Reclaiming Cycles in a Time of Loss

By guest blogger and CCC19 participant, Debra Denker.*

Year by year, we are losing the seasons that have marked human culture, animal migrations, and the cycles of plant life for thousands of years. Spring comes to the Arctic 16 days earlier than a mere decade ago, according to a recent article in The Guardian. And it’s not just the Arctic, as any careful observer can tell you.

I have a memory of driving through a snowstorm in the canyon along the Rio Grande on April 20th, 2001, rushing to get back from Taos early enough to cover my then-small lilac bushes, which were just tentatively putting out delicate leaf buds. When my parents visited at the end of April, they were disappointed that none of the trees in Santa Fe were yet in bloom. In those days, every fruit tree burst into bloom all at once around May 7th. That was also the last year I had a good apple crop, except for one freak year in 2016 when the tree bloomed early, but the last frost was a month early as well.

In recent years, it has become routine for my apple tree to blossom sometime between the first and second week of April. Usually, the tender blossoms freeze. These are not particularly late freezes for our area, where the average last frost date in historical record was May 15th. The real problem is that many species of trees bloom early now—four, in some years five or six, weeks before they used to less than 20 years ago—due to the freakishly warm winters that have become the New Abnormal. The day before a recent mid-April freeze, it was nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature plunged to freezing one night, then as low as 24 or 25 for the next two nights.

Since not all the buds had opened, there is perhaps some hope of apples. A couple of days after the freeze, a cloud of bees sucked nectar from both fresh white clusters and brown, frost-blighted blossoms, hopefully pollinating the tree.

Miraculously, my wisteria buds somehow survived several nights of cold temperatures to bloom in scented purple splendor, albeit three weeks earlier than they used to. In this drought-stricken year,there has been a surprising display of lilacs—two to three weeks early—though the heat, once again in the high 70’s, and perhaps the extreme dryness as well, has caused the blossoms to cycle through their blooming and dry up in about a week.

I sometimes wonder if I am the only person on the planet who notices these things. Am I being gaslighted by the corporate media, made to feel crazy by reports that, with the exception of some independent media such as Democracy Now, rarely connect extreme weather events with climate change?

Is no other gardener observing? Is no one else keeping records? Does no one else have a memory?

Or is the reality just too horrible to contemplate?

I have long felt that we—all living beings on this planet—are suffering an inexorable and exponential loss of so many of our cycles. We no longer have a proper cycle of seasons, in any hemisphere or bioregion. Most of the Southwestern US this year had virtually no winter, except for a few days here and there of cold weather, and almost no precipitation since last October. I don’t even call what we experienced “winter,” but rather refer to it as “the dormant season.” It’s hard to rejoice in spring without having had a proper winter, the quiet time, the time of inner reflection.

The birds are confused, nesting far too early, when frosts and harsh winds can make survival of fledglings difficult. Some years I’ve even seen birds build nests in the lingering warmth that plagues autumn. In recent years, I scramble to put out sugar water for the hummingbirds, who sometimes arrive before flowers bloom.

The glorious intertwined and interdependent cycles of birds arriving at the perfect time to find their favored foods, caterpillars or insects, have collapsed. Instead, there is a dissonant mismatch between species whose cycles are responsive to light—which hasn’t changed—and those responding to heat, which is badly out of balance. Guided by the lengthening days, birds sometimes arrive to find that the caterpillars they eat have hatched weeks earlier as trees leafed out, their cycles hastened by the New Abnormal of premature heat.

This year, with the extreme drought, I’m not even seeing many mice or pack rats around. I’m afraid that my resident bobcat mom, Bella, may have moved on, looking for a kinder environment. I worry that she might encounter hostility along the way, since bobcats are highly territorial. I haven’t seen her for months, and since it’s been so dry I’m not skilled enough to see if she’s left any tracks in the dusty greenbelt behind my house. I’m hoping that she’s denning somewhere nearby. Perhaps I’ll catch a photo of her drinking at the birdbath on my critter cam.

I recently traveled in Egypt with a spiritual group doing prayers for all the Earth, and there too saw the breakdown of cycles. Since my father was an amateur Egyptologist, I knew of the fabled yearly inundation of the Nile since early childhood. When the rains began at the Nile’s source in central Africa, the floodwaters made their way down to the desert. For thousands of years, the rising of the star Sirius on June 21, the summer solstice, marked the time when the rich silt would be carried downriver to fertilize the crops in the “black land” of Lower Egypt.

The Aswan High Dam, completed in 1970, put a stop to all of that. Modern Egyptians traded the benefit of hydroelectricity for the loss of fertility, and perhaps a far greater loss of cycles. Today, one million tons of artificial fertilizer per year substitute for the natural annual deposit of 40 million tons of rich silt on farmland.

It was unseasonably hot some of the days I was in Egypt, and choking air pollution is simply accepted as a fact of life. The population at the height of ancient Egypt’s power is thought to have been about 10 million. Today it is 101 million, mostly stretched along the Nile and concentrated in Cairo, a city of 24 million.

A culture that worshipped Neters—deities representing principles of Nature and often depicted in the shape of animal-headed humans or human-headed animals—has today lost much of its former biodiversity. Lions no longer roam the land of the fierce healer, the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet; crocodiles no longer sun on the banks of the Nile near the temple of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile-headed god Sobek; and no ibis flies past the graceful bas reliefs of the ibis-headed Thoth, god of Wisdom who gave the gift of writing to humanity.

But still we have the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, and the monthly cycles of the moon waxing and waning. Floating up the Nile, south towards Upper Egypt, visiting many temples before dawn, our group was keenly aware of sunrises and sunsets. Once we were out of the pollution of Cairo, we could again see the stars. On either side of us, scenes spooled out like old-fashioned reels of film, timeless views of boats filled with sugar cane, egrets landing in banks of tall reeds at dusk, colorfully painted Nubian villages, and the graceful sails of feluccas catching sun and wind.

For me, one of the greatest teachings of Egypt is that of Ma’at, the unbegotten goddess who embodies the principle of Balance. Ma’at is Truth, Justice, and Cosmic Order. Sometimes depicted with wings, and sometimes simply as a woman, she always has a feather above her head. On her scales, she balances this ostrich feather against a human heart at the time of a person’s transition into death. A life lived in kindness and balance makes his or her heart as light as a feather, allowing entrance into a peaceful afterlife. But if a person’s heart is heavy with the imbalance of selfishness and cruel deeds, the heart is thrown to the Devourer Ammit, a frightening female deity who is a composite of crocodile, lioness, and hippo.

On a macrocosmic level, we live in a world swinging wildly out of balance. Last week, the Hawaiian island of Kauai experienced unprecedented floods, with rain falling at a rate of 50 inches in 24 hours, while we in the Southwest beg and pray for even a drop of moisture. A bushfire recently threatened the suburbs of Sydney in what should be their autumn, echoing the horrific fires of northern California and the central California coast last year. People in the Northeast are rightly weary of snow—though I envy them—and a visitor from Seattle remarked on the unusually constant rain in the Northwest, to the point where the land is water-logged.

How do we bring the Earth, the eco-system, the climate, back into Ma’at, into Balance?

A closely related question is “How do we counteract the imbalance of 5000 years of patriarchy?” My slowly emerging answer is to fully embrace the Divine Feminine—no matter one’s physical or chosen gender—with her qualities of courage, nurturing, peaceful resolution of disputes, a love for the Earth that gives us life and abundance, and the ability to flow with the element of water in all its forms. If, as a world culture, we collectively embrace the Divine feminine and the healed and transformed truly Divine Masculine together, we recreate Sacred Balance, constantly flowing, seeding and reseeding life itself.

In this embrace, we find and reclaim our lost cycles. We attend and honor the moon’s phases, perhaps even plant according to them rather than according to agri-business.

Perhaps one day we will even reclaim the seasons. Although many tipping points may have already been reached and passed, by choosing right actions we may still be able to reverse and heal the damage already done to the planet’s biodiversity and to its sensitive climatic balance. What if Regenerative Agriculture were implemented on a massive scale? Could we restore a healthy atmospheric balance within decades, even in the lifetimes of some of us now in our older years?

“Everything seems impossible until it is done” is a saying attributed—perhaps incorrectly—to the late Nelson Mandela. Remember that a few decades ago, banks of computers with less computing power than your cell phone took up whole rooms. Doesn’t it seem absurd that we are still using fossil fuels to run internal combustion engines—essentially a 19th century technology, despite a few cosmetic design changes? Why are we still flying in planes using greenhouse gas-spewing jet engines, a mid-20th century technology that also seems to be stubbornly stuck?

Returning the world to Ma’at is paradoxically a daunting task, and one that can be accomplished instantly. Consciousness is the wild card, the joker, the jangleur, the Fool in the Tarot who can either end it all or bring all into balance and healing. Consciousness— not only human, but that of the animals and plants that share their world with us, and of Gaia herself—is never factored in to the computer models of climate change, biodiversity loss, economic ‘growth,’ or ecological devastation or renewal. It is our collective consciousness that has the potential to create both spiritual and practical solutions to transform devastation to renewal, harm to healing, and imbalance to Sacred Balance.

It begins with each of us choosing consciously to align to balance within ourselves. We have the power to allow the wild swinging of the scales inside us to become the stillness of balance. That is the place where magic can occur. We can and must reclaim and restore our cycles. Let us honor and celebrate the ancient marking days, the Solstices and Equinoxes and the cross-quarter days of the Celtic calendar, even though the world of Nature has fallen badly out of synch with the Earth’s journey around the sun.

Last night was the Eve of Beltane, the celebration of the hieros gamos, the Sacred Marriage, in the northern hemisphere. Though the blossoms that should be tender in their potential have already bloomed and faded, the sun still moves towards its northernmost point, and the memories in other dimensions and Timelines forever leap handfasted over Beltane fires, make love with the Green Man in the woods, and dance merrily around May Poles.

And we have not lost the daily cycle of sunrise and sunset, nor the patterns of the stars. The ancient Egyptians called the polar stars, which never set, the “undying stars.” Normandi Ellis writes in Dreams of Isisthat as a result of a life lived in Ma’at, “a mortal man or woman became one of the Imperishable Ones, a beautiful circumpolar star in the belly of the sky.”

So in this constancy we begin each day anew, the Sky Goddess Nut giving birth again and again to hope as the light of the sun, the life-giving principle of Ra, returns to light our way through a new day, a new cycle, a New Earth

* The post is extracted from Debra Denker’s own Website.

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming Cycles in a Time of Loss

  1. The White Swan: Beyond Occam’s Razor

    I.

    “What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

    ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is – infinite”

    ~ William Blake

    The human race (Homo sapiens sapiens, as we like to call ourselves), is possibly the most extreme example of an invasive species the planet has ever experienced. Perhaps 200,000 years ago, an infinitesimal number of us diverged from our parent species (Homo sapiens) and now seven billion of us swarm every landmass on the Earth. The majority of this explosion in population occurred only in the last two centuries; from one billion individuals to seven billion individuals. Five billion people were added in the last hundred years alone. This geometry is a type signature of an invasive species, a species that has occupied an ecological niche in which it has no natural predators or other environmental checks to limit its growth.

    That we are no longer subject to any natural predation is self-evident; we have become the apex predator of the entire globe.

    How, then, have we evaded all other environmental checks to exponential growth, to the present tune of seven billion and accelerating ever further?

    That shift in paradigm, to my way of thinking actually came about a little earlier than two centuries ago, as expressed in the dawn of the Neolithic. . . a time beginning perhaps twelve thousand years ago. The popular view is that mankind settled down from ragged bands of opportunistic scavengers, “hunter-gatherers”, to far superior lives as herdsmen and farmers. We domesticated both plants and animals, mastered metallurgy and subsequently learned the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare to manage the enormous richesse gained from exploiting our environment in these new ways. The first cities were built, and the first proto-nations were formed. Man had discovered the extractive economy, and assumed the power of life and death over all he surveyed. He became civilized.

    The hunter-gatherers, those who were left of them, faded into the darkness outside the firelight of civilization. They and their economy, the economy of symbiosis, withdrew into the hinterlands, the wilderness.

    Now, the fundament of the extractive economy is that it assumes that the resources from which it profits are limitless and effectively free for the taking. Oil, that geologic distillation of Carboniferous swamps, has no value and no price until we put a price upon it. The act of possession becomes singly material, rather than relational. The concept of abstract wealth as a mensuration of the material life enters here; two primary expressions of early metallurgy were weapons and currency; war and commerce. The very land itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, invaded and defended, as also do the people who live upon it.

    The economy of symbiosis has no currency. It lacks the initial and subsequent levels of separation in which the relational algorithm is separated into subject and object. Value can neither be accumulated or lost, as it cannot be differentiated from the act of living, which itself is intrinsically a zero-sum process. It is fractal in nature: “As above, so below.”

    The difference between these two economies is the result of something I can only identify as a cognitive mutation, a genetic fault line or discontinuity in the neural stratigraphy of the human mind. The new man, this invasive subspecies of Homo, rapidly overwhelmed the old and became the dominant feature in any ecosystem he colonized.

    And at the spiritual horizon, the symbiotic Shamanic worldview succumbed to the extractive Neolithic, the hierarchic imposition of Deity, Deified, and Profane. William Blake’s doors of perception were barred and nailed shut; for all practical purposes, forever.

    Or so we thought.

    Another characteristic of an invasive species is that its population crashes just as dramatically as it expanded when it has consumed the relative overabundance of resources that were available to it in the environments it colonized.

    To that species, this is a terminal Black Swan Event; conditions of life as they know it abruptly end, as do the lives of most – if not all – of the population.

    The world we are living in today, with its increasingly and violently erratic climate, ever more tenuous energy base and debased and poisoned lands, seas and atmosphere shows all the signs of a niche pushed past its limits of recovery by an invasive species.

    Concomitantly, the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare – the flowers of the Neolithic mutation – have proved barren and seedless and are rotting on the stem. As William Yeats forewarned in The Second Coming:

    “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    The survivors will be the Shamans, those who have retained or re-learned the alphabet of symbiosis, both physical and spiritual. The doors of perception will be opened and cleansed; the wing song of the first, impossible white swans will fill the air.

    II.

    “What we call here a White Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is ex-stasis, as it begins within the realm of regular expectations, because something in the timestream – past, present and future – convincingly points to its possibility. Second, it carries an unconditional holistic resonance; it thrills the soul. Third, in spite of its ecstatic status, human nature makes us aware of its occurrence as a foreshadowing, making it intrinsic and desirable.”

    ~JSI

    “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

    ~ William Blake

    William of Ockham is said to have written “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”, or, “Plurality must never be posited without necessity”, although the actual phrase has never been discovered in his writings. This has been used as an epigraph by thinkers since as a dictate to use the one to quantify the multitude rather than the multitudeaffirming the one. It is the basis of all modern scientific thought and, as such, the basis of Western culture.

    It is estimated that about one hundred billion neurons of several differing varieties and their accompanying axons, dendrites and synapses coexist in the human brain – an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension – and that each neuron is capable of firing every five milliseconds, also an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension. These numbers beggar any concept of plurality that wethink we are capable of, yet . . . . it is indisputable that they are present inside the vaults of our skulls and account, as an example, for the writing of this sentence.

    This leads me to deduce that we self-censor or redact very nearly all that we are aware of, or at least it would appearthat way, until I think about Aldo Leopold and his critique of flood control with respect to the natural rhythms of any given ecology. He wrote of the insanity (I use this word literally) of the Army Corps of Engineers and their program of straightening the sinuous curves of natural river channels to greatly improve the flow of – in the Corps’ opinion – an unneeded and unwanted abundance of water, then putting dams on those ruler straight channels to “control” the flow they just had created. “Flood Control”, they called it. “Prevents Erosion”, they intoned. That a river should be allowed to “flood” and run outside its banks was a very bad thing; a “good” river flowed exactly where the Corps told it to run, and when, and how. Leopold pointed out the obvious; that the Corps’ efforts did neither, and that they actually damaged the geomorphology and hydrology of the living organism of the land. In short, this infliction disrupted the land, the watershed, and the communities of life that lived there, sometimes terminally.

    As above, so below: the vault of our skull contains the watershed of awareness and the cognitive rivers that flow from it. To put it another way, the net of interactions of billions of neurons – if perceived as the billions of molecules of water residing in a geological watershed – becomes the cognitive watershed, and its resultant rivers of awareness, each singular as a sentence. That these rivers will flood and run outside their banks is the condition of ex-stasis, and, as I stated in the definition of a White Swan event, beginning “within the realm of regular expectations”.

    The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and as time went on, placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species. I recognize these forms of thought as the type specimens of what I’ll call Homo sapiens sapiens novus. Man had shuttered the doors of perception. Awareness had been civilized; all that remained were the narrowing “chinks of his cavern”. The rivers had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

    The celebration of pluralities, the seeingof one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal cycle of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition, and the renewal of ex-stasis,were driven out, marginalized or killed.

    This is nowhere more evident than in the contrast between the Neolithic extractive economies and the Shamanic symbiotic economies and the history of the Neolithic rise to dominance. Neolithic man, Homo sapiens sapiens novus became the apex predator of the entire planet in a geological nanosecond, the most successful invasive species we know of. What he did with his cognition, so did he to his physical environment. In human time, this did not take overnight but, as I said, over a dozen or so millenia; now, the last remnant fragments of the aboriginal Shamanic populations persist as a curiosity, an exhibit, on reservations set up for them by their keepers. Equally, the last remnant fragments of the uncut, unmined, unbulldozed, undammed, unharvested, unoccupied original landscape are set aside as “wilderness”, whether as a signal reminder – as decapitated heads of the enemy were impaled on pikes and displayed on castle walls – or as a bittersweet nostalgia, I do not know.

    And so we come to the forty third Hexagram of the I-Ching, Kuai (break-through or resoluteness), as expressed in the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I-Ching:

    The Image

    The lake has risen up to heaven:

    The image of BREAK-THROUGH.

    Thus the superior man

    Dispenses riches downward

    And refrains from resting on his virtue.

    Wilhelm and Baynes write, “The hexagramKuai actually means a break-through as when a river bursts its dams in seasons of flood. The five strong lines are thought of as mounting from below, resolutely forcing the weak upper line out of the hexagram.”

    For all the channeling and dam building done to our awareness and cognitive process, it must be realized that the original perceptual landscape is the bedrock of mythos upon which the Neolithic constructed its artifices oflogos. An irrevocable result of the straightened channels and dams of rivers subjected to flood control is that the water’s impoundments silt up until the channel is no longer a channel and the dam is no longer a dam. The water then finds its own way again, true to its nature no matter how long previously confined.

    This is true . . . . whether we speak of the watersheds and rivers of the planet or the watersheds and rivers within the vault of our skull, the cognitive universe; partly planet and partly person.

    In precisely this sense, the White Swan events of our lives herald the bursting of the dams erected to constrain our actual, original cognitive gifts and the recognition of the return of the Shamanic river of perpetual return.

    The One is forever the Other: As above, so below.

    Or, as William Blake put it: “Energy is eternal delight.”

    © Salskov Iversen

    3 December 2011

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