Time and Life

Michaelmas Time of Year

Fall is approaching. The autumn equinox is around the corner: the sunset of the year. I think of it as the heart of the year.

The Waldorf schools, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, celebrate a festival connected with the equinox called Michaelmas (Sept 29th).

You can appreciate the festival by joining me in reflecting on the mysterious phenomenon of time and orienting to this part of the year.

Time and Life

Time is a master teacher. Its favorite subject is life. Time teaches us about life because life unfolds only in time. All of the life processes (breathing, growing, circulation, reproduction, etc.) depend on time to express themselves.

It’s only through time that we see a full picture of a living being, whether it be a plant, animal, or human being. The better the picture we get over time, the fuller we can know someone. The fullest knowledge of a fellow human being comes only with knowledge of their early life, midlife, and late life.

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end: the three parts of time.

This threefold nature of time is also seen in another threefold division: past, present, and future.

Furthermore, (and here is where it starts to get interesting) all living things have three parts:

The head, the gut, and the heart.

The threefold nature of time manifests itself in space in every living being. The head lives in the past, the gut and limbs work in forces that create the future, and the heart connects us to the present.

This is true for all of life. The plant, for example, exhibits these three parts.

The root ball acts like the nerve center (head), the blossom is the body, and the leaves with their respiratory function and the rhythmic nature of their manifestation represent the middle system (heart and lungs).

reprinted from website for Earth Haven Farm in Canada

This poetic understanding of life and its connection to time and the physical body is not taught in medical schools. When I encountered it in Steiner’s work it was like scratching an itch that I didn’t even know existed.

Orienting ourselves in the year

Our day and our year have four seasons but three distinct times.

1. Midday is the first of the three times.

It’s when our physical senses are most active.

Our view is on the earth; downward, you could say.

We see our immediate surroundings. All things are active.

Midday represents the summertime of our day,

and it correlates to waking consciousness, rooted in sense perception.

2. Nighttime is the second of the three times in the day.

The sense perception of earth is no longer accessible.

Our view is taken off the earth to the starry periphery, upward.

Stillness is the main gesture.

Inner reflection becomes accessible.

Instead of waking consciousness, this is deep sleep consciousness. 

We have the unconscious realms of our existence represented here.

It’s the winter time of our day

Our intuitive sense is rooted in our unconscious.

Standing In-Between

3. Dawn and dusk are the balance points of the day, and they together are the third and final time of our day.

They are the spring and fall of our day.

Here we have the transitions; the colors draw us to the boundary region between the earth and the heavens. Our gaze is level, to the horizon.

Photographers cherish this time of day.

There is a special transformational light.

The harmful levels of UVB and UVA rays are absent.

It’s a nourishing light.

This corresponds to transitional consciousness: dreaming consciousness — halfway between wakefulness and the deeper dreamless sleep of midnight.

…and NOW

At the autumn equinox, we are literally at the sunset of the year. 

If every day over the last several weeks you sat in the same spot at 6 PM (7 pm DST) and looked to the western horizon, you would see the sun’s position at that time move stepwise towards the horizon. The sun at 6 PM on the equinox is exactly at the horizon.

The autumn equinox is a natural balance point. It’s at the absolute center between the extremes of midsummer and Christmas. As was said earlier, this middle point in time corresponds to our physical center and the organ situated between the head and the gut: the heart. 

Michaelmas is a festival of the middle. We are in the heart of the year.

Our ancestors gave a name to the forces active at this time of year, forces active in the heart. They perceived them to be embodied in the archangel Michael. 

Rational thinking and daytime consciousness on their own are egocentric and must be balanced with heart-based thinking which is systems thinking.

“Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts.”

Our hearts and the presence rooted there make us citizens of the world. We need heart-based consciousness to take the next steps in our quest to do justice to the fulfillment of the cycles of time. We win only if we all win.

Michael’s slaying the dragon stands for humanity opening to heart-centered thinking and body-based thinking: inspiration and intuition. The warmth from these heart forces is the antidote for our times.

“Hearts are beginning to have thoughts; spiritual fervour is now proceeding… Thoughts which at the present time strive to grasp the Spiritual must originate in hearts which beat for Michael as the fiery Prince of Thought in the Universe.”

— Rudolf Steiner