Living in Cyclic Time

Part One: Big Zucchini Mind

by Dana Gerhardt, M.A.


My friend Carolyn moved to the country earlier this year; among other things, she was excited about starting a vegetable garden. When she later came down to visit, she brought me two giant zucchinis, each over a foot and a half long. They were gorgeous, deep green, elegantly shaped, like Georgia O'Keefe's giant flower canvases, only these were real-life zucchinis.

Of course, as vegetables, they were virtually useless. I know, because when I had my first vegetable garden, I grew some zucchinis just like that. The bigger a zucchini gets, the less tender or tasty it is. And unless you're feeding a small army, it's impossible to use up all that fresh zucchini at once. I never cooked Carolyn's zucchinis, but after a week of watching them in my kitchen, they began talking.

Each had a theory of its origins, about how a little zucchini could get so big. And in the tradition of talking vegetables, when they spoke, they weren't just talking about themselves, or even about life in Carolyn's garden. In a way, they were talking about us all. Of course, as with people, so it is with talking vegetables -- whenever you get two of them together, you'll get two different versions of the same event. But both their stories struck a familiar chord.

Ultimately, they made clear why it's so hard to be an astrologer today. And why it's also so important. The zucchini tales laid bare certain common modern assumptions. And what makes it hard to be an astrologer inside this modern paradigm, is that in the latter half of the 20th century, we have a serious problem with time.

The first zucchini's story was about a farmer who didn't have enough time. And so, at just the moment when the little zucchini had reached its peak of taste, when it had ripened inside its skin to perfection, the farmer forgot to visit her garden. This was a busy person. Like many of us, she was forever racing around. "It's ironic," said the zucchini. "Because she needed more time, she went faster and faster, and then she slipped out of time altogether. She completely lost her present."

Yet it's in our present moment that our attention, or lack of it, directs what really happens in our life. So those busy ones, which might be any of us, can regrettably lose touch with the right time to thin seedlings, stake or prune our branches, harvest our fruit. Much of what grows in our personal gardens may develop then by way of neglect. Despite good intentions at seed planting time, we may wind up with something not quite as tasty or as useful as we wanted. We might get a big zucchini. Whether it's a bloated credit card debt, or loved ones who grow progressively distant, a garage crammed full of junk, or a body weight that tips the scales, we're one day caught short with the realization that somewhere we lost time, and our life, like the zucchini, grew to its present size unattended, by a busy kind of absence or neglect.

So you can imagine the problem when someone like this rushes in for an astrology reading and wants to hear about her future. Especially if you believe as I do in chaos theory -- which suggests that given the complexity of actions and reactions in any one situation, even small decisions or adjustments can have huge ramifications. So, it is said, something as soft as a butterfly's wing fluttering in Brazil can alter the weather patterns, creating a hurricane off the Floridian coast. If this is true, then more important than guessing what Saturn's transit across a busy executive's Sun will bring next summer, is knowing where she is that moment, what she's doing and thinking. Because that will have more connection to the events around Saturn's transit than all the wisdom in our astrology cookbooks. All creative action, at least that which we can direct, takes place in the present moment. So it's very hard to talk about the future with someone not fully anchored in the present. When this busy person's future finally arrives, it just might include a truckload of overgrown zucchinis.

But the second zucchini's story was even more incredible. This was about a farmer who grew a big zucchini on purpose. He actually planned it that way. "His religion is something called Miracle Gro," the zucchini said. "He belongs with those guys on TV, the ones who go to county fairs with 700 LB pumpkins in the back of their trucks, or 12 LB tomatoes as big as a man's head. Their philosophy is something like 'if a little of anything is good, then a lot must be even better.' These guys are passionate about size and growth."

We might laugh. But it's not so different from how we live in the city. Witness urban sprawl, the excessive reach of skyscrapers, or the latest trend in residential neighborhoods of putting huge five-bedroom houses on lots the size of a tablecloth. It's unnatural. Out of proportion. It's the same cultural mindset that wants economic indicators always pointing towards growth, that expects crime rates should never rise, the stock market should never fall, at least not when we're in it, and that any day other than a mild and sunny one is some kind of weather problem. It's the mindset that drives us to astrologers hoping to hear only the good news, or how to avoid all the bad.

But underneath this thinking lies a profound ignorance of natural cycles. Again, this is a problem with time. We suffer a contemporary disconnect from the appropriate flow of goods and actions in time. Even Deepak Chopra encourages us to be on the lookout for bigger and better. Curiously, it's the same kind of mindset the king had in the "Rumplestiltskin" story. Before he would marry the miller's daughter, three nights in a row, the king (already the richest guy in town) demanded she spin him a roomful of straw into gold -- early evidence of big zucchini mind.

Versions of the Rumplestiltskin story exist in many cultures. Sometimes it's a tale about marriage, about the power of beauty, or the virtues of work. But the version most widely known today, not surprisingly, holds the drama embedded in our dominant psycho-spiritual myth, the thing that drives us all, making more money. So our Rumplestiltskin story contains an overblown appetite for gold and the subsequent pressure to perform impossible tasks. What may have helped cook this meaning into the tale were the shifting conditions of work and time in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Before folk tales like "Rumplestiltskin" became children's stories, they were shared by adults in the barns and spinning rooms after a day of work in the fields. When workers moved out of the fields and into the factories, thanks to the efforts of the Brothers Grimm and others, their stories were written down and given new life as nursery tales. But we might suppose that the dwindling number of oral storytellers transcribed by the Grimms also seeded into their stories some of the struggles and woes of their time. So perhaps the miller's daughter, head in hands, with a roomful of straw and a deadline in front of her, had a literal resonance with those who migrated from their fields and work benches into the industrial factories. Perhaps the Rumplestiltskin story is actually about the origins of big zucchini mind and the loss of natural time.

So let's journey back. Imagine yourself as a craftsman or farmer long ago. Your work was seasonal, which meant your rhythm was to exert effort for a concentrated time, then rest and play for a long while after. You could show up when you wanted, break when you needed, visit with friends as the opportunity presented. Or you could push yourself to work harder as the demands arose. Time flowed with the conditions of your task and your needs, along with the opportunities and limitations brought by the natural world.

Then the factory came to town. Its giant steam-powered engines weren't easily turned off or on. And once they clattered on, the expensive machinery demanded constant attention. So you couldn't flow in and out of the factory as you did the field; the powerful machinery might grind to a halt. You had to show up on time and leave on time. Your natural rhythms got swallowed by the relentless tempo of the machine's. Time had become money. The clock now ruled.

This revolution did not come easily to our ancestors. Most workers resisted. Some factories had an annual turnover rate of a hundred percent. Getting people to show up on time was a constant struggle. A factory steam whistle might sound through a town at five in the morning to start its workers awake; some employers hired human alarm clocks to knock on bedroom windows with long poles, or yank strings hanging from windows, attached to the slumbering workers' toes. The campaign to change laborers' time rhythms largely failed. Only the most poverty stricken would comply -- until the cheap and easy labor pool of children was discovered. Their temporal rhythms were still impressionable and open. At five to seven years old, they could be brought into the factory and made to work for up to sixteen hours a day. And as adults, they could theoretically do the same.

So perhaps Rumplestiltskin, this craggy, humorless man who could do the impossible, actually embodies the industrial spirit. He's the shadow poster boy for the powerful new myth in town, unbridled economic growth. Of course he exacts payment for his services. First the miller's daughter must give him her ring, then her necklace. Folk tales are telling in their details -- here each sacrifice is an emblem for wholeness, a sacred circle, a natural round. Chillingly, Rumplestiltskin's price on the third night, the young woman's first child, predicts the literal sacrifice of children to industry. But symbolically it spells the loss of natural creativity, the precious yielding up of our natural cycles of time.

Though Rumplestiltskin can spin a mountain of straw into gold overnight, he can't make a child. He must wait a full year, one natural round of the seasons, for the life he wants to possess. Of course there's a moral here. And when the princess in naming Rumplestiltskin eventually gets to keep her child, we're given a way out of the big zucchini paradigm. If we can name (become conscious of) the overblown expectations and exacting efficiencies that would steal our natural creativity, recovery becomes possible.

I don't regret the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to it and further progress, as an average American, I probably live more comfortably today than did any king long ago. I've gained glorious new freedoms in the liberation from natural cycles. Nonetheless, something was lost. And I think this loss haunts us still. Perhaps it rides along with us in the blue feeling we have every Monday morning driving into work. Perhaps it's in our cellular memory; it may be an ancient mourning that we reprise.

Along with the loss of temporal freedom, we must acknowledge another one. We've suffered a critical loss of information as well. This is the premise of a fascinating book, The Age of Missing Information, by Bill McKibben. McKibben takes to task the information age boast that with widespread computer and media access, a child of eight today will know more than his great-grandfather did at eighty. McKibben watches a full day of television in one cable market, taping every show on every channel (it takes him weeks to view it all), and then compares what he sees with the information our ancestors might have gleaned from more patiently observing the natural landscape instead. After tallying up the episodes of "Gilligan's Island," the games shows and soap operas, even the countless hours of news, his easy conclusion is that much real knowledge has disappeared. When we build homes in flood plains because they're freeway or shopping center close, we've lost our natural wisdom, the sensibilities that nature teaches, including a sense of limits and proportion.

Of those with a more natural mindset, writes McKibben, "Even the dullest farmer quickly learns, for instance, a deep sense of limits. You can't harvest crops successfully until you understand how much can be grown without exhausting the soil, how much rest the land requires, which fields can be safely plowed and which are so erosion-prone they're best left to some other purpose. The sense of limits of one particular place grants you some sense that the world as a whole has limits, a piece of information we've largely forgotten, in part because being a successful businessperson today involves constantly breaking through limits. .. Which is probably better than our culture's usual message -- buy a lottery ticket so you won't have to work hard -- but it doesn't yield much in the way of wisdom about death or limits or the cycles of the seasons."

So where do we go from here? If the big zucchini tales are accurate, and inside our culture runs a deep wounding of time, then as astrologers, we're uniquely positioned to help it heal. Because we have a front row seat on time's natural rhythms, not only for our own planet, in the monthly cycle of our moon and our own seasonal path around the sun, but in the cycles of each planet in our solar system. So when we learn its language, the ephemeris, like the old Farmers Almanac, can give us renewed instruction in cyclic time. It can give us information on how to time and grow a good life. That's my favorite definition of practicing astrology: it's about telling time and understanding growth. When we should plant, when we should harvest, what needs nourishment, what needs to be put to rest.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the big zucchini mindset is relentless -- both for our clients and ourselves. We may all be busy, hence, disconnected from the richness of the present moment. Or we may be overly focused on the upward slope of growth. And not wanting to disappoint our clients or ourselves, we may keep dragging the modern paradigm into the ephemeris, trying to squeeze out some astrological good news.

To change pattern, we could start anywhere. For example, we might study the cycles of Mercury retrograde. Instead of just cursing its appearance as some wretched planetary foul play, we might look more deeply into its regular "backward" journey three times a year. What does it want to teach us about the Mercury function within ourselves? We might center ourselves into the cycle of subtle shifts in Mercury's inferior and superior conjunctions to the sun, or we might immerse ourselves in the retrograde's cyclic weaving through the elements.

Or we could take our instruction from the cycle of transiting Saturn to natal Saturn. Its hard aspects every seven years correlate with many other observable patterns of organic growth. And of course, we might tune into the moon and her phases, a cycle of waxing and waning relationships which can help us understand the patterning in all other planetary cycles.6 When the cyclic relationships between sun and moon are well understood, they can open the entire natal chart in new ways. For each pair of planets also exists in a cyclic relationship. We were not born into a frozen moment in time, so much as into a symphony of cycles, that have continued to move forward and play out since our birth. Seen this way, a transit is no mere thunderbolt from above that happens to zap us, rather it becomes part of a much longer and more interesting story.

But all this can get quite complicated, and sometimes the simplest observations are best. So we might instead just resolve to increase attention on the present. We might try lying in wait for big zucchini mind, and experiment with shifts into cyclic thinking. In the little moment when my stapler runs out of staplers, for example, I am generally furious. I feel persecuted: "Why does the stapler always run out of staples, just when I need to staple something!!" My big zucchini expectation is that it should always be full for me. I have lost the relationship between all my previous staplings and the present moment, and of course, I never check my stapler when I don't need it. Yet if I were in a more cyclic frame of mind, I wouldn't be as shocked by the limits of my stapler. I might even celebrate the moment it runs out as a regular holiday along the wheel of our relationship, a cue to replenish and honor this faithful little servant. And I might say a blessing for all the future papers we will staple, before the time to replenish it returns.

So if we could align ourselves to more natural rhythms, we might as good astrologers occasionally even close the ephemeris and just try to feel for these simple cycles in our lives. Because of course, if astrology is valid, it does not need our knowing of it to occur. So when my moody lover goes there again, which always returns me here, to that tender, wounded spot I've touched so many times before, I do not need to open an ephemeris to understand it. I can nod in awareness of this regular cycling in our relationship. And on this spot where I've returned (maybe it's a position I can point to on my birth wheel, maybe not), I can simply open, and feel my past flooding to the surface. And yet in the freshness of this present moment, I can perhaps bring new creativity to bear. I might even learn from my memories and seed new and different futures into the cycle. Cyclic time gives us this exquisite and very potent intersection of energies. Of present, future, and past.

We can represent a cycle of time with a circle. And perhaps we can live in it the same way, as though it were a circular ride, something like a Ferris wheel. Then we could know (rather than fear), that what goes up will also come down some day. We might also know that whatever has cycled down in our lives will at some point journey upward again. As with each chair inside a Ferris wheel, each temporal slice of any cycle is unique. It has its own feel, its unique vista. Ride it enough times and we may grow familiar with the view. We might start to prefer some vantages over others. But eventually, the more temporal vistas we can open ourselves up to, the more wholeness we might enjoy. So perhaps it is this simplest and most basic gift of cycles, that as astrologers we can give to ourselves and our clients: a growing fondness for the richness in all times, good or bad, up or down. We might determine to fall in love with every moment of our lives.

In part two in the next issue we'll look more closely at the teachings of the moon.

©1998, Dana Gerhardt. Reprinted by permission.

Dana Gerhardt, M.A. is a practicing astrologer in Valencia, California. Dana offers "astrology centering sessions" and reports by mail that feature one of her special interests, the Moon. Call or write for more information:

Dana Gerhardt, 25864 Bellis Dr., Valencia, CA 91355 (805) 253-3701

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