To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (KJV)
Everything in the world moves in cycles. The seasons roll around as planet Earth wobbles toward and away from the sun. We celebrate the Winter Solstice this Sunday as the day that the North Pole and our hemisphere is pointing away from the sun knowing that in good time it will point back towards the bringer of life. The sun itself has cycles of solar radiation, usually 11 years between the shortest set of cycles and a 50 year “Jubilee” cycle that gave the ancients good harvests and a reason to celebrate.
Humans have their own cycles that sometimes match these natural ones and sometimes do not. My father just turned 75, his life marked by a Depression at the start and perhaps one right now. These things all come back as people forget and often deny that the cycles do indeed exist. Sometimes, simple things come in cycles such as the appearance of Mötley Crüe and Fleetwood Mac at the Xcel Center this winter. There is even a time for the 1980s to come back, it seems.
While time moves in a straight line, it is still cyclical. The loops never close, but the stories become more instructive and profound. While it’s often considered chic to call any time a “new era”, the truth is that the people doing so are not paying attention. Whatever change grows has set its roots in the past. Lessons usually have to be learned all over again because we do not understand how small we are. The rate of change is more important than the particular nature of what is happening when it comes to understanding what it does to our lives.
In mathematical terms, the rate of change is called the “derivative”. Mathematicians starting with Fourier have understood that every wave can be broken down into a series of fundamental waves called sine waves, and their derivative is the cosine. When the waves of change that cycle through our lives are at their extremes, the rate of change is passing through zero and on its way to changing direction. When a situation seems to be in balance, if it is cyclical it is actually experiencing its greatest rate of change.
I’m actually very good at predicting many changes, but only because I can keep my eyes open. In truth, if you really want to surf these waves you can’t stand on the leading edge of what’s about to happen – you ride the wave just past the peak at the point where it’s already turned and starting to move down. I’m often a bit too far ahead of the curve to be useful, but I’m learning how to shill that information like anyone else.
This week, the northern hemisphere of planet Earth is going to experience Winter Solstice at 12:04 UTC on Sunday, 21 December. That’s the darkest day for our part of the world, but it’s also the moment when we start to turn back towards the sunlight. The days only get longer from here. Keep your eye on the derivative, the rate of change, and you’ll know more than where you stand. It’s better to know where we are all going.