Source: Permaculture

Cyclical and indigenous cultures contend that all natural processes are cyclical (i.e., naturally repeating, archetypal, inter-related with surroundings) rather than linear (i.e., not repeating, unique, separate).

In linear thinking, exhaustion or death on any level is a failure. In cyclical thinking exhaustion and death are seen as natural, as letting go of old ideas and going within.

Cyclical is seen as a period of release and gestation, this ‘going within’ is deeply integrated with the following inevitable ‘birth’ phase. In cyclical awareness we are thankful for the going within that winter provides.

Life and its cycles can never be truly described as any part of a straight line. The circle’s true nature is that ‘This too will pass.’ Life is an unavoidable mix of ease and difficulty, joy and sadness—the one always turning into the other.

If we learn to embrace the Circle, we see there is sadness and joy in each moment. This is the deeper lesson of the Yin/Yang symbol—not alternating good-and-bad, but the eternal, simultaneous ‘Both.’

Applying linear thinking to cycles seems to be a fundamental aspect of bipolar ‘disorder’ (a word which implies some understanding of ‘order,’ an understanding not clearly evident in our culture).

When we see ebbs and flows as linear instead of parts of a larger cycle, we put too much energy into avoiding the unavoidable. We tend to see natural processes as Nature’s moral responses to our own successes or failings. We think that perpetual expansion depends only on our acting ‘correctly’ and ‘doing all the right things.’

These expectations are deadly to self-esteem, since rises and declines come of their own accord and can rarely be diverted.

Cyclical thinking cooperates with natural cycles, expanding when expansion is called for and then moving within, paring down and releasing outmoded ideas when contraction is supported—thus being better prepared and more adaptable when the next expansion phase occurs.

Societal consequences of viewing a cyclical world through a linear filter include alienation from Nature, production systems which consume more energy than they return and a compulsion to respond to Life’s inevitable ebbs and flows with manipulative, often violent attempts at unilateral control (seen in both individuals and societies).

Linear thinking attempts to replace wonder, awe and uncertainty (the only ‘sane’ responses to the miracle we call ‘Life’) with a false sense of ‘control.’

Instead of fixating on ‘control,’ cyclical cultures seeks to recognize existing natural cycles and to harvest from each at a time that enhances or at least does not harm the natural movement of that cycle.

The defining shortcoming of modern agriculture has been the abandonment of natural cycles. Having created farms as disconnected groups of poorly-related linear processes, we then have to constantly add energy, materials and other resources in order to keep those processes moving and restarting.

In a modern farm, whenever the energy and nutrient inputs stop, the farm stops. By isolating all the elements of the farm both on the ground and in our minds, we have lost the natural interactions which make true ecosystems self-renewing.

An example of linear thinking carried to its (il-) logical extreme in agriculture is failing to return wastes to the soil. Organic nutrient cycles having thus been abandoned, we now have to continually add chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep the soil ‘functioning.’

Sadly, chemical fertilizers and pesticides lack beneficial micronutrients and in fact are actively harmful to many of the soil organisms most critical to soil health and nutrient recycling (including the familiar and extremely important earthworm). This shortcoming necessitates, in the linear mind… what? More chemicals!

Thus a negative feedback loop is created (the ‘cycles’ created by linear thinking are called ‘vicious circles’).

2 Responses

  1. Carol,

    It seems profound because it so different than our socially conditioned thinking…it helps us see bipolar disorder simply as an illusion of linear perception.


  2. So profound, it’s beyond words . . . I’ll be reading this one again and again.

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