Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Poetic Naturalist’s Calendar (2 February 2016)

“There are clear imprints of an annual period in life-cycles of animals.  Evolutionary adaptation will favour the survival of innate ‘clocks’ that time the birth of offspring to coincide with times when the chances of survival are highest, especially in the temperature regions where the seasons change abruptly.” (115)

-       John D.  Barrow
The Artful Universe (1995)

Our daily world is filled with calendars.  We have calendars on our walls, on our desks at work, on our phones, tablets, laptops and pcs.  What all these have in common is that they are largely practical; we schedule our lives on them, we use them to remind us of important appointments, personal days, deadlines, etc.  While these calendars are valuable, I have always felt a need for what might be called a ‘spiritual’ calendar.  Not a calendar for keeping appointments and so forth, but for maintaining wakefulness in the midst of daily life.
The personal spiritual calendar that I now follow has been with me in one manifestation or another for well over 40 years.  It began as a Pagan calendar of sabbats & esbats and was later transmuted into a calendar of the Christian liturgical year that included feasts of the saints and major liturgical holidays (e.g., Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.).  Along the way I got into Celtic spirituality – both Pagan & Christian – and this wrought yet another transfiguration of the calendar.  Since journeying beyond the bounds of traditional religion 20 years ago and turning to science & mathematics as a primary source of revelation about the objective dimensions of the Earth & Cosmos, I’ve continued following a personal spiritual calendar, though one which has now been transfigured into what I can only call a ‘Poetic Naturalist’s’ Calendar.
My calendar today is an interweaving of themes, ideals and observances drawn from my entire spiritual history.  I call it a 'Naturalist’s' calendar because it is grounded in the solar and lunar cycles that frame our life together in the Earth.  It is anchored in the Solstices & Equinoxes and is adorned with the dates of Full & New Moons.  Each year we travel through the ‘waxing’ and ‘waning’ of the Sun, which is an artifact of the tilt of our planet in its orbital plane in relation to our home star.  Each year our Moon passes through its phases owing to its relation to both our planet and our local star; the Sun.  While the Solstices & Equinoxes remain fixed, the dates of the Full and New Moons change from year to year.
I add a third cycle – that of the “half-season markers’ – to these first two between the Solstices & Equinoxes.  These days (1-2 Feb, 30 Apr-1 May, 1-2 August, 31 October – 1 November) are observed in many Earth-based spiritualities (i.e., in Celtic spirituality they are called Brighidmas, Beltaine, Lughnassadh and Samhain), and as they occur near the halfway points of the four seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn) in the temperate zone of the Northern hemisphere, I still find them edifying to observe in naturalistic terms.  When I get to one of these ‘cross-quarter’ days,[i] I know I am nearly half-way through a season.  For instance, when I get to 2 February – Old Brighidmas/Imbolc/Candlemas – I know that that I am about halfway through the Winter.[ii]
To these three cycles I add the more or less fixed dates of the annual meteor showers that can be seen in the northern hemisphere as well as a series of “Days of Acknowledgement,” which are the birth dates of people who have contributed to our growing knowledge of Earth & Cosmos and our existential experience of ourselves as manifestations of Earth & Cosmos [we are 'children of the Earth,' our lineage having evolved on this planet over the course of millions of years].  I include scientists, philosophers and then some poets, artists and composers in my own version of the calendar.  Recently I've even re-included a couple of Christian saints with whom I have walked for decades: Saint Francis and Saint Patrick.  While certain of these people undoubtedly belong here, others can be added or dropped according to personal preference.  [I have left a couple of composers and poets on this year's version of the calendar posted as a page at this blogspot.]  On each ‘day’ I try and bring to mind the discoveries, ideas and/or texts of the person remembered that contributed to our understanding of Earth & Cosmos and our place in it as evolved animals.
As I journey through the year, I ‘observe’ the days and nights associated with the various cycles in the calendar by engaging in poetic (including mythic) and philosophical meditations.  I try and experience Nature in some way to mark where I am in my annual spiritual journey through the seasons: What season is it?  What is the weather?  What can be experienced?  Depending on the season I may go out for a hike or at least a short walk, depending on what my schedule of work and play allows.  If it’s Winter, for instance, I may be house-bound by snow and ice and cold temperatures; unable to get our into Nature—yet I may still want to observe the snow and ice-covered landscapes from a window or while out shoveling snow.  I might read poetry, watch a film or read a story that I find appropriate to whatever season I am in.  I might go outside and observe the Moon, if it is visible.  After a certain amount of practice at journeying through the seasons with a personal spiritual calendar such as this, it takes only a few minutes to orient oneself to the season each day.
In all of these ways I hope to cull poetic and aesthetic experiences out of each day through which to guide me, awaken me and function as sources of reflection upon the meaning of life in Earth & Cosmos.  Philosophical and spiritual reflections often follow upon the poetic and aesthetic engagement with the day; esp. in morning or evening meditation.  This constitutes the 'Poetic' aspect of the calendar.  
I think of myself as a Poetic Naturalist as while the revelations of science & mathematics under-gird and inform a Naturalist’s life-philosophy and spiritual praxis, life is not fully comprehended through understanding the objective dimensions of reality alone.  Our subjective worlds matter, too—and this is where poetics & aesthetics come in; they amplify our naturalistic experience and understanding, building upon what science & mathematics have revealed.  Thus I include in my own calendar certain poets and composers who have – at least for me – contributed to a life more fully lived in Earth & Cosmos.  The “Days of Acknowledgement” for these people you may freely remove, or change-out for artists and other people who, for you, contribute to your own living of a naturalistic life.

The calendar as I keep it ‘begins’ on the 1st day of the New Solar year; 22 December—the day after Winter Solstice.  I find this date much more significant than 1 January, which has lost all of its mythic connotations and is now just an arbitrary secular celebration.  There are other possible choices for a “New Year’s” day within the Calendar; the most traditional would be either 21 March (the 1st day of Spring after the Vernal Equinox) or 1 November (the ancient Celtic New Year; it was the 1st day of the ‘dark half’ of the year in the Celtic mind).  I used this latter date as ‘New Year’s Day’ when I was into Celtic mythology and spirituality.  I find that starting my ‘year’ on the day after the Winter Solstice, however, seems very ‘natural’ to me these days, and so I adventure through the year from one winter Solstice to the next.  If you want to follow this calendar or use it as a template for your own, choose a date that for you seems significant in naturalistic terms.

I have posted my Calendar for this year as one of the “pages” on this blog. It begins on 22 December 2015 and ends on 21 December 2016.  I post it here merely as an example of a 'personal spiritual calendar.'  For myself, I have printed the calendar and have it displayed it in a prominent place where I can see it every day, in the morning and in the evening; whenever I need a reminder of ‘where’ and ‘when’ I am in Earth & Cosmos.

Each year as Winter Solstice approaches I set up the calendar for the next ‘year,’ which usually just involves plotting the dates of the New & Full Moons for the coming twelve months.  I have been doing this for decades, and it helps to keep me in tune with the Seasons.  As it is also something I do at the beginning of the Yule each year, it is proleptic; it points me towards the future even as I am dwelling within the Yule and often reflecting on the past—which is a characteristic experience during the Winter Solstice Season.

[i] “Cross-Quarter is a term from Neo-Paganism.  The seasons divide the year into four ‘quarters.’  These season begin and end at the Solstices & Equinoxes.  Thus, the half-way points between Solstices & Equinoxes are sometimes called ‘Cross-quarter’ days in some Pagan traditions, meaning that they ‘cross’ the axis of the Wheel of the Year between the axes of the Solstices and Equinoxes.  This makes sense if you think of the year as a Wheel with eight spokes; one for each of the Solstices, Equinoxes and ‘Cross-Quarter’ days.’

[ii] These dates are now, now, exactly half-way between the Solstices & Equinoxes.  They are a few days early. However, because of my own spiritual history, I still use the old Pagan dates for the Cross-Quarter days.  If you would rather be more accurate in your observance of the seasons, count the days between the Solstices & Equinoxes and set your Cross-Quarter days at the exact half-way point in each of the four seasons.

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