August can seem like a month of secret betrayals.
Its steamy heat makes it easy to pretend there isn’t a hint of fall already in the air. It’s equally easy to overlook the trees’ still-green leaves fluttering back and forth in the summer breeze and ignore their foretelling of tiny hands that will soon be waving through school bus windows.
These are the kind of subtle, cycle-ending goodbyes August brings that can leave beachgoers in half conscious mourning while still applying sunscreen and leave parents of kindergarten kids at the end of driveways wondering how time had passed so quickly.
Are the signs there all along?
In a culture cued more to the clock than to the sun, more to electronics than to nature, August is often a month of sly transition. Behind its fiery rays lies a cool truth that many miss:
The dark has been slowly encroaching since the first day of summer.
Time has ticked away unnoticed, blinded by humankind’s collective attachment to the bright. Though there are exceptions, the world doesn’t prefer the dark.
The modern world loves and clings to the light, on every level from the literal to the spiritual and between. Take electricity. It has literally “illuminated” life on Earth to such a degree that humankind had to coin a phrase to describe a new kind of toxic excess: light pollution. What isn’t always obvious from the ground, while it stealthily steals the stars at night right out from over our heads, is unmistakable from a longer view. Satellites traversing those starless skies are beaming back some pretty telling pictures that are far from enlightening.
Like the growing minutes of darkness eclipsed by the fascination with the summer sun, global light pollution has snuck up on humanity at an alarming rate both in developed and developing nations. Its side effects are not yet fully understood. What we do know is that it’s disrupting the circadian rhythms of plants, animals, and humans. Street lights are interfering with insects that pollenate plants at night. Sleep cycles are interrupted and kept shallow by LED alarm clocks, and night lights. Birds collide with lighted buildings and towers. And because the entire biological world organizes around natural cycles of light variation, everything is affected, from gene expression to ecosystem function. The impacts are far-reaching.
Didn’t someone, somewhere, once warn, “Don’t mess with Mother Nature?”
On the other end of the spectrum, fixation with bright light also affects spiritual beliefs. While it is quite wonderful and noble for the light in me to bow to the light in you, and to be certain not to hide our light under a bushel, if those phrases aren’t understood wholistically, another kind of light pollution can result. Without grounding, even spiritual experience can result in a bit of sunstroke.
A wholistic, or even a simplified scientific perspective, might describe it like this: There is only light, one light, which is expressed in varying gradations of brightness, including what we call dark. All variegations have their place within wholeness.
In other words, an outdoor floodlight isn’t well-suited to hang over the romantic table for two. And few would want their doctor to perform surgery by candlelight.
Could there be a metaphoric, if not prophetic, truth in the Old Testament stories that the next massive global change won’t come by water, but by fire? Whether those stories have any basis in fact is beside the point. They exist and have contributed, at least in part, to the cultural narrative of Western civilization, so they’re worth paying attention to.
While fire-powered robotics gone mad, nuclear explosions, or the hurl of asteroids toward Earth might all fit the Biblical bill, they are strangely a much lesser threat than the enthrallment with the kind of bright light that blinds the world to the beauty of the dim and other humble expressions of lesser wattage.
The ability of humankind to know it contains all of the gradations of light within is the best prevention against doomsday prophecies of fire. It is far more likely that the divisions of a polarized world, and the inability to bridge the spaces between, will render humanity extinct (never mind other plant and animal species) much more quickly than the Hollywood catastrophe films played out in real time.
Could the subtleties between be the more plausible Armageddon—from the macro-epidemics of depression, growing suicide rates, and intolerances of diversity to the micro-epidemics of a child’s fear of the dark, August angst, and our partiality to conscious goals and intentions rather than a healthy mix of the mystery of a creative unknown? Might the awareness of it act as a kind of natural awakening? One that might make room to explore fate-shifting alternatives?
The outcome of this big cycle-ending goodbye will depend on one, and only one, factor. It isn’t stellar, global, or collective. It is individual. Tomorrow will be predicated on each individual’s ability to make room for all of it today, while clinging to none of it. But to make room for clinging if that is what’s showing up.
August, by its very nature as a time of hot transition, brings it all to the surface and also offers a great prescription for healing.
Eat plenty of organic corn, peaches, and raspberries. Open to the sounds of the season. Pause more, and if you must be quick to make a point, practice sharpening pencils. Shop for back to school with delight or resentment. Roll up or roll out the beach blanket. Wave fists at the sun that is setting sooner at night. Curse or hail the calendar and the clock. Complain about September coming too fast.
Settle into the fertility present that will eventually birth crisp apples, sun-golden dying leaves, and tiny hands that wave tender goodbyes from one era to the next, knowing that a new season of life awaits, both within and beyond the end of every driveway.
Embrace imminent, beautifully catastrophic change. Love the less light as much as the light. Stay fluid and live a life of all the possibilities, while being delightfully captive by each precious part of every season, and every moment, fully.
The only betrayal worth entertaining is the habit of living life halfway. Happy August!