Minding the Present Moment
Happy Labor Day, everyone! For most of us, a holiday like this one is a wonderful chance to be with family and friends, but I wonder how often we pause to truly live such moments. If the pandemic of iPhone-induced poor posture is any indication, many of us find minding the present moment challenging sometimes. We find ways of detaching ourselves from our thoughts, feelings, and experiences—our subjectivity, often without even knowing it. We are sometimes unwitting accomplices in our own lives passing us by, which is unfortunate because being aware of one’s own subjectivity is crucial to emotional well-being. How can we live more fully, then, by minding the present moment?
When we consider such a question, we’re really wondering about our relationship with the present moment, how we live in and experience ourselves in the present moment—the now. In the West, we usually think about time as chronos, an objective construct of time in which the present moment is always passing and pointed toward the future. Chronos unfolds without ceasing as the hand counting the seconds on our wristwatches never stops. But as Daniel Stern argues in The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, “[t]he problem with chronos is that . . . life-as-lived is not experienced as an inexorably continuous flow” (pg. 7). In chronos, there’s not time (literally!) for our thoughts and feelings to unfold, since the present moment is always passing.
How might we think about the now as we actually experience it when we are fully, deeply present with ourselves? Stern contrasts chronos with kairos, “the passing moment in which something happens as the time unfolds. It is the coming into being of a new state of things, and it happens in a moment of awareness” (pg. 8). If we can shift into kairos, acknowledging emotions and thoughts becomes possible as we intentionally choose a stance of awareness of and openness to our experiences, whatever they may be. Kairos invites us to be in the present moment by noticing and being curious about ourselves as we live in the world and exist in relationship with others. Living in kairos unhurriedly creates intimacy, embraces vulnerability, and imbues our lives with meaningful present moments.
Most of us live in tension between chronos and kairos as we often need to vacillate between them. The former may be preferable at times, especially in moments of dire emergency where the priority is physical and emotional survival. For instance, couples who enter my office for the first time are often highly conflictual, with each partner simply trying to emotionally withstand a painful, destructive relationship. Kairos is neither possible nor safe. Yet it beckons the couple, just as it beckons each of us, to deeply know and be known in relationship in ways we long to be.