The percussion of rain falling outside is one of my favourite sounds, which is just as well since I live in the foothills of Snowdonia. Being able to hear the sounds of nature is one of the many things I love about living rurally, though I’m aware that people who pay attention also find these calls in the city too. After rain the air smells fresh and green.
Another favourite sound is the blanketing quiet that comes with snow. Raindrops fall with a clatter and hiss that I find deeply soothing, but snowflakes fall silently. They carry their silence to the ground, making air pockets as they land on one another, an actual blanket of sound-absorption.
Only as their weight against each other hardens do they make any crunch. First, they are soundless, as hushed as walking on a springy new carpet. And the scent of the world changes too. There’s an iron tang, clean and cold on the nose and tongue.
Sun brings other sounds and scents. It coaxes birds and children to sing. It opens sweet-scented flowers and fruits begin to grow, adding their aromas.
When the scents and sounds of the natural world flow in seasons, the rhythm of our lives can follow. But what when natural events are no longer timely?
When time is unripe
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
When a fruit or grain is ready to reap we call it ripe. When an idea comes into its own, it’s ripe. When the seasons, bar the odd blip, follow the pattern we expect, there is a rightness and ripeness to this. But we all know that’s not how the world is looking.
Last year in Snowdonia we had a heat-wave — rare enough in summer, but this was at the end of February and beginning of March. Two weeks later we had rain that was off the scale even for Blaenau, which vies for position as one of the wettest places in the UK. After one of our writing courses a writer who stayed on for a few extra days in March was trapped by floods for several more.
The strangeness of weather in North Wales is, of course, nothing in comparison to the devastating effects of climate change elsewhere around the globe. In the last half of 2019, over 3 million hectares of New South Wales in Australia was ravaged by fires. The whole west of the country is becoming progressively hotter and drier. And we could go on endlessly citing examples of extreme and rapidly changing climates.
Like the planet we live on and all the creatures we live amongst, we live in time. Change and time go hand in hand. And the march of chronos waits for no-one. But we also live in time as kairos. When the rhythm is right then kairos is the right time, the synchronous time, the opportune moment, even mythic time. Kairos helps things flow, there is a sense of alignment.
But when the world and its timing is out of kilter, there is always a sense of fighting time. We experience this as people who love the earth. We too often have a sense of urgency that is overwhelming, the feeling that we are fighting for the planet’s survival on too many breathless fronts. And at the same time that our own use of the time is distracted and fragmented and ill at ease, something that many writers have felt during the pandemic.
When time is a quality
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
Kairos is a qualitative concept of time. In ancient Greece it was characterised as the moment that the arrow should be fired with just the right amount of force to hit the target. Or it was the moment when the weaver could pass the shuttle with its yarn through the loom, just as a gap opened in the warp of the cloth for a brief moment.
We are inextricably linked to time. Whatever ‘the self’ might consist of, it is clear that the interaction of body, thought, space, and time are at its core. As Ursula Le Guin puts it in ‘Hymn to Time’:
Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.
We experience life through time and our most profound experiences, for good or ill, are generally those that change our sense of time. Time slows in meditative states or even appears to stop in moments of epiphany or shock. And with the change in our sense of time, our sense of self alters too. Think of how time hangs heavy and feels elongated during depression or grief. When our perception changes, whether through substances like alcohol or due to illness or emotional pressure or during lockdown, our sense of time also shifts.
The quality of our time matters, but this is not to say that we should resign ourselves to consigning most of our time to simply getting through each day, grabbing only scraps of what we call ‘quality time’ with those we love or for our creativity and passions.
Time as kairos is a quality, but ‘quality time’, on the other hand, is a pernicious myth. It exists to lull us into thinking that it’s okay if we only spend half an hour a day with the people we love most, the people who nourish our souls. It exists to make us think that it’s fine that 90% of life feels like a treadmill as long as we get that one over-indulging week in some mock paradise holiday camp and leave feeling a different kind of exhausted.
All of our time is precious. And despite the fact that we all have to find ways to hold body and soul together in the world and we all have laundry to do and meals to cook … what we need to thrive is not the dregs of our time, but the sense that ripe time, when everything flows, is everywhere.
When time is kairos
Photo by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash
We can’t manufacture moments of profundity, but we can take back as much ordinary time as possible and revel in it. Sharing regular meals, the simple rituals of domestic life or a walk after dinner can be more beneficial to the health of a relationship than a flashy holiday. Reading a great novel can be much more restorative than hours surfing the internet or watching TV …
When we reclaim our time, slow the pace and simply connect in the ordinary everydayness of life, the kairos moments appear unsearched for. We don’t have to strive for them.
And when we regularly feel that sense of alignment in our lives then we won’t settle for less in the world.
But what can we do about reclaiming a sense of kairos, of living in ripe time, a world in so much suffering and degrading so rapidly?
We can do a little. A tiny, perhaps almost imperceptible, little. And yet … when more and more people live well and more and more people tell different stories — about time, about the world, about connecting — then the energy shifts. What comes next is ripeness and rightness. When people live in ways that invite kairos then the words change, the myths change … the world changes.
It will be a new story.
Live with connection: slowly and simply, making space for those you love and the passion that fires you, And look for the new story on the horizon.
Becoming a different story
Thank you for reading — if you’d like to join writers who are diving deeply into the writing life and making transformations, sign up to my email list. You’ll also find free courses on my site. While you’re there, take a look at my book Writing Down Deep: an alchemy of the writing life.