The experience of aging is our most intimate form of relationship with time. Time is the invisible sanctuary of aging that protects the mystery of our existence. Every human life is a pilgrimage across an emergent terrain and an uncertain amount of time. In a traditional sense, aging inspires the pursuit of chronological length and duration. In an imaginative sense, aging inspires the pursuit of depth and quality of experience in the here and now. How can we orient ourselves to the relentless progression of time in a way that broadness and expands the experience of being alive?
Stress: Living Out of Time
Aging is the underlying ground of our primal relationship with time. Our quality of life suffers when our relationship with time becomes toxic.
Stress has significant potential to damage our relationship with time, and is therefore a threat to successful aging.
When we are living out of time, the underlying pulse of life becomes hurried, tense, and anxious and the rhythms of life become chaotic, disjointed, and even painful.
Stress can become a source of physical and mental health problems that can amplify our frailty. In its most virulent form, stress thrusts our experience of life into the anguish of distraction, mindlessness, anxiety, panic, and depression.
In its most negative sense, stress invokes a toxic relationship with time that increases our vulnerability to illness and disease. Rampant stress places us into direct conflict with time and therefore aging, that is to say, our experience of life has become so disjointed, hurried, painful, and unfulfilling that we lose our sense of vitality.
Of course, certain forms of stress such as grief and bereavement are perfectly natural and required experiences in life. We will all experience periods of time in which the inevitable stresses in life cause us to suffer. However, it is fair to say that we have also become quite proficient at manufacturing toxic forms of stress that impair and damage our relationship with time.
Ultimately, stress is an opportunity to reclaim and revitalize our relationship with time. However, the idea of building a relationship with time may seem foreign. To help us begin this essential conversation it is useful to reflect upon two ancient Greek concepts for time – chronos and kairos.
Chronos: Measuring Time
Chronos invites us to consider time as a form of objective measurement.
The foundation of modern society is chronos, or chronological time. We have the habit of perceiving time as numerical progressions of minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years, decades, centuries and millennia.
Dividing time into discrete numerical units can be helpful.
Time management, for example, is an important way to organize our use of time into discrete units of focused activity. If we have selected our aims, goals, and tasks wisely we are better positioned to use time efficiently and effectively. The end result is the increase personal productivity while decreasing stress as well as the potential for misguided effort.
On the other hand, we can become so conditioned by chronos that our relationship with time becomes stunted and confined.
For example, education is form of cultural assimilation into a system of time management that is designed to impose a predetermined series of events over several years of our life. In this sense, we are all the unintended students of chronos; time as something that is portrayed on a clock or calendar is deeply ingrained in our assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs about how to live.
The notion of time as measurement and chronological order is too small for the human imagination to inhabit.
We need to foster a new relationship with time in order to help us to better navigate the physical, mental, and spiritual frontiers of aging.
Kairos: Adventures into the Depths of Time
Time has a depth dimension; it is not merely a procession of numerical units.
Chronos helps us to create a sense of control over the linear progression of time. Kairos, in contrast, invites us to build a contemplative relationship with time through the cultivation of core capacities for learning including presence, mindfulness, resilience, gratitude, and reverence.
The word kairos shifts our attention toward sources of creative insight that animate the physical, mental, and spiritual feeling of time. Through kairos we experience aging as a depth of experience, significance of events, threshold into liminal realms, and as a courageous conversation with the challenges of aging.
Kairos is the space in which we encounter our own transformation.
In Christian theology, the word time was often rendered as kairos. For example the word time in the phrase, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” is rendered through the idea of kairos, not chronos.
Kairos preserves and cultivates the sacred connection between life and time, that is to say, our lifetime.
To feel the depths of time is to befriend the revelations hidden within the everyday situations and circumstances of our life. Through attention to kairos in life, we learn to cultivate moments in time as sources of meaning, value, belonging, acceptance, and wisdom.
Even a brief moment in time can become timeless.
Aging: An Intimate Conversation with Time
Aging is a child of time; it is a secret conversation of both chronos and kairos.
Chronos presents aging through measurement and classification. We measure our time in days, months, and years. We categorize time into stages, phases, periods, eras, and ages. Chronos presents aging as sequence, length, and duration:
- Childhood, youth, adult, middle age, working years, senior, and old age refer to stages and periods of time;
- Longevity, lifespan, and life expectancy focus on the duration of life;
- Ageism is driven by numerical classification;
- Medical interventions focus on extending the length of life;
- Population aging is perceived as a statistical challenge.
Kairos present aging through depth and quality. We seek to expand the depth of our experience by working to transfigure the challenges of aging into the wisdom of living a fulfilling life. We seek to broaden the quality of our experience by cultivating the core capacities of life including gratitude, reverence, empathy, resilience, and beauty.
- We are all unique individuals moving through life in ways that generalizations and labels can never hope to capture;
- Nature, seasonality, and cycles of life offer time as sacred presence and aging as a contemplative art;
- Intergenerational belonging is a valuable source of understanding and relationship;
- Creative aging, successful aging, mindful aging, elderhood, and palliative care focus on cultivating quality of life in the here and now;
- Population aging is an opportunity to explore new possibilities for elderhood.
Our experience of aging is shaped and coloured by both chronos and kairos. Chronos speaks in the language of measurement, logic, and objectivity. Kairos speaks in the language of imagination, creativity, and adventure.
In the end, it is kairos that speaks that reaches into the depths of the collective imagination and speaks to us in the language of our heart and spirit. There is no true personal growth, inner development, or creative adaptation in the absence of kairos. To build a relationship with kairos is to courageously seek a greater sense of depth, presence, and quality in life.