You’ve probably heard it before, if you travel in mystically inclined circles, that the word apocalypse roughly translates into “the lifting of the veil.” The Greek origins of the word pin it down to “an uncovering”. Understanding the word apocalypse in this way, we can say that it is a revelation of something hidden, concealed, unknown.
As we approach the end of 2016, I have no problem naming this the Year of the Apocalypses. Yes, there’s an “s” on that. Meaning it was not one big apocalypse, but many. And actually, these apocalypses are happening all the time. Maybe we should be getting used to the end of the world by now.
For many who follow the earth’s cycles as part of their spiritual path, the end of the world happens every single year. Earth-based spirituality has many practices and comes in an array of delicious cultural flavors, but almost all of them agree on at least one thing: everything changes.
At the Winter Solstice, the old Sun dies and the new Sun is born on the longest night of the year. Pagans call this “Mother Night” and keep watch over the fires all night long to give support to Her labors. This night is a poetic end of the world, which is immediately followed by the beginning of the next one.
“At the mystical, mythical, and metaphysical level of life, the world is ending and beginning every moment. The ‘next world’ is right next to this world and the two intersect in little moments of redemption and re-creation. In many ways, the world as we knew it has already ended and we are already standing on the threshold of the next world.”
~ Michael Meade, Why the World Doesn’t End, Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss
Inhale deeply into your lungs. Hold it for a moment, then exhale in a long, slow breath. Notice the sensations that this simple act produces in your body. First, the expansion as your chest opens to receive the air. Followed by the briefest pause, like a swing at the top of its arc, and then finally, the emptying out. Which part gives you ease? Which part has tension? It may help you to notice whether you find comfort in the filling up or the release. It may help to notice that one thing will always lead to another, that there is no end to the circle, the cycle, to life itself.
The truth is that everything dies. The truth is that everything changes. The truth is that we’ve faced down the apocalypse before, too many times to count. The apocalypse has happened anytime some uncomfortable truth has found its way into our awareness, and we were forced to face it. The uncomfortable truth takes time to integrate, but then usually asks us to respond in some way: with action, with love, with resistance, with adjustment. Truth, as the saying goes, will set us free. But, as Gloria Steinem once quipped, “first it will piss you off.”
Many truths are hard to swallow, even if they do come in mixed with beauty. Poet John Keats says that the two are never separate:
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Truth and Beauty
The beauty of this moment resides in the incredible strength, courage, passion, and commitment I’ve seen exhibited by countless individuals, groups, and organizations who are saying, “We will not back down. Hate cannot have my people, our country. We will fight.”
The beauty of this moment lives in the artists, who, with renewed vigor, are creating even more inspiration for our laughter and tears, who encourage us to remember, connect, reflect, and love the people around us.
The beauty of this moment explodes in freedom from the delusion that we are living in a post-racial, post-feminist world. Waking up to this, we can get back to work. We go back to talking and listening to one another. We admit we don’t have the answers. We remember how much we can do when we work together.
The beauty of this moment resounds in the generous outpouring of time and resources to places that will use that support to fight hatred, prejudice, and lies. This is part of the antidote to greed, which the dominant culture thrives on. Giving freely of our gifts, we shut greed down. We refuse to play by the rules of scarcity and obsessive want.
The beauty of this moment feels simultaneously tender and fierce, pulsing with outrage and compassion, with connection and resistance. We can hold the multitudes of expressions. We can witness one another in this complex wholeness.
The beauty of this moment rises in the truth that more people are joining the movement for justice. If newcomers are wholeheartedly welcomed into the circle, without a hint of “what took you so long?” smugness, then the beauty and truth is multiplied exponentially. It can become a moment for everyone to remember their own journey, their own shortcomings, their own confusion of how best to help – and this will foster great compassion and strength within.
The gifts of darkness
The smoke has not cleared, and it may not for quite a while. The apocalypse is long and it is pluralistic. It does not happen once. It happens again and again. We've just been through years of dramatic changes, brought on by some of the most intense and powerful astrological configurations we've seen in decades. It will take some time to integrate.
As we approach the darkest, longest night of the year, on December 21, we can take refuge in the beautiful truth that darkness holds.
Darkness contains the power of life, the power of the seed patiently waiting for its time to spring into action. Darkness contains the power of rest, when our body’s systems perform a lot of important work such as reinforcing connections in the brain, balancing hormones, repairing muscles and tissues. Darkness contains dreams, which bring us visions of possibility and revelations of secrets. Darkness brings us healing. Darkness brings us loving sexual expression, which connects us to our creative power.
This winter, let your mind be taken by darkness. Let your body find rest and comfort where it can. Let your heart be wrapped in deep healing. Let your spirit curl up in the spiral dance of stars in the night.
To be here
I want to suggest a simple practice for this time, in the hope that it will help remind you of the power available to you every single day, no matter what you do or who you are.
Take a moment to sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. You’ll want to be as close as possible to the ground. Close your eyes or let your gaze fall softly before you. Breathe, placing your hands on your heart. In silence, see if you can feel your heart beating for a few minutes. Now move your hands onto the ground. Imagine, deep below you, that the heart of the Earth is also pulsing. Feel that rhythm with the palms of your hands. Breathe in silence for a few minutes.
Now pull your attention up from the Earth and imagine the Sun above you. See it with your mind’s eye right above your head. A miniature version of the Sun, floating right above your head. Feel the warmth and radiance of our closest star shining down on you. Raise the palms of your hands up to catch the rays as they emanate down to you. Gather up the Sun’s energy for a few moments while you continue to breathe in silence.
Now put your hands again on your heart. Breathe into the experience you’ve just had – feeling the heartbeat within you, the heartbeat of the Earth, the radiance of the Sun. You are born of Earth and Star. Here you are, in the middle, held between these two extraordinary powers. You belong here. You belong here. You were made for this. Remember: you belong.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver