Yet again, I am moving too quickly. My mind occupied by the list of things that need to be accomplished today, I am walking briskly and almost miss the tiny wildflowers along the path.
Now I pause to explore their delicate white petals, and I’m taken in by the amazing array of new spring greens the trees are wearing. A spirited chorus of call and response is offered by Carolina wrens, cardinals, and robins. In the distance, pileated woodpeckers drum their search for insects. I’ve come so close to missing this display of beauty, once again failing to connect with the world around me. Following my own default drumbeat of getting stuff done, I am out of sync with the rhythm of the natural world.
From where I sit to write this, I have access to an online calendar, wall calendar, laptop, watch, clock, and iPhone to help me cram all that I have to do into the time I have. When staying organized seems paramount, I focus on my checklist - and whizz past other lives, unable to fully see or hear them, let alone connect. Individually and collectively, we pay a price for holding tightly to seconds, minutes, and hours, for scheduling our lives in ways constructed around and constricted by our perceived need for structure. Our busy lives are at odds with the vibrant cycles of Earth. The natural world – within whom we are integrally woven even when we forget – will not be constrained by clocks.
What if we paused, even occasionally, to align body, mind, and spirit with our breath? Or with our own heartbeat? What if we stopped rushing around and took in the flow of seasons or tides? What if we tried to learn from the migration of geese or the lifecycle of an oak? There are so many possibilities, so many individuals who offer wisdom for our lives. I’ll share just a few examples; no doubt, you will think of many more to explore.
It is a breathtaking experience to gaze up from underneath the enormous rainbow arch still standing among the stone ruins of a 12th-century church. We have come to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne off England’s Northumberland coast to explore a written religious history dating back to the 6th century AD. The island has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a refuge for birds and other wildlife.
With its own castle, several lighthouses, and spectacular views, this island is a treasure. But if you choose to visit, don’t plan your trip based solely on your travel schedule. Lindisfarne is a tidal island, connected to the mainland by a causeway accessible only from about three hours after a high tide until about two hours before the next one. Twice a day the Holy Isle is totally cut off from the mainland. Imagine life on a tidal island with your travel shaped by the tides. Consider what it might be like to live so in tune with the pull of the moon. What if we traced her movements this month, tuning into the moon’s waxing and waning and listening to her story?
Consider the migration of monarchs. No single butterfly makes the entire journey; migration is a cycle encompassing multiple generations. In November each year, monarchs begin gathering in the Oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Mexico where they spend much of the winter. Then in February and March, they begin moving northward. After crossing into Texas, they find mates, lay their eggs, and die. Their offspring, known as the first generation, hatch and continue the northern migration. These southern-born butterflies live two to six weeks, mating and laying their eggs on milkweed plants along the way.
It will require a third generation for the kaleidoscope – the delightful term for a large group of butterflies - to arrive at their northern home where they will spend the summer and breed.
Eventually, the fourth and fifth generations will hatch. They will be endowed with special capacity to live for up to eight months and travel over 2,000 miles in colonies of 20 million back to the forests of Mexico for the winter, returning to a place they have never been over a route they have never traveled. And then, if their habitat remains intact, the cycle repeats itself. An intelligence is embedded in this species that shatters a concept like time management; monarchs move to a rhythm of generations. It is not unheard of for humans to practice such a sense of generational concern.
Written into the law and fabric of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of indigenous nations in what is now called North America, is the belief that today’s decisions should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. If you did not grow up with such a concept, it is likely difficult to comprehend this vision. Yet, in this era of climate chaos, it’s clear that our decisions and actions are flowing from our generation to the next, and the next. If we expanded our view of time to more fully claim our role as ancestors, might it change the way we live now? What rhythm would we need to embrace in order to hear and respond to the needs and hopes of the seventh generation?
The ebb and flow of tides and rivers, the cycles of seasons, geologic time, deep time of stars and galaxies. Sap flowing through trees, clouds and storms, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, hibernation, shedding skin, growing winter coats, mast years for nut trees, the hatching of cicadas. Blood pumped by our hearts throughout our body, breathing, digestion, the blinking of our eyes. The living world moves in continuous waves and cycles tuned to an ancient way of knowing.
Many cultures have lived in greater alignment with Earth’s rhythm. We might begin a practice of reconnection by choosing one being that lives by a rhythm beyond our standard way of keeping time. (Can one really keep time?) Choose anything from milkweed to mountains, rivers, stars, seasons, or bluebirds. Observe, listen, explore. Draw closer to them. Get curious. Ask questions. Open your heart. Use your imagination. Listen to what your body tells you about their rhythm and what wisdom it offers about the rhythm to which you are invited. You need not set a goal to assume the rhythm of another, but rather to more fully embody the one you were given at birth, the one deep in your soul that may have been covered over or forgotten, your drumbeat that aligns with Earth’s rhythm.
When we listen to the rhythm of other beings, we may glimpse the world through their eyes and learn from our wise relatives how to live more fully in relationship with the beautiful world around us. In aligning with the vast heartbeat of Earth, perhaps we may return to the oneness we have forgotten and for which our hearts long.