May the Circle Be Unbroken

Fall                                                                                  Falling Leaves Moon

sun calendarThis calendar, circular, with the sun’s hourly presence each day indicated in the middle by a somewhat squashed circle, displays a yearly calendar  that conforms to my understanding of time. Rather than day running after day in small squares, linear fashion, on this calendar the days and the months follow each other in curved segments of a circle, finally rejoining, December 31st and January 1st. As opposed to most Westerners, I privilege the circularity of time, the Great Wheel, which, like this calendar, follows the earth around the sun and, like this calendar, begins again where it has been artificially ended.

It’s easy to forget, in our casual way of saying what hour it is, or what day it is, or what year it is, that none of this segmentation has any but the most abstract relationship to the natural world. The year, for example, marks a spot in earth’s revolution around the sun, erects a flagpole, or, better, a timepole and says this is a lap marker. Each time we pass this timepole we’re going to add one unit to the last one. By not so common agreement we start counting units for calendar purposes on a date supposedly coincident with the death of a man claimed to be a god, two-thousand and fourteen laps ago. I say not so common agreement because the various numbers to put on this “year” vary a good bit among Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Chinese and Old Church Orthodox, just to name a few.

Though this is a very common human meme, the calendar and its year, it is not given in the nature of earth’s orbit. What observation of the orbit suggests is the linked nature of time, it’s non-divisable reality (perhaps even its non-reality). What I choose to emphasize is the turning of the Great Wheel, with its repetitive though not identical seasons, its warm periods and cool periods, its fertile days and its fallow days. In this way, too, I choose to emphasize the ongoingness of human life. The human cycle, which follows the Great Wheel by analogy, understands birth as the springtime of a life, adulthood in the fertile seasons, and the time of aging and death, analogous to the fallow time. And this cycle, though it apparently begins and ends in each individual’s life, in fact, goes on with births following deaths and deaths following births.

May the circle be unbroken…

 

Timely

Imbolc                                               Woodpecker Moon

In case you feel confident, assured, certain about your worldview, I invite you to read the current Scientific American special issue on Time.

 

You know all those hard working physicists whose thought power smells like burning transistors in your really fast computer?  Yeah.  Those guys.  Einstein.  Feynman.  Hawking.  Turns out they can’t find time.  Nope.  Not there.

 

Turns Xeno and that arrow business was right.  You know, you shoot an arrow and it covers half the distance to the target, then half that distance, and then half that distance and so on?  Ad infinitum. Yep.  That’s right.  Stuff happens.

Time has fascinated me for, well, a long time.  Or not.  Western folks, you and me, got stuck on chronos, or linear time, while the pagans and many Asians stayed with cyclical time.  Like the Great Wheel.  Both, according to current thinking, are conventions we use to order our sensory experience.

I haven’t seen in these pages yet a response to Kant’s idea that both time and space are a priori categories, that is, they are part of the way the mind functions and are, as a result, prior to experience, not inherent in experience.  Still makes sense to me.

This may seem like a so-what problem since we already think we know how time works.  Now is now and will be past in a moment when the now now becomes what was future reality only a moment ago.  Yet it turns out that time stands between quantum mechanics and the theories of relativity, frustrating their unification.  Time is relative in Einstein’s constructs and probabilistic in quantum mechanics.  Trust me.  It’s a big deal.

Well, that’s all for this time.

Sacred

Imbolc                                                                  Full Bloodroot Moon

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.” – Ernest Hemingway

A wordy sentence for the master of terse.  Still.  Not only is it true, it will be true each and every day.  It could also be said that this hour is only one hour in all the hours to come, but what happens in it can influence all the other hours you’ll ever have.  Be here now has its detractors, I know, those who want to talk about history and the future, yet with all their reluctance or eagerness, they must still leave the past behind and the future for the next moment, because we are never in any time other than now.  Life comes to us in the present tense.  Always.  And ends the same way.

A presentation tomorrow morning at Groveland, Redefining the Sacred.  I’ll post it here after I’ve given it.  There’s a whole book, maybe several, in this general theme, a way of understanding the awesome, terrible, wonderful, magical, sacred nature of the lives we live and the world in which we live them, understanding them, that is, without needing an authority to tell us how, understand them within the experiences we have now, not ones we might have later, after death or in some altered state.

You might think my flat-earth approach to religious mystery rules out an after-life or a supernatural possibility.  Not at all.  It just means I don’t have anything to say about it.  If death includes a future, well, I’m there.  If not, I won’t be.  If there is a supernatural realm, a realm of the gods, I want to visit, but I’ve not seen the evidence for it.

So, a way of understanding the sacred within our lived experience excites me, makes me want to tell others of the possibility.  Which I will do tomorrow.

5 Useless Days

Winter                                                          Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

Now we come to my favorite days of the year, those between Christmas and New Years.   When I used to work for the Presbytery (a part of the Presbyterian church analogous to the Catholic diocese), no one in the church world wanted to talk to judicatory staff just after the major work around Christmas.  That meant a holiday of sorts with a light work load.  Later, I learned that the Maya called these the 5 useless days at the end of the year.  I don’t recall why but they saw them as  problematic in some way.

Not me.  I view them as a sort of secular time out of time, a hole in the calendar when expectations are low, interruptions minimal.  Often I’ve used them for mini-retreats, focusing on some area or another I’ve wanted to give some in depth time.  Though I haven’t decided yet, I may choose to get deeper into Ovid.

Anyhow, enjoy these days.  They are a holiday from holidays.

The Great Wheel

Lughnasa                                                       Waxing Back to School Moon

Tomorrow we move into the fall equinox position on our yearly orbit.  In this sense time recurs again and again and again, each spot on the orbit revisited as Earth passes along on its ancientrail.  Of course, the orbit changes slightly each year and the solar system moves further and further away from the center of our galaxy, so in a strict sense the spots are not quite the same, but from a terrestrial perspective over the span of a human life, the differences are not noticeable.  Birthdays point as much to a specific point on Earth’s track around the sun as they do to a “time.”  Our age, which we consider linear, really counts the number of times the Earth has revolved around the sun since our birth, not linear at all, but elliptical.

Tom Crane said last night that he and Roxann climb a hill at the Arboretum and each time they see a tree.  At one point the tree has bare branches, at another leaves, at another flowers and fruit, colors change at yet another point.  It feels linear, but, wait…the colors change, the tree has bare branches, then leaves, then flowers and fruit and again the leaves change color.

As he spoke, I thought of our circle, made sacred now by 20 years of showing up, how our hair has gone gray, our flesh taken on wrinkles and on some of us, a few pounds.  Again, it feels linear, this aging process.  Then, the conversation turned to grandchildren who will crawl, walk on two legs, then three, just as the Sphinx had riddled.  Within our species the childhood, maturity, aging repeats over and over again as the fleshly vessel sloughs off, but its genetic information goes on.

How to Use Time Well

Summer                                       Waning Grandchildren Moon

Once upon a time a young man, now turned old, began again to consider a quest that had eluded him, eluded him since those days long ago when he left the small village and went off to school.  The quest had always seemed simple.  In each day given to us there are 24 hours.  8 or so of those find him occupied with sleep and dreaming, low focus and imaginative connections.  Another number of hours, maybe 3 or 4, give him nourishment through shopping, cooking, eating meals.  2 more hours pass by in exercise to keep the now older body able to handle the rigors of advancing age.  Maybe a half an hour, 45 minutes, finds him at a mirror or working a toothbrush, showering.  This is 15 hours allowing for things the young man now turns old under estimates as he is wont to do.

That leaves 9 hours, barely more than a third of the 24 hours for creative work, political work, artistic work the kind of things that all that maintenance related activity undergirds.  The quest is this:  how to use time well.  How to get the most out of hours and minutes allotted each day.  This fabled question has befuddled lots of folks over the ages, and it is one the young man now turned old seems not to be able to answer.

The journey has begun again.  As it has and as it will probably yet again, too.  Reorder.  Rethink.  Try again.

What Time Is It?

Summer                         Waxing Strawberry Moon

A bit more on time.  Cybermage, Woolly Brother and sheepshead player William Schmidt begs to differ on the notion of cyclical time.  He references the geology of Minnesota and, I imagine, the information about the evolution of the universe which he so wonderfully makes understandable with lights and rope.

It is difficult to understand the two apparently conflicting ways of understanding time, the cyclical view that I suggested yesterday over against the deep time recorded in our genes,  our own earth’s mantle and the red shifted lights in the heavens.  Let me see if I can be a little clearer about what I think.

Instead of time as a characteristic of the natural world, that is, an experience of things occurring in sequence:  t1, t2, t3, t4 out there, beyond the reach of our sensory apparatus, I see it as a means of ordering that same sensory experience, a means imposed on it by our mind’s need for order, order that can have a useful meaning for us.  In other words, time and space, both, in this view, exist to help us survive in a world of chaotic events happening in overwhelming numbers.

They create a sort of mental short hand that gives us a way of predicting, in a probabilistic manner, the outcome of things we perceive as happening outside us, things important to us as an animal:  will that animal be beyond that tree when I shoot this arrow? will the arrow actually travel through the apparent intervening distance and strike the animal?  how long will it take me to hike to the berry patch?  Or, contemporary equivalents:  do I have enough time to go to the grocery store after work and before the kids get home?  Can I fit in a round of golf before the rain predicted at 3 pm?  how long does this flight really take?

Does this a priori understanding of time and space invalidate deep time?  I don’t know.  Does cyclical time invalidate deep time?  I don’t know.  I admit there is one part of me that says, Oh, come on.  The earth is 3 billion years old or so.  The universe 13.5 billion years.  Whatever those words mean, they mean the beginning of  both was a long, long time ago.  Yet, another part of me, ascendant right now, wonders if our conclusions about the passage of time mean what we think they mean.

This much I know for sure, on this planet, at this latitude and longitude, in 365 + days, we will spin around to the summer solstice again.  This I can experience as a non-linear mode of time, a mode of time that relies on the cycles of the natural world rather than on the progression of anything through vast stretches of the  past and on into the infinite future.  This cyclical mode of time I can referent, whereas the notion of yesterday and tomorrow seem to me to be no more than place markers, file cabinets for data.

Summer. It’s About Time.

Summer Solstice                                      Waxing Strawberry Moon

 

The longest day of the year.  Light triumphant, streaming, steaming.  The darkness held at bay.

Summer Solstice

This is an astronomical phenomenon transformed and translated into a spiritual one.  We humans have over millennia taken solstice and equinox alike as moments out of time, a sacred caesura when we could review our life, our path as the Great Wheel turns and turns and turns once again.

The Celts first divided their year into two:  Beltane, the beginning of summer, and Samhain, literally summer’s end.  As their faith tradition developed, they added in both solstices and equinoxes.  Since Beltane and Samhain occurred between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice respectively, they became known as cross-quarter holidays.  Imbolc and Lughnasa filled in the other two cross-quarter spots.

It is the eight holidays, the four astronomical ones and the four cross-quarter, that make up the Great Wheel.  In the most straight forward sense the Great Wheel emphasizes cyclical time as opposed to linear or chronological time.  This seems odd to those of us raised in the chronological tradition influenced by Jewish and Christian thought in which there is an end time.  With an end to time the obvious influence on our perception of time is that we progress through the days until they become years, which become millennia until the Day of the Lord or that great risin’ up mornin’ when the dead live and time comes to a stop.

That this is an interpretation rather than a fact rarely crosses the mind of people raised on birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations of one year as it comes followed by the next.  Our historical disciplines from history itself to the history of ideas, art history, even geology and the theory of evolution all reinforce the essentially religious notion of time as a river flowing in one direction, emptying eventually into an unknown sea which will contain and end the river.

Immanuel Kant, in attempting to reconcile the dueling metaphysics of two apparently contradictory philosophical schools (rationalists and empiricists), hit on the notion of time and space as a priori’s, in a sense mental hardwiring that allows us to perceive, but is not inherent in the nature of reality.  That is, we bring space and time to the table when we begin ordering our chaotic sense impressions.  My interest in the Great Wheel and in the traditional faith of my genetic ancestors came in part from a long standing fascination with the question of time.  We are never in yesterday or tomorrow, we are always in now.  What is time?  What is its nature and its correct interpretation relative to the question of chronological versus cyclical time?

I have not settled these questions, not even in my own mind, and they continue to be live topics in philosophy.  Learning to pay attention to the Great Wheel, to the now, and to the specific place where I live has pushed me toward the cyclical view, as has gardening and now the keeping of bees.  It is, today, the Summer Solstice.  Again.  As it was the last time the earth visited this location in space (ah, yes, space.  another conversation which we’ll bracket for now) and as it will be the next time.  This is a literally cyclical view of time based on the earth’s orbit around the sun, one which returns us, over and over to much the same spot.

Next summer when the solstice arrives the asiatic lilies will be ready to bloom, Americans will be getting ready to celebrate the fourth of July and kids will be out of school.  The mosquitoes will have hatched, the loons returned and basketball will finally be over.  These kind of phenological observations depend on the repetitive, cyclical character of natural events.  There is a real sense in which this time does not move forward at all, rather it exists in a state of eternal return, one solstice will find itself happening again a year later.  Is there any progress, from the perspective of the solstice, from one to the next?  Not in my opinion.

I don’t deny the intellectual value of arranging knowledge in what appears to be a rational sequence. It aids learning and explanation, but it may well be a mistake to think that sequence exists outside our mental need for it.  It may just be that time is, in some sense, an illusion, a useful one to be sure, but an illusion none the less.

Even if it is, we still will have the Summer Solstice and its celebration of light.  We will still have the Winter Solstice and its celebration of the dark.  We can see each year not as one damned thing after another, but as a movement from the light into the dark and back out again.  We can see the year as a period of fallowness and cold (here in the temperate latitudes) followed by a period of fertility and abundance.  This is the Great Wheel and it currently makes the most sense to me.  That’s the light I have today anyhow.  Let’s talk next year at this time.

Tincture of Time

Beltane                                     Waning Planting Moon

Bee work inside.  Kate finished several honey supers and three hive boxes plus frames before she left.  I didn’t know how many I would need in her absence.  All but one of the honey supers now have foundations.  I ran out of foundations and will have to order more.  All the hive box frames have foundations and I have added one new hive box and two honey supers in the time she’s been gone.  This Monday I may have to add one more hive box.

Feeling better now, tincture of time as Kate likes to say.

All the dogs are in bed and I’m headed up to read some more in the Three Kingdoms.  Night.

It’s About Time

Fall                                      Waxing Blood Moon

On the I-Google page there is a widget that shows the progression of night and day across the globe.  In Singapore it is Friday already, 12:30 p.m. Lunch time.  Here in the middle of North America we have blackness.  This is another of the rhythms of nature, the one so familiar it can come and go for weeks, months, even years with little remark.

Yet imagine a 24 hour period when the day/night cycle changed in some unexpected way.   What if at 12:30 p.m. it became night?  Or, what if, at midnight the sun came up?  No, I don’t mean the poles, I mean right here on the 45th latitude halfway between the equator and the pole.  Earthquakes challenge a core assumption we carry unknowing, especially those of us in the relatively quake quiet Midwest.  The assumption?  That the earth beneath our feet is solid, unmoving.  The regularity of day and night is also a core assumption, one we carry unaware.

It is these rhythms, day and night, the changing of the seasons, the growth of flowers and vegetables, their constancy that gives us stable hooks on which to hang the often chaotic events of our lives.  Even if a death in the family occurs we say the sun will come up tomorrow.  Flowers will bloom again.

Bringing these changes into our consciousness, the moon phases for example, can give us even firmer anchors.

They give me a feel for the continuity that underlies the messiness of human life and the apparent vagaries of time.  It is a continuity of positive and negative, yin and yang, dark and light, the dialectical tension between these opposites which cannot be without the other.  Taken all together they can give us a confidence in the nature of the 10,000 things.

They make understanding space-time possible for me, in spite of my lack of mathematical sophistication.  That space and time create a matrix which holds everything makes sense in a universe where day follows night and winter follows fall, then happens all over again in the next cycle.  This is not a linear model, it is not chronological, it is deeply achronological.