Times of great change involve cycles of endings and beginnings. For there to be new life in spring, autumn must strip the trees bare and winter kill off that which does not belong to the seasons to come. With the longer cycles of the earth, we know from the sciences that this planet has been through many periods of flourishing when myriad creatures emerged and evolved only to disappear again when conditions changed. Times of warmth and fertility have been followed by periods of icy desolation, and when cataclysmic events have occurred which left only small traces of life on the planet from all life as we know it has evolved from those small beginnings. So it is also with human scale cycles, such as the evolution of civilisations. We can see in the example of the Roman empire, how a flourishing collective life form reached an unprecedented level of technological and cultural sophistication, only to move through the cycles of decay and decline that led to its eventual demise. More evidence of ancient civilisations from prehistoric times comes to light every year, and we can only surmise that they too had their cycles of growth and decay before their collective lives disappeared. An interesting read along these lines is a book called “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, which brings together a lot of evidence and creates a compelling narrative around the topic of endings at the scale of human civilisations..
At a more immediate human scale, we experience these cycles as we move through the stages of life in our families and organisations. We are all born, grow, mature, age, and eventually die. This is something we take for granted to the degree that we hardly acknowledge these facts in our everyday lives. We have cycles in our relationships, finding those we resonate with, we experience the thrill of shared inspiration, we are motivated to work together to accomplish the things we believe are worthwhile. Sometimes these associations continue and many worthwhile endeavours are realised. There are many times however, when these relationships come to an end, things change and peoples ideas about what needs to be done are no longer in alignment. This is the point where organisations often find themselves in crisis, it is a time of great potential, and also of danger. Sometimes the initial aims of the group are unable to be met without fresh input and inspiration from participants yet to manifest. Sometimes there is resistance to change within the collective that can threaten the integrity of the organisation itself, and sometimes we simply move on the the next combination of people, form a new team and do the next thing that we are collectively inspired to do.
Quite often we can get so caught up in the ending of something in which we had invested a great deal of emotional energy that it can be difficult to see the seeds of a new beginning. In the events leading up to the end of a relationship, a job, or the sense of security in knowing what comes next we can become disoriented, disappointed, and even overwhelmed. When our familiar rights and rituals begin to irrevocable change around us it can feel as though the rug were being pulled from beneath our feet. This is true in our person lives and local communities, where we are immediately impacted by the changing course of events. “The end of the world as we know it” is going on all the time yet we often fail to recognise and accept the opportunity for new beginnings that this fact represents.
We can see examples from around the world, as the current global situation responds to a great change making movement, pushing against the established order. The reasons for our having created the collective structures (cultures, governments, banks) that we have are being called into question and many members of the global community are unsure of what the future will bring. Social unrest is growing and large numbers of currently fairly disorganised people are calling for change. Will this be the catalyst for a new form of collective organisation among humans? Or will our current version of human civilisation suffer the same fate as the extinct examples of prehistory?
What comes next is likely to be distressing as the inexorable forces of change catch up with the human species and the planet as a whole. It seems the earth is entering another of the long cycle eras of instability for which there are historical precedents. If we look for the seeds of the new in this ending of an era of predictable conditions and abundant provisions, we may begin to nurture its sprouting, and participate in growing a new version of human culture that works in better harmony with prevailing conditions as they change. We have an opportunity to become more fully alive as a community of life-forms on this planet if we choose to see it and be it.