Follow Your Heart? But How? – The Kairos Approach
How often have you heard “Follow Your Heart”? How often have you thought “OK, but how?!!”
You may have heard a version that says “Follow Your Heart but Take Your Head With You”. I believe that this is more useful – and below is my understanding of this widespread invitation to use our intuition.
There are several references to the theories of Transactional Analysis (or ‘TA’) but don’t worry if these are of no interest to you – they aren’t essential to understanding my ideas.
Two versions of time
When we talk about time, our meanings are usually quantitative and describe, quite precisely, when something was, when it started or how long it lasted. This is the world of seconds, minutes & years.
But there is another aspect to time, a more qualitative one, which has far less to do with the measurable, cause-and-effect perspective and more to do with ‘what this time is like’ or the inherent qualities and texture of the time under consideration.
The causal, quantitative quality of time is everywhere and we are very used to working with it – in our diaries, our timetables and in making scientific measurements. This is incredibly useful when, for example, we want to travel by air or plan an event. But the acausal, qualitative view of time does also manage to find its way into our lives, and also has great value.
The seasons, for example, have strongly qualitative textures. We know Spring from autumn, and know which season we are in, but it’s very difficult to say precisely when each season starts or ends. Rather, a morning will come along when we know that ‘Spring is in the air’ or a tree will show us the ‘first signs’ of autumn.
For speakers of the Romance languages (e.g. French) the two qualities of time may be much more apparent. ‘Le jour’ is a specific day of 24 hours or that part of it which is not night. ‘La journee’ has a more sensory quality – it is a day spent with someone, or doing something, and need not have a meaning to the speaker of a specific, measurable period of time.
For very ancient peoples it’s likely that this qualitative perspective on time predominated. But in the classical period (Ancient Greece & Rome) both perspectives were more commonplace. So the Greeks had two deities to represent time – Chronos (for quantitative, measured time) and Kairos (for qualitative, experienced time).
Images and descriptions of Kairos include the following features;
- He has wings on his back and feet – this gives him a fleeting and fast approaching quality.
- He has a tuft of hair on the front of his head – the forelock by which we can grab him.
- He has the back of his head shaven – if we miss his forelock there’s no way to grab him from behind.
For Greeks ancient and modern, kairos also means ‘the weather’ and kairoi are ‘the times’ as in ‘we live in difficult times’. Again, the qualitative, experiential, non-scientific mode of referring to time is used.
Opportunity knocks but once… (proverb)
Kairos represents the way in which time offers us opportunity. Opportunity arises suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, and our job is to grab it by the forelock. If we delay then opportunity flies by. We miss it, and there’s no way to recapture it. Our only hope is to let lost opportunities go, to face forward, face oncoming Kairos so that when the next opportunity presents we are ready to take hold, to grab his tuft of hair.
Seizing the Day – Carpe Diem
Here’s my opportunity to take some energy out of a popular Western myth! ‘Seize the day’ has come to mean ‘jump out of bed and get on with it…, fill all your time…, live life to the max…’.
This idea invites us to ‘do, do, do…’ until we drop, and to ‘drive, drive, drive…’ until we’ve ‘made it’.
From a TA (Transactional Analysis) perspective this is an invitation to engage in our TA Driver behaviour which ultimately invites us towards the payoff of our early life scripting rather than towards autonomy, spontaneity and intimacy.
When the poet Horace wrote (Odes 1:11) “fugerit invida aetas; carpe diem…” (envious time will have fled, seize the day…) he chose two feminine nouns for ‘time’ and ‘day’.
And the verb ‘carpere’ can also be used to mean ‘harvest/pick/pluck’ or even to ‘enjoy’.
In a World-view which knew Kairos, Horace’s ‘fleeing time’ and ‘seizing’ are more consistent with a lesson about meeting opportunity as it arises (seizing the tuft of hair on Kairos’s forehead) and enjoying the benefits this offers rather than hammering every last ounce of ‘progress’ out of each day in order to ‘meet our goals’.
Horace’s idea is more consistent with ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ (Herrick) or the more rebellious ‘When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ (from a TA perspective this sense of determination is functionally +RAC).
Kairos In Spiritual Psychology
A fully acausal view of time includes the idea that for each ‘season’ or ‘era’ (nouns for time in English which have an acausal, qualitative feel) only certain events are fitting or even possible.
If we grow tomatoes (in the UK) then we just cannot have fruit in January or November. Precisely when we can have fruit is uncertain – tomatoes, and natural processes generally, don’t work to a chronos calendar. Even commercially, with modern F1 hybrids, a grower will be working towards ‘week 26’ with some degree of uncertainty, and keeping an eye on the weather (kairoi).
A fully acausal view sees all of Life’s activity in this way including starting a business, going on holiday or moving home.
In Ecclesiastes 3 (The Tanakh & The Old Testament) there is ‘a season for every activity under the heavens’ including ‘a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…’.
In the Greek versions of the Old Testament the word ‘kairos’ is used here over and over.
It may be possible to act or begin activities without regard to the ‘season’ and what is fitting for the season. But this is ‘pushing against the river’ and may become ‘driven’ (see TA drivers), uses a lot of energy and other resources and may miss the opportunities presented by Kairos.
Toolkit – Working with Kairos
So how do we use this qualitative concept of time to help us know how to live? Sometimes I meet clients who just don’t know what they want, or have lost contact with how to ‘hear’ (internally) what they need and what their ‘heart’ (or intuition) is telling them.
There are a number of tools I offer for this. And working with Kairos is a useful one of these tools.
As an example to begin working I’ll look at supermarket shopping, something that many people get involved in.
Example – The ‘cause-and-effect’ way to go to the supermarket…
One way to do the shopping is to imagine the week unfolding ahead of you and write a list of all the meals you’re going to have, then write a list of all their constituents or ingredients. Then, you walk around the house to see if anything else is running low, and add that to the list. Then, we head off to the supermarket and buy everything we’ve written down.
If you’ve ever shopped like this you’ll know it can be quite effective, especially if you’re working to a limited budget or special dietary needs. However, often, something will happen at the supermarket that invites you away from such a rigid process…. For example, you see the most beautiful bunch of grapes…
Example – An acausal way to shop – inviting in Kairos…
If we look more closely at the image of Kairos we see three more important features
- He is carrying scales
- He has his hand on one side of the scales, so that the balance is his way
- He is balancing the scales on a razor
Based on this, I offer clients a four step process – stopping, dancing, balancing, acting.
Stopping – This is really an invitation to develop a regular meditation practice. However, as a minimum, before heading off to the supermarket there needs to be a degree of harmony, of breathing from the abdomen, of mindfulness. I refer to the balance in Kairos’s hand as a reminder.
Playing/Dancing – here’s where the fun starts. This is the dance around the supermarket. Of course you’ll need to attend to your ‘basic shop’. But can you ‘feel a pull’ today, towards, say a particular shelf or counter? Are you salivating at that head of broccoli or interested in that jar of chilli jam? Where would the trolley want to go? Missing out some aisles perhaps? Doubling back along others? Did you really smell that bread?
And what other feelings are arising? Boredom amongst the breakfast cereal? Gratitude at the fish counter?
There is an analogy here in the ‘leading’ that Quakers may feel during Waiting Worship – we can wait and listen and value what is felt.
This doesn’t mean simply putting all these interesting items in your trolley! At this stage we are just ensuring that our felt, qualitative version of the process is at least available to us. And that we are available to the process.
You may well ask “But won’t I just end up with lots of weird stuff and sweet stuff at the checkout, and just over-spend?” Well, you may do if you just went with the dance and bought whatever you’re led to. But this is where the next steps are important – balancing & deciding.
Thinking/Measuring/Balancing – here’s where you get to be the grown-up (from a TA perspective this is about deploying integrated Adult and Nurturing Parent ego states). Kairos offers us the scales with which to measure and weigh options. Although he has a hand on one side of the scales and would invite you (all other things being equal) to come down on his side, the scales are held out in front, preceding his forelock, preceding this opportunity. You are invited to consider, to weigh, to balance, to think.
At the supermarket, maybe that cream cake is attractive. But you already have one in your trolley. If you were dealing with an eight-year old you might say “OK, but if you choose that cake you’ll need to put the other one back”.
Effective thinking requires information. Which information is important depends on the project you’re working with or the opportunity Kairos is offering whether it be career, relationships, moving home or whatever. At the supermarket the information is likely to be around budgeting, value and nutritional content. And you wouldn’t buy ice-cream if you have a three-hour journey home.
There is a risk with this thinking and measuring and balancing because it’s fairly easy to convince yourself out of following Kairos’s direction – like ‘well I’m not sure…’ or ‘will I like it?’ or ‘what will they think?’. From a TA viewpoint this is getting stuck in scripty parenting styles (ego state P1) where we replay internal messages like;
- ‘I don’t deserve it’
- ‘That’s not for the likes of me’
- ‘Who do I think I am?’
- ‘That’ll never work’
- ‘I just can’t decide’
- ‘They’ll say I’m silly’
None of this is rationalising. These doubts may seem rational like ‘It’s a waste of money if I they won’t eat it’. But if it’s within budget and nutritionally OK and you want it from a deeper place then go with the Kairos.
At this point, it’s worth knowing about physis, or the Universal impulse to grow. Universal Process invites each of us to move towards a more autonomous and enlightened place characterised by increasing awareness, intimacy and spontaneity. The growthful energy within each of us is irreversible and constantly moves us forward (think of a germinating seed or a growing child – living things never go ‘into reverse’). From an external viewpoint physis may not look like a tendency to normalisation. However, when Kairos is presenting an opportunity you will not be being invited to do something irrational or harmful.
If you feel the urge to
- Harm someone or potentially harm someone in some way
- Harm yourself in some way or potentially harm yourself in some way
Then these are not urges to seize opportunity presented by Universal Process (In TA, they are outdated script messages from P1). Kairos invites action on our part in line with our growthful tendency, or individual physis.
At the supermarket, if you have an urge to buy your first-ever liver or linguine, and you’ve checked that it’s nutritionally OK for everyone and within budget then this is part of your growthful direction in this season of your life. Your family may look surprised. Internally you may question your boldness – these are simply more internal, script messages (P1). Physis may not look like ‘normal’ but greater things are happening. On the other hand, if the linguine is going to take you over budget this is an Adult block. If the liver is going to knowingly invite an allergic reaction there needs to be a nurturative block. In these cases, the urge was not a call of Kairos in the first place. Physis is not characterised by struggle with real-world limitations.
Deciding/Acting/Cutting – In his hand, the hand held out towards you, Kairos holds a razor. When we cut, when we use scissors, or make an incision or an excision, we permanently let go of all the alternatives except the one we are choosing. Decisions are just the same, we drop the thinking about options and act. A hairdresser makes hundreds of irreversible decisions with their scissors each day!
Everything so far has been hypothetical. Now, Kairos invites action. Failing to grasp his forelock is to lose the opportunity. He will soon be gone.
The example at the supermarket may seem superficial but these types of situation involve ‘smaller’ outcomes so they are a great way to practice tuning into Kairos. Similar situations may be
- Decorating your home.
- What you create in your garden
- How to spend a weekend off or where to go on holiday
- Choosing a gift for someone
- Deciding what to wear – watch out for the P1 messages here. What you wear is very public so invitations to normalise (P1) will be strong. “What will they think if I wear the purple?” Over-compliance may not take you forward. But then, over-rebelliousness may also be a risk because effectiveness in certain situations (e.g. in business) may mean some ‘towing the line’ (In TA terms, allow your integrated Adult to monitor your compliant/rebellious adapted child ego states).
At a universal level, there is no difference in the process whether the outcomes are ‘small’ or ‘big’. Physis operates in the same way for a dandelion seed as for an acorn. From our perspective, some situations may invite greater dread and this worry operates against the stopping and playful/dancing stages. After some practice the Kairos Approach is useful in ‘Bigger’ situations too, like
- Making career decisions
- Deciding where to live/relocate
- Starting or changing a business
- Beginning or making a change in a relationship
Getting support with ‘following your heart’.
At different places above I have used references to Transactional Analysis or ‘TA’. This is a powerful model of communication, relating and psychotherapy that can help in many ways when people feel stuck or when faced with difficult challenges.
If you’re feeling like some support in this area could be useful contact me to arrange an introductory meeting where we can explore what’s happening for you in this life season.
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