The rewarding aspects of growing old are plentiful enough, I can assure you, to require all the fingers of one arthritic hand, for a full count.
But don't let that despair you of advanced age, for numbered among them is one particular blessing that tends to keep the fires lit, ever each day anew, and it even seems to get better as the years accumulate. Though, strange as it may seem, you might never have read note of it before this moment, for it requires a seasonal awareness to fully realize how marvelous it is.
I speak of the renewal of a morning - of virtually every morning, if one will be a bit patient with the half-hour, or so, of transition to this threshold of Grace, from the end of a night's slumber. And it might take a bit longer, if you're old enough to have crossed into the territory of creaking joints and groaning starts. But it's these very souls who get the biggest payoff, for they have also outlived life's conditioning to the `electric rooster ritual': that enforced early morning lurch, at his beep-beep-beep, to stumble numbly into semi-conscious reality for another round of the daily grind - defeating any possibility of remaining in touch with the true nature of a morning.
The post-alarm-clock lifestyle lets the day seep slowly in, allowing the morn to reveal its own realizations, provide its own cues - and, lo, the miracle arrives: a vitality and freshness-of-mind entirely reclaimed from that late-night self dragged so heavily to bed. Or even the afternoon self, wearied often to the point of need for a nap, these days, at such an unreasonably early hour. The morning self, after all these years, is yet and again newly alive with clarity, purpose, and a fair degree of energy.
It may surprise you to know that the word `morning' is derivative from morn, not the other way around. Morn is the older word, denoting a moment in time, relative to the course of a day. Morning is a verb, a present participle that describes what is happening at that moment: the day is morning . . . or more likely, it is we, ourselves, who are morning, at that time of day. And in the process of morning, we are being rejuvenated, or `made young again.'
But don't suppose that we are talking about some special state of Grace that arrives only with one's advancing years. Certainly not! The `morning' experience happens every day of our lives. It's just that we long ago forgot to notice, or we let life distract us from the wonder of it, or else we are just plain dulled to what Nature, as a personal experience, is all about.
Aging offers, perhaps, the gift of a more intense contrast that serves to heighten the distinctiveness of the morning condition. We in life's late stage are only too aware that we don't grow literally younger in the course of a night's sleep. What was withered at midnight is just as withered at dawn, in strictly physiological terms - yet, some new element has briefly come into play (come in to play?). An element that tangibly lifts the spirit and all of its functions (energy, clarity, the entire compos mentis that it vitalizes) beyond the decrepitude of the slowly dying body.
We've been inspirited by Nature, herself, with the arrival of morn. And for such little thought as we commonly give to these occasions, they may very well be some of the strongest evidence we have, of our linkage to the world of Nature. Or to put it another way, this morning experience of rejuvenation tells us we are no longer looking at 'Nature out there', but actually Being Nature Within. This is the sort of thing we shall be exploring in the pages to follow: the many instances of such evidence - of a qualitative influence that Nature's cycle of time brings into our lives. We'll be looking at the passages and trail markers that constitute a pattern language with which we have all but lost conscious touch, in the course of our `civilization.' A pattern language that can be applied with equal relevance to any number of time frames, for the sake of better understanding our lives. For it constitutes a previously unrecognized archetype of consciousness, as will be shown by its easy `readability' in familiar structures of cyclic time - structures that are diverse in their origins, and hardly thus likely to present any such commonality of effect.
The idea that time may be a qualitative function, as well as quantitative, is an entirely radical perspective, so let's briefly develop it before going on. I've annotated one small portion of the day's round, here, with a look at its opening hours. I might just as easily have referenced spring-time's effect on our psyche and energy, which is a bit less taken for granted and thus more visible, though it's generally understood as our response to changes in the physical world around us: the longer, brighter days and their new spring growth everywhere evident. It is clearly an `awakening,' of sorts, nevertheless - an up-tempo function just like morning. Or I might have pointed out the absolutely uncontainable energy of childhood - but this, alas, is `known' to be an aspect of early development in a life-cycle quite unrelated to the surrounding natural world. Such is the extent of our alienation from Nature.
Now, doesn't it seem a bit remarkable, on reflection, that we experience a surge in vitality, readily comparable, at equivalent stages along three absolutely unrelated cycles of time: the day, the year, and the lifetime? Or is it so commonplace that this `apparent coincidence' still fails to register in provocative terms? Might it perhaps suggest that our understanding of time - as a strictly linear measurement of life's passage, deficient of any inherent qualitative function - falls somewhat short of the reality experience?
Yes, there would appear to be something deplorably shallow and meaningless about `counting time,' doing a robot-trip on the sum total of minutes, hours, days and years, while all around us - and surely inside of us - growth and change is taking place, in interlaced patterns. Maturation and ripening, with all sorts of implications and consequences. Clearly, these elements reflect the actual nature of real (genuine!) time.
The metronome count is a kind of spurious time, a `virtual time,' by contrast - a lifeless mechanism that nevertheless steals our attention and focus from time's greater possibilities of enrichment. On account of this shift, for example, time is up for barter when we equate it with money, to the detriment and oblivion of its deeper function. We make no distinction between spending time to earn our necessities, and spending it to earn what time by itself can provide. We have, after all, a chronoramic staging area, in which time's qualitative fullness, with its infinite capacity for subtle expression, presents the world . . . but we never see it this way, being preoccupied with the monotonous count of dollars, as the time we trade tick-tocks steadily away.
Well, I mean to offer the essential basis for a corrective, in the pages to come, distilled from a quarter-century of season-watching and learning the ways of this pattern language as it has impacted on my own world. Tracking the pattern as the years have gone by, I've observed how it varies, how it remains the same, I've validated the regularity of significant passages and cue-moments, cross-checked the parallel structure of other time frames, and have finally internalized the entire flow. I suppose you could say that I've become a seasonalist - perhaps the modern world's first (for I have no doubt that ancient peoples lived in much the same constancy of awareness), as I've not yet found anyone else who understands the seasons quite as I do.
Which, of course, raises the question of whether I'll be writing about something peculiarly personal, or - as I claim - with universal significance. And I do have to acknowledge, here, that both elements are involved. The problem is not one that I can resolve, except by laying out for you all the evidence of universality, along with the insights of my own experience. You, as an individual reader, must relate them both to your own intuitions, and make the judgement for yourself. But you won't be any surer free of the problem than I.
There can be no such thing as an objective study of seasonal influence, for it ultimately hinges on personal experience. My study began with a recognition of certain pattern elements in my own year, and I assumed at first that I was exploring a strictly personal phenomenon. Then I began to discover evidence in the calendar lore of earlier cultures that quite clearly paralleled my own experience, and I realized I was tapping into something universal, though it had lost all recognition in our own time, except for remnants in fable and metaphor.
We commonly, for example, invoke seasonal metaphors for lifetime passages, as in 'the springtime of life,' or within the poignant reflections conveyed in that ever-popular September Song -- but all that concerns the wistful balladeer are "these few precious years" remaining to the September lover. No clear awareness is suggested of what this September way-station on life's journey is all about - its promise, its highs and lows, concerns and rewards, defeats and challenges - other than being a stage of advanced age (an age left entirely to the listener's imagination). These need not be part of the song, to be sure, but is anyone aware that such a wholegoing sense of this time of life can be drawn from the reference?
For me, September has been a mixed and uncertain month, prompting a gamut of responsive moods, as perhaps no other month does - all the way from relief, in being beyond summer's whirlwind and crises, to confusion at the sudden change of pace, even disorientation, to a reactive yearning for retreat, to entire shifts in focus occasioned by leaving the past behind, sometimes quite literally. All of this, in large doses, came with the September of my own life. A sweet old song it surely is, but it dwells only on time's passage, not the nitty-gritty of what 'September years' are all about.
Even as to the age it suggests, are you at all clear on the years that might constellate a 'September'? Make a guess. It could, of course, be any age regarded as old, to carry the purpose of the song, but I don't think you'll find any unanimity on it, or even any agreement that it ought to represent a certain age, other than by the judgement of those who'd invoke it in song or story.
Ah, but that is mistaken. The metaphor of September, whether it ever meant a specific age or not, stands in relation to its cohorts on an annual cycle; and if we can place either August or October, by any good criteria, we can certainly come close to where September must be.
Well, August is fairly easy for a seasonalist to place. It has one of the strongest cue-points of the entire calendar: the crest of summer, happening somewhere ahead of its midpoint. (So we know, you see, that even if past his peak, the September lover is not actually very far past it!) You should be able to make a fair stab at which run of years, along the lifetime span, might be seen as equivalent to high summer.
It would be sometime in the mid-forties, when the driving force of one's first-half life suddenly quits - just as summer does in August -- often characterized by crises of reflection on levels of achievement and remaining potential. 'September,' then, is roughly the time of one's early fifties, and the downside turbulence I've described is very common to those years. My own such period was largely spent living in the woods, some distance north of the San Francisco Bay Area, so avidly in retreat that I honestly thought, at times, I'd remain there for the rest of my life. And I've heard others agonizing much the same circumstances in their early to mid-fifties: discomfort, retreat (in one form or another), and a disorienting loss of focus.
The midlife-crisis distress justifiably overshadows the post-fifty distress, for it is more severe and dislocating, but the lesser and later one can be quite disconcerting. The spirit, having so recently come through a crunching 'August' experience, is in no fit condition to welcome the 'September' experience with any great degree of cheer - which makes a problematical passage of it, though not often a hazardous one.
But all is not grim, even at these times of passage. The seasonalist learns to step back from the scene, continually, and stay aware that life's momentary experience incorporates the intermixed influence of several potent cycles at once. Each year, of the 'September' spread, brings a springtime of its own, and the underlying motif of the greater cyclic stage can be lifted by the immediate experience of the lesser - just as the morning freshness that I spoke of in my opening is capable of lifting the spirit, even during life's much deeper winter season. In time, a feeling for these interfaces, of one cycle level with another, teaches us to accept the lows with the highs in the wise awareness that all things come in moderation, and nothing remains forever the same. The shorter the cycle, the more vivid is its experience; the longer the cycle, the more pervasive is its hold. That is going to be our mantra, as it were, for the course of this book, reminding us that neither one effect nor the other is in total command of our times.
There is also the matter of individual adaptability to the various motifs that constitute the seasonal spectrum. Certainly everyone thrives on springtime; but some of us seem better constitutionally disposed to handle the stress of high summer, or the deep inwardness of winter. (Even the terms I employ: stress and inwardness, tell you something of my own disposition toward these seasons; others might describe them respectively as times of excitement and times of alienation.) And even this counterbalance is present in each of us, ready to emerge at unpredictable moments, when our entire orientation seems to suddenly go through an inversion. In a `good year,' for example (the effect of a deeper underlying cycle), I've felt the summer as a series of highs, instead of my more frequent experience of stress.
You can see, then, how personal the assessment of a seasonal framework must always be. This does not, however, revoke the validity or the general applicability of the larger pattern language, it merely colors it to the complexion (and complexity) of the individual. It also, perhaps, explains why the seasons, as conditioning elements in personal life, have had difficulty finding recognition in the scientific community, which is resistant to anything so fluid of definition and demonstration, or so reliant upon subjective experience for its data.
Does it seem, then, a bit confusing? Too many factors, what with interacting and counter-balancing cycles, to be taken into consideration? It's really not, when you see that all of the cycles follow the same basic pattern. Once you are sensitized to the pattern, and your personal leanings within it, you'll be able to know, at any given time of life `where you are' and what are your prospects (in terms of mood, energy, and what is going on in your world). You'll have a far better sense of how to live with time - in tune with time - knowing the best hours of the day, and the best months of the year, for particular activities and undertakings . . . able to take the shallow times in stride, for the realization that they are merely stages along a cycle, a cycle known well enough for you to feel confident about.
I am, myself, at the moment, projecting an early spring journey abroad that I don't, as yet, feel at all comfortable about. But I am basing it on certain awarenesses about the approach of spring, and my particular situation along a seven-year cycle that appears to cast a large influence over my life. I'm aware, at the same time, that the plans could easily be upset by events that could develop at this early time of year, as they have so frequently in the past. My awareness of these cycles and their effects on my world permits me to choose my moment with both confidence and caution, for the cross-current of possibilities inspires both attitudes; but I know the factors, and I can proceed with neither a foolhardy level of confidence, nor the degree of dread that my present shallow energy would - without such knowledge - tend to generate.
I have not mentioned that seven-year cycle before, as I did not wish to stir yet another confusing ingredient into the pot. It will come into the picture in due time. For the moment, we are dealing only with the three major timespans: the day, the year, and the lifetime - each giving us a unique 'window' on the configuration of the cycle. Together, they constitute a kind of Rosetta Stone: three versions of the pattern language, enabling us a larger understanding of it than is readily conveyed by any single version. And each, in turn, revealing finally a greater depth, on the very account of that larger view.
It may help, here, to provide a demonstrative instance of this 'Rosetta effect,' so that you can see how each version of the pattern enhances our perspective of each other version, and ultim-ately of the entire picture. So let us return to the situation of the day's opening, with which I began this appropriately opening chapter (and it is doubly so, for this draft version is being written in the 'morning' of the year).
I was speaking rather loosely of springtime, you'll recall, and its literal analogy with childhood and the opening of a day. Well, let's bring it down to its narrower specifics, and look at the full span of what can be regarded as the opening of a new cycle, not just the final phase of it called springtime. For it does begin much earlier, and is best regarded as the emergence from a hibernation called sleep, or winter, most effectively observed through the 'window' of the year, itself, since its nuances are fully available to consciousness, which is not so for the other cycle levels.
Here is how the observed, and many times confirmed, pre-spring pattern goes: 1) there are stirrings in mid-January or earlier, often a run of unseasonably good weather, and the earliest nubs of budding on trees; 2) around the third week in January, several intermittent days of early awakening, with a strong sense of energy; 3) the first week in February is the focal (central) time for 'sprouts' - events that have an unusually strong bearing on the course of activity that the year eventuates - the full range of sprout-time being from about January 23 to February 15, and occasionally even outside of those boundaries; 4) following the sprouts, there is a long period (4 to 6 weeks) of apparent dormancy, wherein nothing of great note seems to be happening; 5) forward motion seems to get fully underway with the arrival of the equinoctial spring, around March 21st.
In the instance of a day's morning, the energy thrust that constitutes the sprout is surely the moment of awakening. We have no awareness at all of the two preceding phases, though the night's final period of REM dreaming, just prior to awakening, is a likely manifestation of our phase 2. Researchers have found that the dreams just before waking have the highest verbal content and the fullest level of recollection, suggesting that they've been filtered through a left hemisphere no longer dormant. After the sprouting moment, as already noted, there is that period of becoming fully awake (as we tend to experience it), which confirms the pattern as phase 4. Perhaps the most useful information provided by this 'window' (as a 'Rosetta' function) is the possible significance of the REM dreaming, which suggests a kind of 'conference' taking place, between the cortical hemispheres, just prior to the opening of the day.
For the lifetime cycle at this stage, nothing can be known of the yet-to-be-born, except for the increasing fetal activity . . . is this the parallel of phase 2, a stirring of pre-sprout energy? And is it reasonable to assume, also, some pre-birth interaction between the brain hemispheres - last-minute `directives,' so to speak, or perhaps the calming of pre-birth anxieties? I know this is difficult for some people to take seriously, but we really know almost nothing of the right-hemisphere consciousness except that it does function as a distinctive, independent mind-base from that of the left-hemisphere, so that levels of inner dialogue are certainly conceivable.
As to the post-birth phase - the dormancy period, or more properly in this case, the infancy period - it remains an open question, how long this goes on. The more meaningful term, of course, is infancy, but it doesn't fully convey (any more than dormancy) the sort of 'getting ready' motif, waiting combined with preparation, that is taking place, as an outwardly inactive process. Quickening might be the closest term, but it already designates a pre-birth function, and there would not be much gained by introducing a confusion between the two. Something requires organizing, or a 'coming to terms' or `bringing up to speed' with outer reality, before this process is fully complete. We know this phase exists in the morning timeframe, from common daily experience (more evident for the aged, perhaps), and we know it exists as a pre-spring function in the year, so it can be assumed to take place as the first stage of what we commonly call infancy, though we don't yet know the parameters: the normal length of time, and the ways by which to clearly identify the pre-spring and post-spring characteristics.
I state rather flatly that it is a known function in the year's opening; how can I be so sure of it? The evidence comes from several sources. First, the experience of my own years: the gap, of about six weeks, from the time of my average sprout until the clearly energized activity that roughly coincides with the spring equinox. There is also a surprisingly good piece of objective evidence that some energy surge takes place at that latter moment. It comes from the work of a French geologist, Michel Siffre, who secluded himself in a deep Texas cavern for six solid, solitary months in 1972, having only one-way telephone contact with a surface crew, who regulated his lighting - on and off, for 'day' and 'night,' as he requested it - thus providing them with an accurate record of the length of both parts of the circadian cycle as Siffre experienced it, removed from all clues of sunlight or clocktime. It was documented in the March 1975 issue of National Geographic.
They began in mid-February, and Siffre soon settled into a full cycle of about 26 hours, though it went as high as 28.5. In his own perception, these were normal days, as was the remarkable series that began precisely at the spring equinox (which Siffre, keeping his own calendar, would have judged to be three days earlier). All of a sudden, his daily rhythm embarked on a secondary cycle. His full day leaped up beyond 30 hours, then dropped gradually to his norm over the next couple days, then surged up to 42 hours, dropped back again over the next few days, then surged again to 45 . . . the pattern of surges (five, in all) continued almost to mid-April, the highest one registering just under 52 hours, and then it just as suddenly settled back to his norm. To Siffre, of course, they were all merely normal days of 24 hours each.
This evidence, arriving with no expectation, demonstrates with reasonable finality a very real `energizing moment' that happens right on the cusp of calendar springtime. Before the surges began, Siffre's most recent dozen `nights' of sleep were averaging 8.2 hours, and after the surges ended they were averaging 7 hours, though the length of his circadian norm remained about the same. The arrival of equinox is not just the calendar certification of geophysical mechanics, but a moment along the cyclic continuum with clear consequence for the lives being pursued within this framework. The one thing not resolved by this remarkable data is whether the occasion was a purely physical response of the organism, or whether it reflects some energizing activity of the psyche itself, keyed to this moment along the cycle's path. The difference - if any indeed exists - is whether the qualitative effect imparted by time originates in the body or in the mind. Either way, Siffre's opportune discovery has provided a brilliant proof that it does objectively take place.
Unfortunately, it was a partly wasted opportunity, in the very fact that it had not been anticipated. Had the experiment been started even a month earlier, it might have also indicated something of phases 2 or 3, in our pattern language's opening stage . . . and maybe someday that will happen. But we do have, yet, one more piece of 'independent evidence' of the long gap that takes place between the sprout and the arrival of spring. This exists in a strange bit of calendar lore that has come down to us from the long, long ago. We call it Groundhog Day, a whimsical observ-ance that nobody quite understands, though we continue to play it out as a weatherman's fancy, every February 2nd. You know the story: the Groundhog traditionally comes out of hibernation on that day, and if he emerges to see his shadow, then he scurries back into hiding and does not come out for another six weeks, supposedly signifying a six-week extension of winter.
The fable apparently comes from the Celts, an ancient and rather mystical group of tribes from Britain and northern Europe, of whom we know very little as they left no written records. Calendar remnants, however, tell us they had a strong sense of the seasons, and they characteristically celebrated the arrival, not of the solstices and equinoxes, but of the days halfway between, the so-called cross-quarter days. One of these occurs in that first week in February. They called it Imbolc, or Teltane, and it probably arrived on the 5th or 6th of the month. But it was replaced by Candlemas, in the Christianization that was supposed to civilize such heathen, and shifted to the 2nd. Still, you could take the day away from the pagan, but you could not take it without bringing the pagan celebration along; and hence, we have Groundhog Day.
The Celts knew that there were six more weeks of winter, before the quickening toward spring would be fully done; the knowledge is preserved to us in ritual, in this quaint observance. The emerging groundhog (the sprout) will see its shadow (the implied solar presence representing the sprouting energy), and go plunging back into its hole (its dormancy) for six more weeks. There is simply no better way to account for the ritual's novel features and its clearly precise timing.
Well, I have tried to capture the essence of our subject in this opening chapter - it seemed like a good way to get started, since we'll be dealing with areas half in, and half out of, the realm of the known and accepted, and material that is as much subjective as can be called 'fact.' In the chapters to follow, I shall expand upon all that was touched upon here, but in a more organized fashion (I hope). We'll set off, next time, with an emphasis on the foundational material: the archetype and how it derives from the harmonic nature of reality; why it can only be so on this particular planet (and what implications that could have, for our escapist fantasies of planetary migration). We'll probably get into some of the earliest awareness of the archetypal pattern, reflected in the ancient Chinese calendar and its approach to seasonal effect, which provides a virtual template for understanding the ripening sequence that the pattern is all about.
Subsequent chapters will bring the material into more practical focus, and we'll be looking at how you can correlate the timing of one pattern format with another, how they interact to offset or accentuate each other, locating your own key moments along the various sequelae, and how to construct a life-chart that will illuminate where you've been, and help you to understand where you're going. Just as we did this time with it's opening phase, we'll consider each stage of the pattern in greater detail as it comes along in the year, so that the moment will heighten your ability to relate it to your own life. You'll begin to experience the two aspects of a seasonalist's craft: living by what he learns, and learning from what he lives.
It is up to you, of course, how deeply you want to get into this material. I can only assure you that it is worth the trouble. It has become the backbone of my life, along with simplified economics - as necessary to my ongoing sense of well-being as would a navigational grasp of the heavens be to a seaman adrift in a lifeboat on an unknown sea (as, indeed, we all are!).
As these chapters appear, I expect that each will fill an issue. And they may not be entirely consecutive, for I often have other things to write about. I'm hoping to get it all across in seven chapters, over the course of the year - though you should know by now that everything, with me, remains to be seen. But that's the target, at least.
1. to the Ripening
2 to the Main Staging area
3. Send response