairos is a deeply personal sense of time, the moment when you realise this is the right time, the opportune moment, to take action on something.
A significant chronos moment is happening soon — the day when society opens up and we return to some kind of normality, albeit hedged by the usual warnings and provisos, when the hold of the pandemic that has dominated our lives for 18 months will loosen, although its shadow will remain for a long time.
Covid-19 has disrupted our lives in unprecedented ways — not least our sense of time. In the normal course of events, we are simultaneously thinking about dealing with the present, thinking about our own past and planning for or fantasising about the future. But when this pandemic first struck, it upset that balance. It effectively put the future on indefinite hold. Instead, we found ourselves grounded in an uncertain presentism, an uneasy attempt to live in the moment.
It also created a kairos moment. Everything suddenly seemed in flux. People lost their jobs or found themselves working at home without the usual procedural and social scaffolding they depended on. But this break from routine gave people pause, time to think, to take stock. Some realised they were exhausted, burnt out or in a job they had outgrown.
Couples and families found themselves cooped up together in a new way, working at home, deprived of the usual social activities and the normal separation of work and personal life. In an average house, or even worse, in a cramped apartment, a room where you could work relatively uninterrupted by family members became the most valued and contested real estate.
But there was an upside. Gradually, with the usual distractions absent, we had more time to do the kind of self-reflection that is normally reserved for the journey home from a good holiday, but stops abruptly once you take up the harness of life when you arrive. We became acutely aware of the fragility of life and of our own vulnerability. But that very awareness of the randomness of life and the element of chance also shocked us out of our routines and triggered the kind of reflection on ourselves and our lives that is normally squeezed out by the press of life.
There was more mental space to think back on our own past and the major turning points in our lives. It’s interesting that many people reported finding it hard to get to sleep or waking in the early hours during the pandemic. Undoubtedly, this was partly due to disrupted daily routines and sundry stresses.
But I was struck by something else — how often people referred to the vivid dreams they were having, often about people and events in their past, for some extending way back into their own childhoods.
Why? Maybe because there was so little happening in the present there was less to be processed in dreams. It may also have been because the process of reflection was continuing during sleep as we mined our dreams for clues about how we became the people we are and the parts of ourselves we had left behind. The paths we had not taken.
This process of reflection and thinking about change was not the usual weighing up of pros and cons of various options open to us, deeper than the more transactional review of our lives that happens now and then. It was less about lists of resolutions and setting goals to be achieved. The pandemic has moved us from goals to purpose, and purpose is an entirely different matter. It’s about paying attention to what really gives your life meaning and direction, what allows you to be your best self.
As a consequence of this deliberation, most people feel they have changed during this pandemic. For some, the change they sense in themselves was a gradual process, emerging from the accumulated adaptations they had to make to their way of living and working during this time.
For others, it was triggered by a conscious decision to seize the day and make long-overdue changes in their lives.
A sense that you have changed really matters, even if the changes are triggered by a loss or a setback. It’s a crucial part of feeling you are still growing and developing as a person, which in turn is associated with greater happiness and satisfaction with your life.
Now, as society opens up again and the future beckons, for some this process of deliberation is giving way to action, buoyed by the energy that comes from sensing a change in themselves, of being in a kairos moment. These decisions will emerge from the particular context of individual lives. Some people will change jobs or the way they are working. Individuals, couples and families who weathered the ups and downs of the pandemic will now try to make up for lost time, to put into action the resolutions they made.
But the decisions we make will have one thing in common — a determination to seize the day, to deal with whatever unfinished psychological business may be holding us back or getting in the way of what we want to do with our one and only life — and an acute awareness that once we go back to the usual routines and social activities, the moment to change direction may have passed. At least that is our intention.
For that to happen, we must change from a deliberative to an implemental mindset.
When you are deliberating some change in your life, you pay a lot of attention to the good outcomes you expect and hope for as a result of that change. But if you want to implement that decision, you have to turn your attention to the question of when, where and how.
But what if you find yourself stuck, unable to motivate yourself to make the changes you want in your life, or lack the confidence that you are capable of change? Well, try this. Instead of looking at yourself through your own eyes, try looking at yourself through the eyes of a third-party — as if you were a benign outside observer. This makes it easier to see even subtle changes in yourself, to understand them in a way that highlights their broader meaning and consequences and to feel more confident about your own capacity to keep changing.
Not a bad psychological haul from a simple change in perspective.
Originally published in the Sunday Independent
Posted: 27 June 2021