Slowly, Then All at Once   Leave a comment

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“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.

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Slow, then sudden — this two-part rhythm is more widespread than we often notice. Not only with love, as John Green’s young-adult novel observes, but with much else besides.

If you garden, the seeds you plant can seem like they “take forever” to germinate, but then abruptly poke through the soil as if it’s really the first day of their existence and they’re busy to get on with it. A “breakout” artist shoots to fame “overnight” — except that happens very rarely. The apparent “overnightness” in truth often is years in coming. “A watched pot never boils” — until it does. Never mind the behind-the-scenes activity, the preparation, the earlier drafts, the years of sweat and doubt, the obscurity and perseverance. The American myth of “instant success”, like instant coffee, is a poor substitute for the slow-brewed original.

sine-waveWhat then can we make of this pattern and rhythm? If it’s built into the universe as one kind of energy flow, it deserves study. And of course in other guises it has indeed been studied for a long time. We hear of critical mass, we’ve seen plots of the sine wave, the surfer knows how to ride the ocean’s waves, and researchers looking for alternate energy sources attempt to capture the power of the tides and the rise and fall of sea surges.

Magic, like so much else, can often manifest this way: “nothing happens” and “nothing continues to happen”, until something does.

One of the things this tells me, anyway, is that attention, practice, energy can all accumulate. Repetition doesn’t automatically mean wasted energy. We dance because the universe dances — it looks like a primary parameter of the cosmos that merits our respect and imitation.

The child hounds the parent because past experiences suggest he or she will, sooner or late, cave. The clutch of gangly skateboarders hogging that sidewalk or parking lot repeat and repeat and repeat that impossible trick or sweet move, failing and failing and failing — until they succeed.

“Third time’s the charm” goes the proverb — maybe not literally accurate, but a piece of observational wisdom about the value and power of repetition. Even by the third attempt, we often see with many things that we can “improve the move”.

Animals do it. The play that the young of so many species engages in isn’t “for real” — until it is, and all those rehearsed moves, the testing of the limits of flesh and bone and sinew in self and other, the reflexes, the rhythms, the habits of feint and parry, attack and retreat “pay off” in victory or dominance or “simple” survival.

The profligate production of seeds in the plant kingdom mirrors this principle: bombard the Land with possibilities, and some at least will take root and flourish. Jesus offers the Parable of the Sower in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) as an image, as we might choose to read it, of the “spiritual kingdom” of our actions:

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:  And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

If we’re all “sowers” or planters of seed, initiating actions, putting energy into manifesting what we desire, making choices, responding poorly or well to situations and challenges, growing and dying and being reborn throughout our lives, do we have the ears to hear, and the eyes to see, this profound pattern inherent in the “way of things”? If not, we’re missing out on a powerful strategy for living.

Almost as important, I don’t have to aim big from the very outset (though it’s true that will teach me a whole host of things I can’t learn so quickly any other way). I can start small; I make a habit of saying “thank you” in many ways and mean it, and slowly build a reputation as a respectful and courteous person, setting in motion a vibration that accompanies me wherever I go. Or I don’t. I gather with fellow Druids, or do rituals alone, and the regular practice, daily and at the “Great Eight”, slowly attunes me to a larger harmonic that helps hold me together when chaotic energies flash around me intermittently. A practice builds stamina, even as it plants the seeds for the breakout, the germination, the mastery, the arrival, the highpoint, the culimination.

ADF Druids ask, “Why not excellence?” knowing its achievement may well take place “as fast as a speeding oak!”

And one ideal among Native Americans recognizes the time that full manifestation can take. Wikipedia notes that “Seventh generation stewardship

urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. It originated with … the Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds it appropriate to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future. It is frequently associated with the modern, popular concept of environmental stewardship or ‘sustainability’ but it is much broader in context … [applicable] in all our deliberations …

Wisdom, insight — these too seem to follow the same rhythm, accumulating like water in a well, until they fill and we can draw on them.

As a Druid I try to have the sense to apprentice myself to the living world. As the late U K LeGuin writes in A Wizard of Earthsea of her main character, Ged:

From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.

O maple I transplanted four days ago, from where you were poking through the hedge, hungry for light, I’m trying to listen.

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Images: sine curve;

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