from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Rhythms and cycles of life 

Last night several participants in dailykos drove from various points to Winchester VA to hear one of the community perform.  Someone else will diary about that, with appropriate pictures.  As I drove back through the darkened countryside late last night I was listening to satellite radio and because Easter approaches one station was playing music for the season.  It was a recording made in a Benedictine monastery in France.  I was reminded of the cyclic nature of our lives, how there are overlapping patterns that provide the basic rhythm by which we live and experience.  As I drove through the darkness, with no illumination except that of car headlights under a darkened sky, my mind pondered this.

Time is in many ways linear.  We moved forward from life almost inexorably towards the end of life.  And there are milestones that seem unique along that path between those two distinct points: learning to read and write; first attending school; first encountering a piece of music or a work of literature that greatly moves us; marriage; the death of someone close to us; the birth of a child.  Even when similar events occur, it is not with a sense of regularity, with any underlying rhythm - each child is unique, each loss of friend likewise, although there are connections, reminders, cumulative reactions.

Our largest cycle is the year, or rather the overlapping cycles of the year.  Those of us in temperate climes experience the changes of seasons, not on a fixed rhythm, but providing nevertheless an overall pattern into which all else is fit.  Those of us in education have the beat of the school year, and if we teach adolescents we need not look out our window to note the onrush of Spring, for as the weather warms the clothing lessens, the awareness of the possible sexual appeal of  others students intrudes even as we who teach attempt to maintain focus on the curriculum and those measures - tests, projects, essays - that will offer indication of learning accomplishments.

We mark birthdays - our own, those of people close to us.  We have as one underlying rhythm the pattern of holidays.  This can be accentuated by bursts of commercialism, extensive travel, decorations, and certainly of music.  Within the religious part of life we often  see, hear, taste and smell it.  Perhaps the clergy and the church change colors.  For many it is punctuated by feasts, fast, special foods.  It can be incense, or the smell of a turkey roasting in the kitchen of the person to whom the family members gravitate on Thanksgiving.  And there are the singular beats, those that like birthdays offer a pulse that comes once a year.  Wedding anniversaries, April 15 and the payment of taxes, beats that support and beats that seem to cut against the overall rhythm of life.

There are smaller, and repeated cycles within this larger one.  For those who are adults we cannot avoid the passing of months, for it is on that cycle that our bills come due.  Often this creates a varying syncopation, for we are paid most often not a monthly cycle, but on one that is weekly or bi-weekly.  This can create a sense of harmony or of discord, especially when the the arrival and departure seem to become unattached.  And yet even with a bi-weekly pay cycle, at least twice a year it is like a sudden accentuation of the positive when we get a third paycheck within the monthly rhythm of paying bills.  This reminds us that our cycles do not coincide, for the week goes into the month and the year with inexactitude.  Our birthday can fall on any day of the week, and our celebrations are therefore sometimes shifted and others limited or expanded by when during a weekly cycle an annual event reappears.  And for many of us there are other events that are the once a month beat that can provide meaning and sustenance or drain us with their responsibility - meetings of organizations in which we participate, regular social gatherings (although some of these may occur as well on weekly cycles)

Our weekly pattern gives a close definition to how we live.  The alternation of days of school or work and days on which other things occur - worship services, football games, shopping.  We feel the ebb and flow of each seven day cycle as its strong beats and silences alternate.  

I will not go to the hourly cycle, although with chiming clocks we experience it at least through sound.  Certainly we are all cognizant of our daily cycles, of patterns of sleep and activity, of   daily meals, of dressing and undressing, of cleaning our teeth, possibly of shaving.  

What is relevant to where you are reading this, a political blog, is those cycles which extend beyond a year.  We have the rhythms of government and of elections and campaign.  Some are four year cycles, some are two, a very few are one, and for U.S. Senators the individuals have a six year pattern subsumed in the larger rhythm of the institutional changes every two years.  

When the first performance of the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives was conducted by the late Nicholas Slominsky, he performed an act of agility that I wish I could have seen.  The work in question in many ways is like the overlapping rhythms and cycles that I have described.  The score was written without one time signature - different lines are in two, three, four, five or seven.  Slominsky attempted to provide indication to the musicians of each pattern.  He nodded in two with his head, stamped one foot in three, beat five with his left hand and seven with his right.  Try to do even two of those things, much less three, or all four.  Now imagine what it must have looked like to both musicians and audience.  An incredible coordination, is it not?  

And yet we do similar things constantly.  We balance those cycles described above.  Days go only somewhat neatly within each of the larger patterns, weeks do not so neatly fit into years.  And our annual cycles do not begin and end at the same point - my school year begins in August, the religious year for Christians begins in September, the Civil year in January, the government's fiscal year in October and for most in the corporate year the fiscal year rolls over on July 1st.  

The political seasons have become less and less regular.  In our lives the regularity, the patterns, the underlying consistency even if changing of the rhythm of the cycles provides structure within which we can vary our activities.  it used to be that there was something of a regularity to our campaigns and elections, but no more.  Our campaign cycles have lost any definite beginning as they extend further and further from the  assumed culmination of the elections, and as we learned in 2000 we cannot assume that election day will end that cycle.   Sometimes the next cycle begins even before the current one ends.  This is not the overlapping of weeks with years, and it is not particularly healthy.

The primary cycle was originally the daily cycle.  Our activities were clearly marked by periods of light and darkness. Artificial illumination, whether of candle, incandescence, or fluorescence, extends the period of activities requiring vision and changes the rhythm of our lives.  We can argue persuasively that this change of rhythm frees us for much creativity.  I find it difficult to believe that the altering of our alternation of campaigning and governing to one of constant overlapping campaigns is in any way creative, and increasingly becomes destructive of governance.  Every action is viewed only through the lens of its political impact.  It would be as if I spent every waking hour 7 days a week involved only with school, or a truck driver did not abide by ICC regulations of hours on the road, or pilots FAA regulations of hours in the cockpit.  In the latter two cases we clearly recognize the concomitant dangers to public health and safety.  And political scientists, philosophers, and even some politicians have cautioned us that there are dangers to our very democracy by our nonstop political campaigns.  

I appreciate the alternating rhythms of my life, the strong beats separated by periods of lesser impulse, the variation that occurs with these overall structures as the reinforcement by coincidence or acting as a cross-rhythm.  I enjoy a holiday repast, but my body cannot survive were everyday an extended family's extended meal.  The intensity of coaching my soccer team in crucial game is exhilarating, but I need time for my players to rest, to practice, to do things other than soccer.

If we are going to remain sane, we must acknowledge our need for cycles, for patterns of intensity and repose.  If we do not wish to burn out our putative leaders they cannot constantly be in campaign mode.   We know how many leave politics because of the constant task of raising funds, leaving so little time for thinking on issues, listening to people, doing the work for which we ostensibly elect them, that of governance.  When we become too far removed from the cycles on which we as human beings depend, we become disoriented.  The basic cycle of day and night is essential, and to be enclosed in a room where we cannot mark this, because we have no clocks, no pattern of alternation of light and darkness, no regularity of meals, we will begin to lose contact with reality.  I think our political life has begun to experience this.  And I caution that those of us who are political involved we need to examine our own participation.

I acknowledge that there are crucial issues before this nation, that we may feel that we cannot waste a moment - in opposing the depredation of this administration, in seeking to advance the political fortunes of whomever we think can best save the situation from the legislature or the executive office.  But even in the most intense warfare troops get taken out of the line periodically to rest, to refresh.  We cannot fight constantly or when a crucial moment in the conflict occurs we will have no strength, no perception and awareness, and we will not succeed.  

Rhythms and cycles of life.  If our politics and governance become too far removed from these, if something is so constant a struggle that we cannot experience a sense of rhythm, then whatever it is we are doing is destructive and must change.

I drove home, listening to the timeless sounds of Benedictine chant, remembering times spent in monasteries, in the US and in Greece, with the daily, weekly and annual cycles overlapping one another.  I remembered driving out that afternoon, being able to see more clearly in the open countryside the onset of spring, and remembered then and again last night how if we let it the natural world reminds us of our need for rhythm, for it is inescapable, it is around us - and in us - no matter how hard we attempt to suppress it.  As I came closer to Washington the traffic increased, the visibility of the night sky became obscured by the lights of the suburbs and the more dense residential patterns, for even after midnight there is so much artificial lighting that the sky becomes removed from us.  

Will we allow the blinding intensity of our political campaigns to remain ceaseless, obscuring our awareness of our need for the rhythmic and cyclic aspect of our life as those lights obscured the welcoming darkness of night?  Will we be able to find the natural balance of intensity and repose so clearly a part of the natural daily cycle?  Or will we burn out?

It is First Day.  As a Quaker part of my pattern is to withdraw into a silence that is punctuated occasionally by inspiration or by seeking the truth.  It is joint experience,  a common pause in the onrushing patterns of the cycles of our lives.  Like the rest in music, each note that arises from that silence has far more impact.  And each political act we take that comes in accord with the various cycles has the reinforcement of different rhythms coming together.

It is First Day.  It is Spring, It is now fully daylight.  The rhythms and cycles of life continue their patterns along the linear path of my life between birth and death.  This is one journey towards whose end I have no desire to hasten.  I think I will savor the varied rhythms and patterns of my life.  

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?