Seizing Opportunity by the Hair
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Did you know the Greeks had two gods of time?
Generally, we think of time as the endless propulsion from one moment to the next, somehow perceived as a whole, an unbroken chain of events that keeps past, present, and future from all happening at once.
The ancient Greeks referred to this linear dimension of time as Kronos (or Chronos), giving us the root word of “chronology,” “chronic,” “chronicle,” and “anachronism.”
You might recognize Kronos as a grandfatherly figure carrying a sickle or scythe. Scary guy. Looks like the Ghost of Christmas Future. The Romans called him Saturn. Sometimes we call him Father Time.
Kronos, the son of Gaea (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), personifies the constant turning of the world, both forward motion and repeating cycles such as day into night and the changing seasons.
He used to mark cycles of days, moons, years, etc., like an analog clock or chronograph that measures different time scales. After his son Zeus took his throne, he turned digital and started counting all the moments of time, always moving eternally forward.
The Greeks also had another word for time: Kairos. Whereas Kronos is defined by the linear aspect, Kairos represents time’s qualitative aspect, the critical or opportune moment.
Kairos is present at the moment of ripeness when a bud is ready to burst into bloom and open to the sun, when the apple is perfect for picking, and when a loosed arrow is sure to hit its target. Kairos is also there when a creative idea is ready to be brought into the world.
In rhetoric, Kairos is a passing instant that calls for a forceful argument. Paying attention and listening for Kairos allows skillful rhetors to adapt to and take advantage of constantly changing circumstances.
To commune with Kairos, ask, “What does this moment call for?”
The God of Opportunity
Kairos is Kronos’s grandson, the youngest divine son of Zeus, and the god of Opportunity. The Romans knew him as Tempus, as in Tempus fugit, meaning “time flies.”
Like a traveling festival kid, he’s always dancing around on his winged feet, never remaining in one place for more than an instant. He sports an asymmetrical raver haircut, long locks falling forward over his brow, but utterly bald in back.
He aligns circumstances to be convenient, favorable, or advantageous, but also critical moments that require action to avoid danger. In either case, he rewards those who pay attention.
Contrasting with his grandfather, Kairos appears eternally young and beautiful. Death and the end of time may strike fear in human hearts, but attractive opportunities invigorate us and never get old.
As Kronos’ current carries us from the past to the future, Kairos approaches from the other direction, a dynamic force that opposes fate and opens new possibilities. If you see Kairos coming, approach him face-forward and grab him by the hair. Once you’ve got hold of him, you can change your destiny.
After Opportunity has passed, however, not even his father Zeus can hold him. If one has failed to seize the moment, it can never be recovered. There’s nothing to grab hold of on the bare back of his head.
Like his half-brother Hermes, Kairos has wings on his feet, suggesting that he is always running and never still. He also has wings on his back, reminiscent of Nike, goddess of victory. Victory, after all, comes from making the most of every opportunity.
Kairos has a secret. For he is always heading toward the same place – the Now. If you are seeking Opportunity, the place to look is always in the here and now. Opportunity is only and always available in the present moment.
Ancient Greek philosophers valued clear thinking and considered emotions disturbances of the mind. Kairos carries scales that balance on a razor’s edge while running impossibly fast, demonstrating the level of acuity required to notice and catch him.
Every moment is unique. With mindful awareness, we can notice patterns emerging, in the same way a surfer identifies the perfect moment to start paddling and hop onto her board so she can ride the wave into shore, maintaining razor-sharp awareness the whole way.
Be mindful. Prepare for Kairos’s arrival, and he might even bring his girlfriend, Fortuna, the goddess of luck.