Time flies, not by flapping its wings, but definitely in repeated patterns. There is a rhythm to it. In fact, just about any fluctuation we can measure seems to repeat in cycles. The structure of time is in these patterns.
The rotation and orbit of Earth around the Sun, augmented by the orbit of the Moon, gives us our basic slow rhythm. At the other end of the scale, we have the structure of matter that produces electromagnetic signals that we measure in cycles. These are very rapid cycles. In between these two extremes we have mechanical and biological cycles that we see everyday.
Music is a great example of a time structure, both in that the beat and bars regulate time, but also in that each note is a frequency which is micro-measurement of time. There is an inherent structure that can be identified in all music. Each piece of music has its own structure, superimposed or contained within the inherent structure.
Our football game is another time structure. Not only do we have the game length, but that is divided into periods. The rules that define the structure provide for timeouts and other means of temporarily suspending time. Each play is a time cycle. Four plays make a downs cycle. Cycles inside of cycles.
Steps to a Process
Each cycle of a process can be seen as a series of three basic operations. Intake, process and output. An automobile engine sucks in a fuel and air mixture, processes it by compressing and igniting it and spews the burned gases out the tailpipe. We breath in, oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged and we breath out. The computer takes a byte of eight bits, processes it mathematically and outputs the result.
Both cars and humans extract energy from their processes and have a secondary output; they do something. The computer doesn’t do anything, but output more data. In itself it is pure information processing. However, when hooked up to machinery, the information the computer outputs can be turned into hard goods.
A string of 1’s and O’s are moved into the cpu register as input. A mathematical process is applied to the input string. The result of the process becomes the output, which is nothing more than another string of eight 1’s and O’s. One cycle doesn’t accomplish much at all, but when a computer can make billions of such calculations per second, the result is almost anything… as you can see from the incredible sights and sounds available on a computer. Then there are all of the manufacturing, medical miracles, space explorations and studies, movie special effects, and so on, all made possible by computers performing such seemingly insignificant mathematical calculations many, many times per second.
In biological systems, the basic process cycle is performed by the cell. The cell intakes nutrients and other information, processes it and outputs energy, waste and/or more information. Not only does each cell put out, but there are trillions of them working away, processing information, in your body at any one time. That’s a lot of processing power.
So, we have basic process cycles at the micro level and more complex processes, made up of many micro level cycles, at the macro level. Everything is made up of cycles or frequencies or vibrations of energy.
In the basic breathing in and out sequence, the two states are required to alternate. Breathing in uses up the ability to breath in further. Breathing out is the only option, which reverses the situation and breathing out cannot be done until breathing out has been accomplished.
In some processes, each step produces a condition that that can only be satisfied by going to the next step in the process, no going back.
Each of us orbits around the center of our Earth, as does the Moon. The Earth orbits around the Sun, and it around the center of our Galaxy. Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, each orbit around the Sun produces a variation in the amount of light energy that falls on any one part of the Earth. This gives us our changing seasons. The Moon adds it’s rhythm to produce a highly complex organization of ebb and flow that repeats and varies within predictable limits.
The ancient Chinese understood this. They recognized this circular flow pattern in all living things. All things move in a circle (spiral) through a time of high energy to a time of low energy and back again, with a transition stage that contains the elements of both. These high and low points occur as regularly as their orbits. It is the Yin and Yang.
The Chinese also noted that living organisms concentrated on specific functions during certain times of the year, month and day. They surmised that all cycles passed through similar phases. They divided these phases into five elemental parts. They called it the Shen cycle. They gave each of the five parts an elemental name to symbolize it’s function. This is from the same folks who gave us acupuncture.
The symbolism and terminology that they used reflected their culture and therefore is a bit difficult to grasp, sometimes, so i have tried to put the concepts into terms that make sense to me. Being a long time organic gardener, my version centers around plants. I call it, the Guano Cycle. That is to emphasize that the dormant part of a cycle is just as important as the growth.
SEED This element represents the last part of the dormant phase. It is the last half of winter, the New Moon, the time just before dawn. In the plant, it is the seed. It is the Spiritual Beginning, the time for meditation and prayer. From the element, Flower, SEED receives an order for the needs made evident by the last cycle. These needs, once purified by the Spirit, enter the last part of SEED, which is planning. A need is a vacuum; it will be filled. The observer tunes it’s awareness to the need, recognizing it as Yin, on the way to Yang. By turning the awareness in the direction of the flow and identifying the channels that the energy must follow to carry need into fulfillment, the observer accepts the plan already in existence. The code is in the seed. Our job is only to be aware of the plan, not to make one up.
SPROUT This element begins with ignition. The plan comes to Fire in dream stage, a visualization in the mind. It is Spring, dawn, rebirth and the first quarter. In the plant it is the sprout. As the plan begins to solidify into a physical reality, it consumes an ever increasing amount of energy. Growth has begun.
LEAVES This element represents the time of greatest growth and activity. It is Summer, Full Moon and mid-day. It is the leaf of the plant. Processing, change and transportation of energy within the organism are the dominion of this phase The growth taking place during this time has been programmed in Seed and ignited into existence during Sprout. No new, unplanned or un-ignited action will take place during this Leaf phase. It is the Law. At the end of Leaves we have a complete, whole physical reality, constructed in accordance with The Plan.
STEMS & ROOTS This element represents exchange and harvest. It is the Fall, the last quarter and the twilight. In the plant it is the Stem and Roots. This phase represents the animal spirit, incoming and outgoing, transportation of matter. The energy consumption decreases and is stored for the upcoming dormant stage. The physical is delivered, and we move back towards spirit.
FLOWER This element represents balance and flow. It is the Winter, the darkening of the Moon and the night. In the plant, it is the flower. It begins with a festival, the celebration of a healthy and beautiful circuit. It is the time for joy and reflection. It is the time to give thanks. The last part subjects the Yin and Yang of the past to Judgment. The result is a list of new needs to be sent on to Seed.
The cycle is not complete as we are but looking at the end of a spiral. We have progressed one spiral-length. Even though the cycle is divided into five parts, you can see that there is a blending and division of functions that fade gradually from one phase to the other. The American Indian divides the circle into four parts, matching the seasons, and again in eight. The Moon divides our yearly cycle into twelve, as does astrology and our calendar.
It doesn’t really matter how many divisions one imagines, there are really no boundaries nor a single point orbiting a center. The energy is flowing around the circle at all times, and the position indicates the phase receiving emphasis. The tides are an example of this. The water is always there, but it rises and falls to the tune of the Moon. The energy in the Guano Cycle is always flowing, like a Yin Yang wave. Life is a flow that isn’t divided into static pieces of matter, but a dynamic movement of energy that is whole and indivisible.
Living in the Flow
The way to use this system is simply to realize that it represents the proper order to accomplish any task. It is obvious that it applies to the growing of crops or animals. We know that we won’t harvest anything if the seed does not sprout, grow and mature. What is less evident is that cooking a meal or building a house or running a business, it can be helpful to adhere to the same sequence.
Let’s say we are going to build a chair. We first must recognize a need for one. We stop thinking about other projects and concentrate on the fulfillment of that need. We have entered Seed. From the visualization of a support for a seated person, we begin to plan. From there we move to Sprout where the plan is ignited into action. The final decisions are made and it moves on to Leaves. Here the plan is turned into reality. Energy is consumed to build a chair. In Stems and Roots the chair is transported to it’s new place of duty and exchanged. If you are wondering where the materials came from, it is also the Stems and Roots Department, during the preceding cycle. Part of the exchange process involves the order for materials for another chair and more energy to replace that used during the cycle. In Flower we celebrate the chair and its cycle by sitting on it. While we are relaxed and in a good festive mood we reflect on the whole event and settle our awareness on the needed improvements. The next chair has already taken shape in the mind – Seed.
To realize that there is a specific sequence that must be followed for anything to make the transition from thought to reality and follow that sequence carefully, all the way through, makes for an ordered life. It gives one an almost unfair advantage over those who attack life at random.
The simple structure of a story is: it has a beginning, middle and end. A more detailed version was proposed by Joseph Campbell in, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”. The theme was elaborated on by Christopher Vogler in his book, “The Writer’s Journey”. What they have done is offer a diagram or timeline for the prototype plot structure underlying almost every successful movie or screenplay.
Christopher Vogler was working for Disney studios when he first read Campbell’s stuff. He wrote a long memo outlining the concept and how it fit in with what Disney Studios was doing. The memo spread like wildfire through Hollywood’s fantasy fabricators. In no time they were analyzing all their movies and screenplays to see how well Campbell’s theories matched up. Everyone was truly amazed at how well this seemingly nonsensical mythic terminology and structure fit with what they already knew to be successful movies. They also noticed that some of the less successful movies violated this structure in some fundamental way. It was obvious that Campbell and Vogler were on to something.
A similar high percentage of foreign films also fit the pattern. Of course, even the most ancient myths follow this same structure. So, we have here a nearly universal pattern or structure used in storytelling.
This brief version of Campbell’s 12 stages is taken and revised slightly from the Power Structure User’s Manual. This was written for screenwriters, but the same structure, with minor terminology revisions, works for all kinds of writing, even nonfiction.
Ordinary World-We meet the Hero and identify with him.
Call to Adventure-The hero is called to undertake a quest.
Refuse the Call-The hero says, “No way.”
Meeting with Mentor-Wisdom prevails
Crossing the Threshold-The hero commits to the adventure and enters the “Special World”.
Tests, Allies and Enemies-Situations and characters that help the hero discover what is special about the Special World.
Approach to the Innermost Cave-Where the hero prepares for the crucial battle
Ordeal-The crucial battle or confrontation
Reward-The trophy or benefits from surviving the ordeal.
Road Back-Where the hero leaves the Special World. Home is the goal
Resurrection-Last rite of purification before arrival at home
Return with the Elixir-The hero returns with more than victory and a trophy, he has learned a secret lesson that he shares with his community.
This is an example of a sequence or progression of steps or phases that accomplish a goal, in this case, telling a story. It is a very similar pattern to the Guano Cycle. They are both describing a growth and development sequence. The growth and development of Plants, and storytelling follow a similar structure. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that the structure of the Hero’s Journey represents a universal pattern for “civilized” behavior. It is the “warrior’s way”, the warrior ethic, the go-out-and-get-the-trophy mentality that drives our society.
As true as that may be, our interest is more general. Both of the above time structures, The Hero’s Journey and The Guano Cycle, represent a universal schematic for a process loop, like a recipe, a manufacturing or chemical process, a mathematical formula or the actions of a cell. The structures are similar, but the steps they contain are very different. We will dig into subject farther down the road.
One thing all of these cycles have in common is that they go in only one direction. Planets don’t ever back up, in spite of the illusion created by retrograde Planets, their orbits continue in the same direction. Every cycle has a directional movement within its orbit, from one end to the other and back. All of these movements, from Planets down to electrons are extremely precise in timing and orbit. Precise isn’t the right word here, is it? Reliable, maybe? Reliable enough to be predictable within a limited range of variation. That’s the problem is that none of these measurements of cycles is constant, they vary within limits, but those limits change as well.
So, time has a structure that includes frequencies, cycles, harmonics, repeated patterns, that are dynamic, fluid and unstoppable. It is the movement of a dynamic Universe where timing is everything.