Contemplation about Kairos

One of the many legends about Kairos tells that, as personalization of luck or lucky moment, Kairos was young and handsome man. He was special in his appearance since he was completely naked and oiled with olive oil, his hairs tight together in pony tail.

Manny wanted to catch him in ancient time of Greek mythology but none succeeded. He was too fast, too skilled and as oiled hard to grab. Kairos escaped all attempts unless he was seized upon his pony tail of hairs. Message of the legend is that all human beings should be active in recognizing special moments to succeed in reaching goals and happiness.

One of the original meanings of the word is associated with the shepherds who watched the stars. When the night is born and the stars light, it seems as if the sky rises and then descends again. Moment when the star reaches its peak and begins to descend is the kairos.

Kairos can be an inspiration, »HEUREKA« experience, and a moment when we realize that a new perspective has just enlightened us. Kairos means we are fully aware of our existence in here and now. It is transient, elusive moment in which something takes place and develops into something completely new, very much influencing the quality of our consciousness. It increases our vigilance and presence in a given moment.

Kairos can be small window, opportunity in our existence, being and creation. Suddenly we experience (as danger as well) that known pattern of behaviour, known interpersonal environment or relationship can change. Those moments demands strengthened, focused attention and we are challenged to choose – either to insist in the direction we have chosen or not. And if not, what should we do? We find ourselves at the crossroad. They force us into non-routine, into something new, compared to previous patterns of behaviour, thinking and ways of responding. Usually they are accompanied with expectations and fear due to the need of making a choice. And risk is something we cannot avoid. We find ourselves in an open space.

The challenge of the open space was described by Slovenian poet Tone Pavček as follows:

“On-site I stand.
In the open space.
And I’m not the only one
who does not know where to go.

Does it really matter
or to the left
or to the right
forward or backward,
or to stand on the site
at this naked open space
wait place …
Everything is open and bare.
The man himself in front of you.
As if the hundred thousand knives stitch
and there is no coverage for the fight.

And you cannot run
from yourself, from your days
and no password is asked to rule
to this release.

I stand at the site.
In the open space.
Should I work my way to the valley?
Or should I fell here dead? ”

Looking to psychotherapy from the perspective of kairos is neglected. The stories we are telling about ourselves, our lives, our therapies are mostly in the reality of Kronos, which is sequential time that can be represented as a line running from the past into the future. And the present in terms of Kronos can be located on that line as we are used to. Kronos gives us the impression of objectivity. But there is also another perspective. We can look at ourselves differently, have said the ancient Greeks, we can observe from the point of Kairos. This is a subjective time. It is a subjective bracket in Kronos. Kairos is subjective as well as the psychological unit of time.

There is no therapeutic change possible without Kairos. Psychotherapeutic process (as our life as well) bear fruit only if our clients enjoy these moments of grace – those with small letter »k« and the others with capital letter »K« as well. These are rarely reached but they leave a deep trace in the mind of our clients and in minds of psychotherapists as well.

Kairotic moments strengthen the mutual emotional bond between therapist and client. Psychotherapy in its essence means finding passages, paving the way to the new life provinces, broadening horizons, opening up new perspectives. And without kairos and those special moments when clients in the here and now feel the transition, the possibility of a new step, the glimpse of a new landscape, a new possibility on their river of life, psychotherapy is futile.

Usually we try to understand kairos in terms of one person, but when viewed from the perspective of
two, it will reveal even more rich and varied. When we fall in love, for example, we are particularly receptive for the presence of another person that raises intense feelings within us. Next to him or her our presence in the present moment naturally amplifies. It’s easy for us to focus. And if we are lucky, our love may turn into moments of intimacy when the time stops in the intensity of each others gaze. This is a kairos for two, kairotic moments of deep interpersonal contact during the moments of meeting.

Moments of decision making can be divided into three phases:

  • Preparation phase with the feelings of inevitability to the decision, which awaits us;
  • Confusion phase when an individual finds that he entered the unknown and unexpected interpersonal space;
  • Decision-making phase, when the individual decides whether to grab this moment or not (or will he decide to move closer or away from an important person). If so, this leads to a moment of meeting. Otherwise, it means a missed opportunity.

During kairos previously unrelated elements link in a new way. The formation of new connections contributes to the fact that we experience such moments as special and refreshing. We realize in a more intensive way that the same river we cannot step twice. Even a well-known, trivial situation revive in a new freshness. They surprise us. And shake us. Kairos visits us; we cannot grab it, we can’t catch it with the will. It is a gift. Some would say it is a gift of the gods, the grace that we receive. On one hand they can be the most difficult moments of life connected with transitions, on the other hand in times of severe distress they can bring relief.

And then, when the therapist closes the door of his or her practice and he hangs – Do not disturb – sign on the door, when he switches the phone off and when he fully concentrates on client or clients, in some way he starts to cocreate a different world in which he is fully dedicated to the client and catalyzes the conditions for the visit of the god Kairos. Therapist is constantly tuning to his client, to his or her feelings that change from second to the second. He turns on invisible microscope, which increases the minimum movements, impulses, the mimic… Like an experienced dancer he starts to tune into client’s rhythm and intensity, decrescendo and crescendo of his feelings. It breathes in the rhythm of client’s breathing. Subtle and discrete he emulates the client as his mirror. In order to accelerate the natural processes of mirroring, it stimulates the activity of mirror neurons, with which it is equipped in the evolution of nature that we dramatically increase the potential for interpersonal contact. And when the therapist and client are increasingly developing joint movement, which includes, of course, also many untuned dance steps, overtaking, slippage, misunderstandings, a miracle can occur, the ” kairos à deux.”

Then they see each other in the eyes of the other without masks, as a person, as a human being in the same boat, as a co-traweler in a great adventure of unpredictable being. Two consciousnesses related to kairotic inter-subjective, interpersonal awareness.

Miran Možina, editor of Kairos

Author’s note:

To a large extent, the book of Daniel N. Stern The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, 2004, Norton Publishing, New York) gave me encouragement and inspiration for my contemplation about Kairos. Stern included the Greek concept of Kairos in his interpersonal theory and his model of “moments of meeting” in everyday life and in psychotherapy. I deliberately avoid citing his sentences, because it would break a whole and the aesthetic integrity of contemplation. The God Kairos was graceful to me and gave me a few moments of kairos to write about it.


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