Kairos: The Right Moment

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell us.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell us.

I have been posting more often than usual because I have had time away to do more writing. Now I am heading back to my busy life in Vancouver for a period of time and won’t be posting then. I would like to give one example of deeper listening before I dive back into my packed schedule.


In our busy world, we have schedules and appointment times that we follow. We have alarm clocks and school bells and timers and all of these are to tell us when ‘the right moment’ is occurring. How righteous westerners can become when people from other cultures do not follow western rules about time and they show up when the time for them is right. Of course westerners too, can be late, and I am not evaluating this as good or bad. My point is that when we live mostly according to our calendars and clocks, we can lose touch with a deeper sense of ‘the right moment.’

Kairos is a Greek word meaning ‘the right moment’. It has been explained as “not now, not now, but Now.” Though I have come across other definitions of the word, it originally referred to the fishermen (there may have been women too, I don’t know) in ancient Greece who sat at the shore at dawn drinking their coffee (or whatever they drank then) waiting for ‘the right moment’ to set out to sea. They had no watches. There was no one thing, such as the location of the sun, to tell them now was the time. They watched the tide. They paid careful attention to the birds and the light. They inhaled the salty air. And they listened. And at the right moment, they climbed into their boats.

Counsellors need to be attuned to ‘the right moment’. The right words at the wrong time are the wrong words. A counsellor may have an insight they believe will be helpful for the client but if the client isn’t ready to hear it, it will not “land,” to use counsellor language. If an intervention which has the potential of being very powerful is suggested by the counsellor, but the moment is not right, it might even cause damage.

Another example that always comes to mind for me is when I was in elementary school and my schoolmates and I played skip on the playground with a long rope. I don’t see girls (or boys) doing this anymore, but I will describe it in present tense: Two people, one at each end, turn the rope for the others to jump in and skip. When it becomes one’s turn, there is a period of waiting for the right moment. The person needs to be very focused and it is usual to see them rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the rope. Then something inside them announces, ‘now’ and if the moment is missed, they will get caught in the rope and it will then be their turn to hold the end.

Even more challenging is the skipping game of each person jumping in for a turn of the rope and out again without any missed turns. It is quite usual, then, to see each one in line rocking to the rhythm of the rope in readiness.

My husband, Ian, gave the example of waterskiing. The skiier must hold the rope while standing on the dock. If they jump into the water too soon, they will sink. If they wait too long, the boat will yank them off the dock. Only if they sense the right moment will they remain upright on the ski.

There is a beautiful verse in Ecclesiastes (which you might recognize as the words of a 60’s song called Turn, Turn, Turn, even if you have never read it in the Bible).

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;

A time to be born, a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to get, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time of war, and a time of peace.

How challenging it is to live in alignment with the seasons, the conditions of the day, and our own inner rhythms; to live in accordance with ‘the right moment’. Our outer schedules are not going to disappear. So how can we remain attuned to ‘the right moment’ as much as possible?

Spend time in nature and observe it. Nature has its own time. Yes, flowers may be force bloomed, but when we do not intrude, nature knows when it is ready. Birds and animals know when to migrate and what to do to give birth - and to die. The more we study nature, the more we can learn about our own instincts and rhythms, as we are part of nature too. Our body knows how and when to breathe. Practice listening to the situation and trust your body and your instincts.

Make mistakes in timing and learn from your mistakes. Learn patience and let go of your need for instant gratification. Trust there is a wisdom beyond your intellect. Try to be centred in your heart.