From the tiny pulses of energy generated by an atom to the rise and fall of enormous magnetic fields within the sun… from the constant rhythm of the ocean’s tides to the thousands of miles traveled by a tiny hummingbird as it migrates to warmer climates every year, our world is a never-ending dance of nature’s repeating cycles. They’re part of everything.
Intuitively we know about cycles through direct experience. A woman’s menstrual rhythm, for example, is governed by a 28-day cycle that is also linked to the cyclic phases of the moon. Each day our bodies follow the rhythms of a 24-hour period (the circadian cycle of light and dark) – which regulate such things as when we’re hungry. And while the use of 60-watt lightbulbs and the consumption of late-night cappuccinos may have forever changed the way we respond to nature’s rhythms, the fact is that the cycles are still there.
When we look a little closer at nature’s cycles, we find that each is part of a larger one that unfolds within an even larger one and so on – nested cycles of time and energy that govern the rhythms of the universe and life. The familiar experience of day and night is a perfect illustration of how these nested cycles work. The hours of light and dark that we see daily are due to the way Earth rotates with respect to the sun, a cycle that takes about 24 hours. How long the light and the dark of each day last, in turn, is linked to the way Earth tilts toward or away from the sun while it’s orbiting: the cycles that create the seasons of the year. How much our planet tilts is part of an even greater cycle that determines how long the seasons last over thousands of years.
While the experience of day, night, and the seasons offers a clear example of nature’s cycles, there’s much more to them than the length of a day or when summer begins. In the words of poetry, Ralph Waldo Emerson described our relationship to nature’s cycles simply and beautifully: ‘Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is the beginning.’
Both Emerson’s words and our understanding of cycles lead us to the questions that must be asked: If nature’s cycles are everywhere, could it be that everything from our romantic relationships and our business relationships to our global relationships, everything from the light of a new birth to the darkness of September 11, 2001, is part of the great cycles that we are beginning to learn and recognise? If so, can we prepare for the future by recognising the past?
If such a relationship really exists, it changes everything we’ve been led to believe about our world and ourselves. We may well discover, for instance, that things as varied as the frequency of our accomplishments and failures, the success of our relationships and careers, and even the length of our lives stem from cycles that we’re just beginning to understand. With our new understanding, we may also find that we’re no longer victims of a mysterious fate that we attributed so much of our experience to the past. To explore such a relationship, however, we must begin by recognising the patterns that surround us.
The Firefly Code
With my feet dangling just inches above the water, I sat motionless on a log near the stream behind my family’s house. In the summer of 1965, I remember breathing the hot, thick Missouri air as the last light of the day faded. Everything changes at night in the woods of America’s Midwest. Although I could still see the twilight sky above, the dense growth of moss and vines hanging from the ancient forest blocked the sunset on the ground. I stared into the darkness and waited. Experience had taught me that patience and silence were the keys to studying anything in nature. Over the years I’d gotten very good at both.
At first I saw only one out of the corner of my eye. Then there was another, and another. Suddenly they were all around. It was as if someone had just flipped a switch that said Now! and the fireflies of summer were everywhere. Watching them perform their mystical dance of movement and light and then seeing them disappear as suddenly as they appeared was an after-dinner ritual that I looked forward to more than simply watching lights flash and vanish. It was about something hidden, something secret and mysterious. It was the rhythm and the cycles. It as the patterns.
As a child, I looked for patterns everywhere. Sometimes they were silly ones, like how many times the lights on our Christmas tree would blink off and on before they went dark and began the next cycle, or how many cars of the same colour there were in one row of a grocery-store parking lot. At other times the patterns seemed to call out for someone to find them, like the number of times a firefly would flash its eerie glow before it rested and began again. Surrounded by hundreds of them, I remember thinking that there must be more to the light show than just the random flashes on a summer night.
Maybe the lights were actually a code of some kind, carrying a message from nature itself. Because insects can’t speak, perhaps the lights were the way in which they were communicating, with long and short bursts of light representing the dots and dashes of a language – like nature’s Morse code. If I could just count the flashes, and the time between each pause, maybe I could ‘read’ the code.
A universe of patterns
Well, I never found the ‘firefly code,’ at least not in the way I had originally imagined. While the summer light shows did turn out to be coded signals of nature, they were part of something even more primal and mysterious than I had suspected. In a high school biology class, I learned that the flashes of light I’d seen on those hot Missouri nights were actually part of a mating ritual of signals – a sex code – from male fireflies looking for their perfect female firefly mates. Sitting on that log, I had placed myself right in the middle of an immense dating ceremony that was driven by the ancient and deeply rooted urge to reproduce.
Although the reality of the firefly code may not have materialized, the idea that time itself could be part of nature’s code did. On my seventh birthday, my mother supported my fascination with ancient history and gave me a gift that I would cherish well into my adult life. It was a book by C. W. Ceram describing ‘lost’ civilisations that had been rediscovered in modern times; and featured Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and South American archaeology. Called Gods, Graves & Scholars, it had a profound influence on my way of thinking of the past that continues to this day.
I was especially awed by the fact that powerful civilisations with advanced knowledge, such as the ancient Maya, could have existed so long ago, only to disappear and be lost for centuries. As I studied the glossy photographs showing the tops of their temples rising above the dense Mexican jungles, I wondered what it was that the Maya knew that we’d forgotten, especially when it came to their concept of time. With discoveries that range from new revelations about the Mayan calendar to the profound mathematics of fractal patterns, we can now begin to answer that question today.
As an adult, I recognised that the patterns I’d studied as a child are more than just random oddities. Our world is made of those patterns. Not just chance ones here and there, but patterns within patterns that form order and structure. Many of nature’s patterns can be measured and predicted easily – the crescent shaped dues of sand that continually drift through the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve high in the mountains of southern Colorado, for instance, or the branching patterns that we see in the veins on an oak leaf or as the water from a garden hose runs downhill. At other times the patterns of nature are not so easy to see, like the invisible winds that move an entire mass of air across a continent, or the psychological forces that drive the world’s stock markets.
Whether we see them or not, the patterns of nature are everywhere. If I really wanted to understand how things work, it was clear that I needed to understand the patterns they’re made of. During the last years of the Cold War, I found myself working as a senior computer systems designer in the defense industry doing precisely that. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my first assignments was in a specialised area of computer programming known as pattern recognition.
One day while I was searching for patterns in nature to use as a model for software to track data, I came across the work of a scientist/ philosopher from the early 20th century, R. N. Elliott. Before his death in 1948, Elliott had written a powerful synthesis of how natural laws seem to govern many aspects of everyday life, including nature’s cycles. It was that book, modestly titled The Major Works of R. N. Elliiott, which forever changed the way I thought about the universe, civilisation, and, most important, time.
What I had found so fascinating about Elliot’s work was that he had not only recognized patterns and cycles in nature; he also described ways to apply what he had discovered in the real world. A cornerstone in Elliott’s research was one very special number that is found throughout our bodies, our lives, and our world, in ways that I had never been told about when I was in school: the golden ratio. In words that were clear and direct, Elliott showed how it applied to everything from the number of males and females in a natural population to the economies of nations.
It was during the same time that a specialist in stock market forcasting, Robert R. Prechter, Jr, discovered Elliott’s work as well. Recognising that global economics and the stock market are indicators of the investor community’s optimism or pessimism – part of a natural cycle – Prechter took Elliott’s ideas one step further and created the most successful market-prediction tool in the history of ffthe New York Stock Exchange. Call the Elliott Wave Principle, it is still used today.
The key to the success of the Elliott Wave Principle is found in two basic assumptions:
2. If you know where the advance begins, you can calculate when and how often the declines will occur.
My thinking was that if life and nature follow the patterns of such a code, then it made perfect sense that time itself should do so as well – a time code of sorts. Just like theintervals of the stock market, if we could recognise nature’s Time Code, then they cycles it creates could be measured and calculated.
In other words, if we know when a cycle begins and the pattern that it follows, then we also know where and how it will end. Perhaps the most important, if we know that the conditions that a cycle brings, then we also know what to expect each time it reappears. It took many years and many attempts to find a way to apply what I’d learned about cycles to the evens of our world. Once I did, there was no turning back.
The reason is because nature’s Time Code works. What it reveals is both sobering and astounding. To step back and recognise the patterns we’ve lived in the past, and are living right now, is perhaps one of the most empowering things we can do as individuals and as a civilisation. It’s as if our willingness to recognise the interconnectedness of nature’s patterns is the gateway to the opportunity of conscious participation in the very cycles that the patterns reveal. In my way of thinking, that’s nothing less than the miracle of a second chance.