Issue #22, September 1997

Oh, yes . . . that book I was going to finish

You will recall that I started a `book,' early this year, called Living a Seasonal Life. I did the first chapter of it and promised about six more, but then kept putting it off while other things of more immediate consequence kept butting into my headspace and writing.

Well, I'm afraid you may never get another chapter of it. Or . . . this may be the next chapter of it! I had meant to do a second part, on the nature of the Seasonal or Ripening Archetype, and it was about halfway written when the archetype sort of crashed in on my head, the other day, and made it seem like the whole effort (doing a book) was about as feckless as missing the last boat home and sitting down on the dock to wait for another. Life's `last boat' isn't on any schedule, of course, so it's only a judgement call, but there does come a time when a project has come to represent the past, in a personal sense, and has no longer the motivating power that it once did.

The interesting part, however, is that it happens to be a beautiful illustration of the very archetypal circumstances that I was about to lay out for you, in the second chapter already underway. In effect, I was trying to explain how the archetype, in general, and the Ripening Archetype in particular, impart to us all the meaning we associate with life's experience -- and give to life the `color of age' that instinctively graces every stage of personal growth, from springtime's youth to winter's decline -- when it became suddenly clear to me, on these very terms, why I can no longer continue with anything laid out as the development of a book.

The realization, however, was not brought on by my writing, but in the reading of someone else's book, or my reflection on it. I needed the distance, it seems, to see the pit I had thrown myself in, and to which I should have been cued by the very difficulty I've had in `getting back into' the further chapters of my own book. Maybe the best way of explaining what it's all about is to share with you the brief essay of realization that the fresh insight prompted. It is a spur-of-the-moment piece of writing, without pause for reflection or much afterthought, so please excuse the "gee whiz" quality of it.


* A Morning's Insight *
It has taken me a lifetime -- unless the gods grant me another septide or two in which to enjoy it -- to learn what seems, now, the simplest of truths. In its barest terms . . .

The greatest gift of all is to be Alive! And those which follow most directly are those that flow most freely of it: the sun and rain, the ocean surf, mountains & trees (yes, trees!...more likely at the front of the list), and not leastly, love and friendship.

All the rest, anything more, is a matter of Providence. If I neglected Providence a place among the special-mentioned, as I did the moon and stars, it is only because they are background elements, of which there may be many more -- I am not trying to compile a catalog. The point of it all is to note that power and authority, money and anything it can buy, and that fickle quality generally known as "having my own way" are conspicuously absent. So, too, are fame, recognition and all other variants of worldly success.

It has taken, yes, a lifetime -- a Biblical threescore and ten -- to expunge these hollow masters from my system, or to assure, at least, that they are on their way.

It might seem odd, to claim an epiphany of realization, after 70 years, for what the world's wisest texts have always proclaimed -- and what I, myself, have often enough spoken to -- but what one part of the self knows has often little to do with what drives the rest, and what ultimately weighs-in when paths are chosen. Alone, are experience and reflection the undergird of true realization. The experience of suffering, loss and acute puzzlement; and the reflection that employs this grist, ever and endlessly turning it over, before the maze of reasoning is navigated to the only possible conclusion. And those who tarry too long at false turns (the brief glories of worldly achievement) simply run out of time, before ever arriving at realization.

I crossed the threshold this morning (the first of September, 1997, for record), reflecting on the opening chapters of a book I've just gotten into, a book by Andrew Bard Schmookler titled Living Posthumously.

In it, he tells the tale of his own work with the specter of significant loss -- the loss of his taken-for-granted physical and mental prowess, from the cause of a debilitating illness that no one could diagnose, and no amount of curative effort, either physical or psychological, had managed to ameliorate. In the face of this ego-searing devastation, he had to consider the value of merely coming to terms with the debility and accepting it.

Well, thought I, this is nothing new to me! I learned it many years ago, when I had to deal with the reality of a colostomy. I learned the art of graceful acceptance, and how one simply moves on in life, taking as little restraint from the drawback as possible and nothing in the way of discouragement. I learned, in fact, that it could be an avenue toward the full reversal of the debility! For that is what eventually happened: my colostomy was removed. And it was this latter development that always capped my subsequent telling of the tale, as if to say: acceptance is the magic ticket to a cure!

But, hey, wait a minute... there's a sour note somewhere. I seem to have made a con man's switch, there, without even realizing it! I learned the art of acceptance, all right, and then as quickly `overcame' the learning by deftly slipping in another in its place: How to beat the rap, by doing the `Spiritually Correct' thing. It comes to me now, after twenty years, that I really blew it! I beat the rap, sure, and I even learned the lesson . . . but I lost the real significance, which does not lie in removing the problem, but in overcoming it.

And the fascinating thing about a failure to learn and incorporate one of life's lessons is that it keeps coming back at you. Not in the same form, of course, or else things would be too easy. It comes back in a whole new disguise, so that you have to tackle it again independently -- or if you do recognize it, it's because you've become fully aware of the deeper issue involved, which is half the battle of getting beyond it.

So, now, in this morning of meditative reflection on the first day of September, I suddenly saw the disguise behind which sits this old issue of mine. I could speak with all the assurance of a veteran about accepting the accruing deteriorations of old age -- I am a certified master of it, right? Even today, I am applying the art with respect to a diminishing vision in my right eye. But what about this business of getting my writing published, and putting it on the Web, "for posterity"?

Well, it isn't exactly in the same category as a colostomy, or a failing right eye. Those are things for which acceptance is the only obvious course left to one, when all the available counter-measures have failed. But I am perfectly capable of putting my work on the Web; and there is nothing to prevent me from continuing to seek a real publisher for Innocence Abroad, or any other book project I may devise.

Right. And wrong, at the same time. These courses are certainly open to me, but they do take up time and energy . . . and a certain something else, besides. I don't have a name for it, but let's call it Soul Thrust, or Spirit Thrust - ST, for short. It's a force not recognized in our everyday scheme of things, for it's part of the Seasonal Archetype not generally realized. Maybe ST, in fact, stands for Season Thrust, and I can perhaps explain it in those terms.

In youth the ST is geared toward learning. We are absolute whizzes at anything to be taken up by the brain. We absorb knowledge, language, technique like a sponge and it all finds permanent residence in our heads. That's the springtime ST.

The summertime ST is less on learning and more on personal development in a wider social sense. It is an outward thrust that particularly empowers us in social arenas of interactive achievement -- competing, nurturing, structuring things that involve others, self-expansion in the wide world of people, not the cerebral sort that was a youthful specialty.

The autumnal ST has a harvesting touch: "bringing it home" or "putting it all together." Learning is not very easy anymore -- that is, things go out as fast as they come in, for the most part; and achievement no longer has that easy forward thrust that it once did. But there is a wonderful capacity for seeing how things fit together, and bringing them into interactive harmony. Many of life's earlier confusions begin to clear up, and life tends to get easier.

I'm describing, you see, a sort of internal organizing system that enables certain things at certain times of life better than at others. It shifts as we ripen, with certain modes left largely behind as we enter fresh territory. We still learn things in middle age, but not as readily or as solidly as in youth; and those of us who have gone back to school late in life know that our `harvesting' capabilities have had to compensate for the handicap -- as they do, quite nicely.

All right, then . . . it should be clear, what I'm getting at. Going after first-time publication is basically a summertime ST thing, or autumnal at the latest. In life's winter, it's like bucking a headwind -- there is no inner support for it. The Web site work is more of an autumnal ST project, and thus not so far-fetched for wintertime, but still, I have to take the differential into consideration. It's not that these things can't be done in wintertime, but that the effort may be disproportionately costly of all else there is for the season. And the question of whether it's worth it returns us to the earlier topic of discovering the art of acceptance.

I am faced, you see, with the option of pursuing this ego-centered fancy of mine on through the dark wood of wintertime, when I could be much more satisfyingly absorbed with the very late harvesting: tracking my old trails (in journal and recall), retrieving the jewels I could not see at the time, for lack of sufficient perspective, and making a fresh summation of what this life has been all about. This, and the mere pleasure of indulgence in things I have raced too swiftly by, is the appropriate ST function of wintertime.

And what I have seen on this September morn, thanks to the bit of distance afforded by Schmookler's book, is that I'm able and ready to bid a full farewell to my summertime dreams of glory . . . to accept that life is entirely what is here and now, for me, with no further chase of what is not.

Which brings me back to that simple realization that the greatest gift has been right here all the time: Life, itself . . . while I have been looking the other way.

And so . . .

Having acknowledged this, perhaps I can go at the topic a little less pompously now, no longer supposing it to be a book, formulated with so many chapters in such and such a structure. After all, I've done it already! -- a 145-page undergrad thesis at the UW that only awaits the week's work necessary to get it up on my Web site -- there's no need to do it again. So forget all that fol-de-rol. I want merely to tell you about this marvelous discovery I made, many years ago, that we literally live the seasons in the course of our own year's passage, as much as does any instinct-based animal or soil-rooted plant. It is outrageous to contemplate, so sure are we of our independence from Nature, but our time-process is governed by an Archetype that is patterned on Nature's own year, and we fulfill it without even knowing that we do.

Not just in the year's four seasons, either, but in every stretch of time that we commonly deal with. For the particular nature of an Archetype, as Jung explained it, is a patterning tendency, a `framework waiting to express itself in outer events.' But you have to be able to stand back from your life, in order to see it. I'll tell you how I came to see this in my own life, and then we'll look at what this archetype thing is all about, and why it is so important to realize.

In my early forties, as you know, I broke free of the conventional life I had been living. It meant that each week, each month, was no longer a predetermined routine, and gave me my first real chance to experience life in a natural flow. Many things were going on in my world -- a veritable whirlpool of path openings and choices to make -- but when the dust of it settled briefly, in winter, and I could take stock of the year's chaotic adventure, a pattern began to emerge. I saw it first in a recurrent summer crisis: the first time, in 1971, when it precipitated my break; but again the following year, when a communal effort in Oregon shattered for me . . . and yet once more, the very next year, when a year-long personal relationship dissolved.

Remarkably, each of these separate crises reached its peak moment during the first two weeks of August, and I realized that I was looking at the central element of a repetitive annual pattern that I had never even been aware of. I saw the year in a new light, and began looking for other pieces of the pattern -- pieces that just as remarkably repeated themselves. Not every year, perhaps, but with sufficient consistency to confirm that I was onto something.

The evidence for it was not just in my own experience, but in calendar lore and seasonal rituals the world over, in the way that earlier cultures with Nature-based calendars had observed the annual passage, and even in etymology -- for words tell tales that history has all but forgotten. But the richest trove was when I applied the idea of an archetype across other timespans than the year and its four seasons, and discovered the incredible parallels -- `seasonal effects' that natural activity could not account for. They could only be explained as functions of an archetypal pattern.

A seasonal archetype, if such there happens to be, would be a patterning of time as we experience it, that could as well apply to any passage of time that has coherent meaning for us: a year, a day, a month, a week, a lifespan . . . whatever. We would experience each of these passages in conformity with the pattern, almost by instinct -- in fact, it is not very different from instinct, for our conscious minds have very little to say about any archetypal process, except to observe and recognize it . . . but this helps, immensely, in understanding what is going on with us.

But will you accept the Seasonal, or Ripening Archetype on my say-so? Why didn't Jung, or any of the masterful analysts who followed in his trail, ever identify it as such? In fact, how could they have missed it, when they rambled on into such arcane and primal typology as numbers and form? These are good challenges, and I think I am going to have to lay out a groundwork before the legitimacy of this claim is clear. So let us first explore the background of the Archetype notion.

It was not a pure invention on Jung's part, but was derived from Kant's earlier insight that the human mind has a tendency to `organize reality' into meaningful forms and sequences. This is hard to grasp, for we live in a world literally bathed in meaning, and we suppose that all that meaning is `out there,' plain enough for all to see. Kant clued us to the realization that events, concurrent or consecutive in their happening, have only the relatedness and meaning that our minds choose to impart -- and, in fact, that we don't even choose such perceptions, but are compelled by an inner necessity, a predisposition to `discover' them. This insight of his led to Jung's formulation of the Archetype concept: an array of pre-ordained patterns that literally impose themselves, like a creative grid, over personal experience.

In the grip of an archetypal pattern, we observe an internal necessity to pursue certain ends: we pick up on certain cues, take certain actions of self-involvement, and work our way thus toward a particular destiny. It does not defeat free will, but utilizes it, though the conscious self may think we pursue different ends. That is, we give ourselves other reasons for doing as we do, which has been actually demonstrated with split-hemisphere testing. We respond, you see, with a sense of infinite freedom, but the archetypal pattern underneath is the guiding influence.

Jung's earliest development of archetypal theory focused on common patterns of human experience, identified by transformative configurations that most of us are now familiar with from portrayals in the popular and New Age press: the Hero Archetype, the Trickster, the Crone, and so forth, along with those of basic human experience: the Child, the Mother, etc. But the principle of archetypal patterning has been extended far beyond such essentially personality motifs to incorporate dynamic processes that cover the full range of human experience and even purely conceptual territory, such as numbers and form.

Thus, it is no great stretch to bring seasonal cycle into the array -- yet, strangely, it has never been fully explored as an archetypal influence. We seem, actually, to have a blind spot, here, that traces all the way back through Western cultural history, for the ancient Greeks, who gave the gods responsibility for everything under the sun (even the sun, itself) ascribe to none, in their grand Pantheon, any authority over Time -- a rather glaring oversight. A cursory consideration of the Greek gods would conclude that Kronos had that significance, but scholars are careful to point out that the Greek words Kronos and chronos have entirely different lexical roots.

Any thought of a seasonal archetype has been generally subsumed under the quaternity symbol -- the number 4 -- which is recognized as an overlay pattern for the ideas of completion, order and wholeness. In a limited sense, this is sufficient, for it brings the year, alone, to archetypal account as a `containment' within which a ripening process has begun and come to completion, the four seasons providing it a pace and sense of fullness.

But something else occurs when we proclaim an identity between time and the ripening process: we have given vitality to time . . . we invest the phenomenon of experienced time, which is only, after all, a function of memory and imagination, with an inherent quality that must henceforth `animate' perceived time, no matter what the length of its passage. This is precisely what an Archetype is all about!

The archetypal pattern, drawn from eons of familiarity with Nature's year, and expressed in the symbolic perfection of the quaternity symbol, becomes a conceptual template for every coherent framework of time that we encounter. We instinctively experience a lifetime in this pattern -- as everyone knows. The course of a full day and night, while seldom thought of in seasonal terms, is perfectly analogous to it. In fact, the archetypal nature of the analogy appears explicitly in Greek myth, in the riddle of the Sphinx: "What is it that walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three in the evening?" (Oedipus, in the myth, correctly replies that it must be Man, who crawls in infancy, walks upright in his prime, and leans on a staff in old age). The Greek language even employs one word -- hora-- for the meaning of either `hour' or `season.'

You have perhaps begun to wonder, by now: how is our very insistent claim on free will impacted by archetypal theory? It does, after all, seem very close to fate and destiny -- both of which are difficult concepts in a culture devoted to the worship of that Supreme Being known as "me."

Well, if this were a book, I'd probably get very analytical about it, and set out to show you the probably limited range within which free will can be certified as real. But since it's not, and since I've been living consciously with these issues for a very long time, I'd rather tell you what I've learned from my own experience.

Regarding those three crisis summers of mine in the early '70s, I was responding to events as they developed in the natural course of things. Nothing literally compelled my response, but it seemed the most effective course available to me at the time, in each instance, all things considered. Events in each case had simply reached a crisis level in the course of their year's evolvement.

It puzzled me, however: Why these three years, and not any of the adjoining others? Of course, I was forewarned for the subsequent years, and perhaps not so observant for the prior ones -- but still, it was a conspicuous concentration which I could not resolve until the full implication of archetypal theory settled in on me . . . Why, of course! These middle-forties must be the summer peak of my life -- and only natural, then, that the archetypal effect would be compounded and amplified.

Still, the "summer of my life," even in its peaking moment, should increase the intensity for a longer span than three years. But the answer was good enough, for the time being. It was only in the longer retrospect of many later years that I came to realize what those three years constellated.

In the aftermath of my long adventure abroad, early in this decade, I went through an unusually deep phase of depression. I could find situational reasons for it, but by this time I was convinced of the overarching influence of the Ripening Archetype in setting such patterns, and I looked for the real cause in that framework. I was moving out of fall and into winter, now, in my life's time-path . . . was this to be the expectable psycho-emotional course of my remaining years?

The thought was depressing in itself, and it hardly tallied with the memoirs of other lives. I did find some confirmation of a mid-sixties downturn, but it was not a permanent, deepening thing, as the archetypal influence seemed to suggest. There had to be some other factor. And I was especially relieved when life began looking up, for me, after a year or two on the downside.

I turned, then, to a segment of the theory that I had given some earlier but brief consideration to: that we may be operating on other unsuspected timeframes, as well as the familiar ones, in an archetypal mode. I had, for example, seen repetitive features in the pattern of a decade, that came with remarkable consistency in my life. But I looked, now, at a pattern of seven years, suggested by the frequent appearance of that number in a wide variety of contexts, many of them mystical and going way back into proto-history. It was Aristotle who observed that "...those who divide life into periods of seven years are not far wrong, and we ought to keep to the division that Nature makes" -- and I had, myself, arrived at the certitude that the perfectly full lifetime, in seasonal terms, should run to 84 years (7 x 12), and have since taken note of the remarkable number of prominent deaths which occur at that age.

At any rate, I had long since come to feel that the `deep summer crisis' of my life had not been those three crisis years, but rather, the colostomy that came upon me a few years later, in 1975, and stayed with me until 1978. It was far more of a "lifetime issue," in that it deeply tested lifelong concerns around personal security, and the catharsis of the experience ultimately pulled me through the looking-glass, as it were, into a firsthand experience of the spiritual nature of all real security.

If I took seven years as a lifetime's `month,' then the full 1971-1978 span would certainly qualify as `mid-July to mid-August' for my life, accounting for the intensity of any annual summer within that period. And I surmised, then, the influence of a genuine seven-year cycle, in which these three summers of 1971-73 (a two-year span, in actuality) must have been the `summer period' of that archetypal pattern.

If you're still with me, then, those three summers each exploded into August infernos, for me, because I was experiencing the compound moment-of-intensity in three major cycles at once: the Year, the Septide (as I am calling it), and the Lifetime. Whether or not this potential `flashpoint' occurs in the same age-bracket (44-46) for everyone, I cannot say, except that it certainly coincides with a period recognized as the midlife crisis point.

Returning, then, to the question of free will, there is nothing in my tale to deny it. But I cannot help wondering how free I really was, in the grip of these archetypal concentrations. Perhaps, had I known their nature and potential . . . but then, does knowing the cause and source of an intensity really empower one to resist it? It's a question you'll have to answer for yourself.

The Septide configuration -- a seasonal cycle of seven years, or thereabout -- has provided me with all the ballast I need, to confidently navigate the years that remain to me. Sure, I am entered upon the wintertime of my life. By my reckoning, I am early into its `December,' at this time, with a relatively barren period of some 14 years ahead of me, on such Lifetime terms. But the Septide awareness assures me that it won't be that bad.

In Septide terms, I'll go through two full cycles in that time, which will include a substantial spring and summer influence that will lighten and `inspirate' a pair of 3-4 year spans along the way. In the actual spring and summer of those years, I shall have enough productive energy to counterbalance the long-term winter influence. Granted, it'll not have the potency of my youth and midlife, but it will be sufficient to my late-life purposes.

This is the value of realizing the archetype: I can foresee the framework of my aging years, in energy and emotional terms. I will not be inwardly `defeated' when the bleak periods arrive, as they surely will, for I'll know their limits. It is the most supportive and comforting knowledge that a person of 70 can have - and far better than money in the bank, for it braces my spirit, while money can only make a bitter life bearable.

It would happen, of course, without the awareness or foreknowledge -- the archetype does its thing, either way. But the conscious mind can be a player in the process, in rather meaningful terms: it is like picking up a weak radio signal and amplifying it. When awareness interacts with the archetypal process, it sets up a harmonic resonance that becomes a creative aspect in its own right. The lift goes higher, the drop is softened, and the possible becomes more possible.

Enough for now. When next I take up this theme, in Ripening Seasons -- as I expect I shall, for there is much more to say of it -- I'll go into greater detail on the archetypal pattern, and how I have correlated the various timespan versions of it, for myself. Why, for instance, I can say with some confidence that this year's summer ran several weeks later than usual and seems, as a result, to have uncoiled a particularly potent punch, leaving a rather painful trail of mishaps in its wake. (Or has it seemed a 'normal' summer to you?)

Meanwhile, I recommend to you some study of what Archetypes are all about, for it is much deeper than just a categorical term. Go to the source, if you can -- to Jung's own writings -- but less dauntingly, to some extractive recast that can narrow it down and save a lot of search. A particularly accessible such one is Robin Robertson's C.G. Jung and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (NY: Peter Lang, 1987).

There are almost no resources at all, when it comes to the archetypal portrayal of the seasons. Several titles would seem to suggest it (The Seasons of a Man's Life, by Daniel J. Levinson, et al (1978); Celebrate Mid-Life: Jungian Archetypes and Mid-Life Spirituality, by Janice Brewi and Anne Brennan (1988); Celebrating the Seasons of Life, by Mary Batchelor (1990)) -- but they hardly get into the subject in any very substantive way, or they use it simply to embellish other themes.

One book of recent issue, however, that offers no clue in its title, portrays the archetypal nature of the seasons with respect to cultural history on a generational basis, and does so in a manner that comes remarkably close to my own perceptions. It is The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe (NY: Broadway Books, 1997), now available paperbound, and I strongly recommend it -- not just for these purposes, but as an insightful speculation on the few decades that lie just ahead, as we close toward the millennium. It puts archetypal theory to the test, in a way that is going to bring a proof, right or wrong, while many of you will still be around.

Regrettably (maybe luckily), I shall not!

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