As the summer heat comes around, I am reminded of the the cycle of seasons. These are so important to the life of a farmer, or indeed anyone who must live in a natural environment, as the availability of solar energy and consequently of plant life change so dramatically. Living in an artificially air-conditioned, easy food-access environment such as many of us live in, it is easy to forget about these cycles. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience them.
Observing other phenomena of nature, like day and night, life and death, and growth and decay, I can see that all of nature is cyclical. One cycle in particular that I have come to terms with recently is that of action and rest. Over the past few of months, I have been trying to push myself to accomplish as much as possible in the time I have. I think this is because of a sense of urgency, as well as mild guilt at the thought of eschewing productive work. But this came at a detriment to my own health, and I could definitely feel myself burning out these past couple of weeks. I am now giving myself a much needed period of rest.
Another, more grand, cycle that I have been thinking about lately is that of cosmic time in relation to human civilization and consciousness. During this week’s intern class, Rishi commented on his belief that our current societal ills were part of a larger cycle, and that he was not worried about “saving” it. Immediately I thought of the Yuga doctrine of classical Hindu religion. Briefly, it is a cosmology that lays out four great periods of time, or “yugas,” marked by the rising and falling of human consciousness, specifically the prevalence of virtue, intelligence, truth, and harmony with the universe. According to the Vedic texts, this cycle lasts approximately 12,000 years and repeats itself going up and down, for a total of 24,000. Many believe that it is directly linked to the precession of the equinoxes, our earth’s cycle of rotational axis movement, which lasts approximately 26,000 years. Interestingly, this is not an exclusively Hindu idea, and can be found in religions and cultures around the world. The Greeks had a strikingly similar model – a four-period cycle of human “races,” labeled with the metals of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. Although the exact dates are disputed, almost everyone agrees that we are somewhere in or near the Kali Yuga, the lowest and least virtuous period. This would explain much about the systematic problems that we see around us, as well as the generally pessimistic attitude toward human nature that so many hold. The good news is that we are on the upswing, headed toward increased levels of consciousness and virtue, and in fact about to experience a major upheaval and transition into the next period. Whether or not this is “true” in any scientific sense, I find that this view of time, in comparison to the linear one our Western culture offers, makes a lot more sense. It provides a sense of context that allows me to let go of so many things that are ultimately outside of my control, and it also gives me hope that we are not headed for total annihilation, but rather a slow process of learning and growth. I am consoled by the notion that our very own minds, and the external patterns that manifest from them, are in tune with cosmic cycles in a way similar to the rising and falling patterns of plant growth that one observes throughout the changing seasons.