Synkairos: Collective Care of our Cultural Soul
C. 2018, F. Christopher Reynolds, M.Ed. (this is a work in progress)
Synkairos, is the word I created in order to have a way to speak about how we can better care for each other as a culture. Much of emotional life does not belong to us personally. Our feelings do have private touch points inside us, but most of what we feel is far more profound, collective, cultural and environmental.
Many are aware of the term, psychosomatic, which refers to physical symptoms that have no apparent physical cause. A psychosomatic illness has a psychological origin. After the First World War, for example, a soldier would complain of blindness, but when his eyes were tested, the pupils would react normally to light. The blindness had no physical cause. The gift of depth psychology was that the symptom could be approached symbolically, as a condition of psyche or soul.
There are also physical experiences that are collective, cultural and environmental that do have a psychic impact. They are the traumas lived by a group of people, the yearly changing of the 4 seasons and the monthly tidal pull of the moon. I call those collective physical experiences, psyche-somatic. Collective psychesomatic experience is a root for human cyclical pattern of collective ritual practices.
Psychesomatic experience is derived from the climate within which a person lives. There is the collective emotional climate. For example, it is heart-breakingly moving to listen to student witnesses of school shootings. Violence against even one person has a traumatic effect on the group emotional climate. There is the tidal pull of the moon on all of us. Human beings are 65% water and the lunar gravity collectively affects us. It is the same with the seasons of the year that come with our planet’s revolutions around the sun. We all feel the changes of the seasons and the decrease or increase of daylight and darkness.
Our emotions join us intimately with the health of all beings on our planet. Over my entire life thus far, the greatest amount of suffering I have witnessed in others and myself has been due to forgetting that.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL COURSE IS BEGINNING…
A psychological course is beginning which consciousness is incapable of altering in any way.
– Mary-Louise VonFranz in Dreams, p. 42
Some years ago, my brother, Rob and his wife Teresa were experimenting with an egg incubator for the Reynolds Ranch in Mississippi. One of their friends gifted them with a bunch of eggs and alerted them that some of the eggs would produce chickens and from others would hatch ducks. The eggs were so similar, there was no way to tell which was which.
Over time, the eggs began to hatch and it turned out that among the many chickens were 2 mallards. Rob and Teresa watched the birds growing up. It so happens that the ducks mistakenly believed that they were chickens. At first, this was not a problem. As the brood got older, however, the ducks could not keep up with the chickens and their way of life. Duck feet were not suited for a farmyard. A duck’s bill was a real handicap when it came to feeding the way chickens do. Chickens spend a good deal of time picking seeds out of horse and cow manure. A duckbill makes for a miserable life as a chicken.
What made it even worse was that there was a lead chicken that would always bully the ducks. The cock of the walk could be counted on to come over and peck the heads of the mallards. My brother told me he could almost hear the chicken taunting his victims:
What! You can’t pick the seeds out of the horsecrap! Losers – take that! and that! Losers!
He said he could hear the ducks respond:
We are so sorry! We just can’t walk right and eat the shitseeds. Yes, we are Losers… (Low duck esteem)
Ironically, the ducks could have left their lives in chicken hell at any time. They had forgotten and were never taught that they could swim and fly. Mallards migrate north as as Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and North and South Dakota to breed. They winter along the Mississippi Flyway from Cape Girardeau, Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico.
Luke Naylor and Andrew Raedeke, Ph.D. noted in their article, Tracking the Mallard Migration
*The average distance traveled by satellite-marked mallards during spring migration was more than 730 miles. The average distance traveled by individual birds during fall migration was almost 875 miles.
*One of the first mallards (a drake) ever marked with a GPS satellite transmitter in Arkansas flew more than 500 miles during spring migration, from Minnesota to Saskatchewan, in only four days.
*This same bird made a remarkable one-day flight in early fall from Saskatchewan to south-central Iowa—a distance of more than 900 miles!
Wisdom of the Collective Soul
Spring was approaching and there was word out that a bobcat was in the area feeding on what it could take from the local homesteads. Sadly, one morning, instead of the 2 ducks, there was only one duck and a lot of feathers spread across the yard. The bobcat had made easy prey of one of those slow duckbilled chickens with the webbed feet during the night.
The question then was, would the second remaining duck wise up to his true nature and fly away safe or not? On our planet wherever you find 4 seasons, all that lives moves with a collective instinctive wisdom in sync with them. This was the second duck’s saving grace. A few days later, the second duck was gone and there were no scattered feathers of a bobcat crime-scene.
I feel safe in assuming that the duck who flew did not think to herself, hmm, I better start flying now. What moved in her was a seasonal wisdom and the collective motion of her species to the north. She was surely swept northward into the air along the flyways by a collective species wisdom forged over more than 65 million years.
Synkairos: syn = together kairos = right timing, right time, fullness of time.
1. Synkairos is direct psychesomatic experience of right relationship with the Beauty that sustains the world. Its signature feature is the experience of the silence and serenity throughout nature simultaneously present in ourselves. That silence and serenity are nourished by the balanced rotation of the Earth on its axis as it orbits the sun within the solar system. Personal and community synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) are embedded within the daily rhythms of day and night, the seasons of the year, the 26,000 year motion of the polar axis and the 226,000,000 year revolution around our galactic center.
2. Synkairos is tended by collective ritual during the full or new moon, the seasons the year — wherever 2 or more are gathered for the good of all. It is a human participation in the archetypal orchestration of synchronicity. Thus we participate in “…an expression of something that is in some way producing the phenomenon–constituting the synchronicity, constellating the archetypal patterning, orchestrating the meaningful coincidence of otherwise separate events.” (Richard Tarnas, In Archai, issue 6, p. 34) It follows the wisdom of the somatic “prayer” of each month, season, and year as a human being in community with all of nature upon the Earth.
3. Wherever you find synkairos, you also find personal, as well as, collective sanity and happiness in sync with the month and season of life, the season of the year and the creative life changes that mark the boundaries at birth, adolescence, elderhood, death, re-birth.
4. Synkairos offers a way for Western persons to fully participate in the evolutionary health of the planet that Thomas Berry called, “The Dream of the Earth”, Theodore Roszak called, “The Voice of the Earth, Wade Davis called, the “ethnosphere” and Chris Bache called, the “species mind”.
5. Synkairos is the de-privatization/decolonization/re-indigenization of synchronicity. It is a psychological idea that can help us to understand how the rituals of indigenous persons that honor the round of life and year are so crucial to cultural endurance and flourishing. Synkairos invites us to understand through lived experience that planetary health, collective cultural health and personal health are related.
Synkairos: Collectively Moving in Sync with the Seasons
The collective seasonal wisdom of a species is the heart of its culture. There is a somatic wisdom that moves through the many species of life. Human beings are no different. However, we have a greater degree of freedom as regards how we follow that wisdom. There is an indigenous saying that came with how I was taught to facilitate a Lakota-style sweat lodge. The somatic wisdom that moves through the many species of life is called, the prayer of the world.
The way the sweat lodge is imagined, like all traditional rituals, is that human beings are those who have the freedom to choose to participate in that prayer of the world. We are beings who can create love and other virtues by how we choose to help those around us or not. It is possible to spend a life in greed. It is possible to refuse to love and give-away. However, it is also possible to offer care for the rest of our brothers and sisters. It’s possible to hear the song of all the life around us, even of the stars at night — and sing along. We have this freedom and the Spirit of Life hopes we will join in the grand pageant of the seasons. Life all around us reminds us that we are wealthier in soul when we live with a rhythmic grace of receiving, enjoying and giving back.
A friend of mine was learning with an elder when the elder said, ‘Nephew. will you pray for us?” My friend sheepishly admitted that he did not know how to pray. The elder responded, “It’s easy, go into gratitude in your heart and look out at the nature around us and use what you see to make the prayer.
Grandfather, thank you for my life, thank you for how you show
the difference between what endures and what is passing away like
this stand of trees where some are alive and some are dead. Thank
you for how even that which is dying can still be a place where
even the smallest birds can still find rest..
Something like that…
So, the text for the prayer of the season, a prayer that you feel in your body and that is in the air is written all through the life around us in nature. Synkairos assists in helping us know we are not alone, that all the life around is is on our team too – we are all trying to help each other move forward in a good way together. Ours is a symbiotic task at this time on Earth.
Above all, we will begin to find the deeper meaning of our lives, and the psychic support that we need in our participation in the great cosmic liturgy: in the exhilaration of dawn, the healing quiet of evening, in the springtime singing of birds, the summertime showers, the autumn ripening, and the winter quiescence.
Those are the forces that will craft our souls into the realities for which these same forces brought them into being.
[Thomas Berry in Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, by Bill Plotkin, p. xvi]
The text just below appeared on my 1999 release, Unio Mentalis: The Mind of the Land. It marked a threshold for me where I moved beyond my personal healing work with mother, father, ancestors and family. At that time, my dreams took me more deeply into feeling the ecological world where I live.
A Witness – F. Christopher Reynolds
(from Unio Mentalis: The Mind of the Land – 1999)
I dreamed of seeing again a small pond south of Norwalk, Ohio, that I knew as a child. The forest around it had been bulldozed for a housing development. The life of the pond was dried and dead. I began to weep because the grief I felt was so deep. My cry was unexpectedly taken over by another voice from inside my body. The best way to describe it was that it felt like a sickly infant was crying me — a neglected, orphaned child. Since then, I have met many whose souls were crying like that. It is lamentation. The lament is about some personal nature lost, not belonging anywhere, not being good enough to keep, having an orphan soul. Where I currently live, a small forest disappeared from the Hickox land in a single day.
The Comstock farm, the land along West Street, Bagley Road, Route 71 as it heads south, have all been cleared for subdivisions or commercial spaces. In the face of the de-naturing of Earth, I believe that lamentation becomes a revolutionary act . It is a move that gives way to the restoration of the dignity of the non-human world. May the voices of Dreams, Hawk, Cardinal, Bluejay, Robin, Dog, Deep Space, Amphibian, Crow, Ritual, Symptom, Great Lakes, Ancestors, Telecommunications, All my Relations and Local Divinities become angelic, message-bearing, and echoed in this music. May we relieve the burden of Jerusalem by restoring the sacred tissue in our own land. In strength, may we establish a culture of wholeness right here — Harmonize the Mind of Place.
In 2008, I read of a similar shift from the personal to the collective in Chris Bache’s book, Dark Night, Early Dawn:
In Dark Night, Bache described how during his spiritual practice, he began experiencing entire ranges of images, forms of collective hells, for lack of a better term. They all seemed to have little to do with his personal life and healing. He realized that he was participating in healing the collective human condition, the species mind.
We now have enough clinical data in the written record, especially in transpersonal psychology, to safely return to the indigenous wisdom that says we are all connected and all are meant to take care of each other – not only human beings, but all life.
The Potency of the Seasons
The dream I shared above of the orphaned land came in spring. It felt like I had touched into the same grief that Rachel Carson expressed in Silent Spring. Further, I want to add that nearly all of my profoundest spiritual experiences happened in my life during the summer – June, July, August. A short list of transformational summers has been: 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.
In 2010, I was invited the first time to a Lakota Sun Dance at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. Every summer since then, I have participated in some way in Sun Dance. I feel strongly at this writing that throughout my life, I have suffered from an instinctual expectation for a collective summer ceremony of restoration of the world. It seems to me I have gone through a Sun Dance of some kind each summer since I reached puberty. Gratefully, now, I have a ritual community with which I can fully live into what feels both rooted in the depths of me as well as rooted in the life of nature all around me.
When You Get the Time and Timing Right in This World, All the Worlds Line Up
The synchronistic magic of life can be nourished by ritual. To consciously do that in fellowship according to the mood of the season is synkairos Each month since May, 2002, I have been able to participate in a sweat lodge. Because of that, I know from experience that the signature of synkairos – the experience of the silence and serenity throughout nature simultaneously present in myself and in the members of my community – always needs to be stewarded. By stewarded, I mean that one sweat lodge in December would not be enough. In other months of the year, in March, for example, the prayer of the season sings with a new Intention.
I know from teaching creativity enhancement classes at Ashland University with Jane Piirto, from hosting Urrealist teach-ins as a way to wage creativity, and from engaging in art as conversation, art answering art, that there is a very real opening of the space inside a room that Chris Bache has named, the mindfield or collective consciousness in his 2012 book, The Living Classroom.
Earlier, in 2002, I named this same space, Urreality, in my Urrealist Art Movement. Here is a list of the same experience of collective consciousness. The embodied result is felt in sensual delight while everything around you synchronistically participates. Awake in Creation, all the worlds line up.
…there are always invisible visitations that enter the manifold space.
Something divine can come to the table. These emerge as as-if presences,
are felt as shifts in time, are perceived when turns of phrase come forth
thick like sandwiches, trailing scintillae, are recognizable where the
cramped and constricted ease with re-newed life. In Urreality, the full
body begins to awaken to the conversation, golden chills wash over the
shoulders, warm the heart, draw attention to depth. There is a sense of
clarity about the face, a clarity of sensing. One is aroused and even
the sensate world unveils herself delighting to be seen and truly
appreciated. The heart flutters.
The same awakened state recurs in Jorge Ferrer’s Revisioning Transpersonal Theory
…it became gradually obvious that the revision I was proposing could be more accurately conveyed not so much in terms of an epistemic turn, from experience to knowledge, but of a participatory turn, a shift from intrasubjective experiences to participatory events which can be equally understood in both experiential and epistemic terms. Human participation in transpersonal and spiritual phenomenon is a creative, multidimensional event that can involve every aspect of human nature, from somatic transfiguration to the awakening of the heart, from erotic communion to visionary co-creation and from contemplative knowing to moral insight. (p.12)
It’s as if the floor suddenly falls away. The atmosphere in the room becomes supercharged, and everyone seems to congeal into a unified state. My mind becomes unusually spacious and clear, and my students’ eyes tell me that they have moved into a particularly receptive state. Our hearts seem to merge, and from that open field of compassion comes a slow stream of thoughts that I, as spokesperson for the group, unfold and work with. In these transient moments of heightened awareness, I sometimes have the acute sensation that there is only one mind present in the room. (p.46)
In Jerzy J. and Kathleen L. Maciuszko’s powerful book, Poles Apart: The Tragic Fate of Poles During World War II, Dr. Maciuszko shared this same kind of experience that lifted up the men when they were prisoners of war. He was in an orchestra with his fellow prisoners. They played instruments that were donated to them by the International YMCA.
One day, however, something uncanny occurred. During the rehearsal of the second symphony, the whole orchestra, including the conductor, went into a kind of trance. We played and the conductor went on conducting without stopping. We were out of tune and we went on. Somebody’s string broke. He put his instrument on his knees and we went on. We played the whole symphony uninterrupted until the very end. When the finale finally came, we all felt that we had gone through some kind of transcendental experience. The first few days after it happened, no one talked about it. Gradually, we felt we could speak on the event as we wondered what actually took place. Perhaps, for an instant, we had forgotten where we were. We had forgotten about everything and were transported somewhere else. (p.63)
As soon as I read Jerzy’s words, even now as I have been typing them out here, warm chills flowed over my body, especially my arms, heart, belly, top of my head. Tears came to my eyes during the first reading and they are coming now. This is what it is to be awakened together in the dream. What has been with me ever since reading about Jerzy’s days in Poland during the war was the most difficult times of my own life. The 2 can’t properly be compared, but, growing up, the most years when my life was most drained of meaning was from 16-19.
During those years, it was our rock band, Hot Rox, that delivered my friends and me into this same kind of space that Jerzy described. Our band, Mike Greenwald, Randy Long, Greg Haney, and I lived by a strict rule that during practice and performance, there was to be no alcohol or drugs. This was the late 70’s, so there were mind-altering substances all around his. However, it was as if we would create together a form of nourishing and safe space inside the thunderous roar of our music. There were many times when we unified into a single wholeness. Maybe more than anything, rock and roll saved our lives during those years.
Synkairos and the Living Myth
Synkairos is enacting the living mythology of our times. Following Joseph Campbell, there are 4 functions of the living mythology. The mystical function, whereby the essential service of myth is to open the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being. It is a direct contact with the Holy as described by Rudolf Otto by the term, numinous. He wrote of the numinous in The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.. The English translation was published in 1923.
He defined the numinous experience as an experience of the fearful and fascinating mystery:
“Mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery):
“Mysterium”: Wholly Other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor
“tremendum”: awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its power creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence energy, urgency, will, vitality
“fascinans”: potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.
The second function is the cosmological, whereby the understanding of the consciousness and the unconscious is mirrored by the current understanding of the universe. For us, our real is that we are in a 13,82 billion year old, ever-expanding cosmos. Since 1992, we have been aware how our cosmos is full of planets and trillions of galaxies. In particular, we live in two kinds of days – a solar day and a sidereal or stellar day. This is due to our planet’s revolution around the sun. For some time now, our psychological awareness has said the same about the relationship between the conscious and unconscious. On all sides, consciousness is surrounded by endless depths of the unconscious.
The third function is the sociological function. Where this concerns us is that in the past, ritual was the exclusive domain of priests and priestessess, shamans and shamannesses. In our time, because of what has been learned about intentionality and the creation of collective consciousness described above, leadership is an open chair for us.
The fourth function is pedagogical/educational. In our times, it is to participate fully as possible in the co-creation of a beautiful life that is resonant with the Beauty of our planet. The educational function shows in the priorities of the curriculums we create and teach. For example, in the current cosmology the stress we place on making the unconscious conscious is vital to the soul health of each individual.
I’ll offer this working copy of an example to do synkairos.
!. There needs to be 2 or more gathered in the name of love. In indigenous ritual, this is known as to come in a good way. In the 12 Steps of the Recovery Movement, this is found in its Twelve Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Our common welfare should come first: personal recovery depends on A.A. unity.
In Creativity Studies as described by Jane Piirto, this is called the core attitude of group trust.
2. Use an image of the current cosmos to inspire a feeling of awe. For example, you can use my work of art called, The Dreaming Gourd.
If you take a penny and hold it at arm’s length in the area marked by the Medicine Wheel of The Dreaming Gourd, a remarkable meditation is possible. Using Lincoln’s portrait, consider that the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) image is a photograph that inspired an entire new generation of astronomers and astrophysicists, is a space no larger than his eye.
When a person is so inspired as to dedicate her entire life to the stars, when a person is so moved as to devote hours of his life to read, when a person is so stilled by the Beauty, they pour forth with lyrical poetry and fall in love with the dark and starry Magnificence, this is an active and very much alive mystical function.
The location marked by the medicine wheel in the art of the Dreaming Gourd/constellation Ursa Major was where during the Christmas season in 1995 – December 18 – December 27 – Hubble kept its own eye open.
The shape below is the form of the HDF:
What at first seemed to be nothing is full of galaxies – 1500 +.
The Medicine Wheel reminds us that Earth is of the Cosmos. It reminds us that all the virtues of the wisdom of Earth are spread throughout the cosmos. It reminds us how the cosmos is looking back at us, with reverence and the Heart of All that Is.
3. Bring your mind to feel your heart and body knowing that though what you feel seems personal and private, most of it is transpersonal and also in sync with the season of the year you are in. Do the following for a fire ceremony:
Invite all present to not carry the emotions they feel alone because the feelings do not all belong to them. Use newspaper and wood for this.
Invite them to feel the following emotions and then give them away to the paper or wood.
Begin with feeling gratitude, something you are grateful for, then, feel and release:
Grief, sadness, where your heart is on the ground
Fear, worry, anxiety, what keeps up up at night when you are alone
Desire, love, wishing, what you wear yourself out wanting
Anger, rage, resentment and anger turned inward, depression
Pain of all kinds, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual pain is despair
Confusion, feeling lost, don’t know where you are going
Shame, loathing for others and self – profound not belonging anywhere
_______any emotions that are left.
The personal emotions are connected to how everyone is feeling. Once you release them, there is a possibility to act in new ways that are connected to 7 virtues: Where there was grief comes a new possibility for courage.
Where there was fear is a new possibility for strength.
Where there was desire is a new possibility for wisdom.
Where there was anger, there is a new possibility for generosity.
Where there was pain, there is a new possibility for health.
Where there was confusion, a new sense of Purpose and
where there was shame, a new sense of worthiness and belonging.
The light and heat of the flame represent this transformation.
A fire made in this way becomes the Oldest Spirit in the Cosmos
because its light and heat can be experienced with poetic implications – ensouled.
4. Taking turns, share any insights, reflections with the circle, offer an intention of the Beauty you would like to see go outward in all directions.
5. Take turns sharing gratitude.
6. Release the intentional collective space by being silent for 60 seconds.
Caring for the World
I heard activist Peg Bowden share about her work along the Border near the Mexican/American city of Nogales which has been cut in half by our Border Wall.
She described an experience she had with the Tarahumara people who live in Copper Canyon, Mexico. Though she did not see any of the Tarahumara during her visit to the canyon, every so often, she would hear a drumbeat. At one point, when she heard the drumbeat at the same time as the tour-guide was speaking, she raised her hand and asked what the sound of the drum was. Her tour-guide was delighted with the question. She replied that one of the tasks that the Tarahumara people feel they are called to offer the world is to maintain the balance between good and evil. In their worldview, trouble can come if either force attempts to lord it over the other. The teaching was that whenever the drumbeat is heard, all who hear it are called to be silent and offer prayers so the world can be balanced in a good way.
I share this story in order to remind how the indigenous cultures of the world pray for the entire world, from their place in it. Synkairos is my way for us to offer a prayer for the world from our own culture around the Great Lakes, no matter how small it might be. Synkairos is a way for our personal and cultural well-being to unite in a practices of communal unity rooted in nature’s cycle of the seasons. Our hearts are called to be in service to all life so that a beautiful future may come.