I imagine that every reader has at some point asked themselves if there is some underlying emergent pattern in the way their lives unfold. When I was 22, I read Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves, where she explains the idea of an agreed blueprint for a life before one incarnates – this made a lot of sense to me at the time and still does over 40 years later. Certain key synchronicities have shaped my work, including my time at Winchester College and the fact that I met George Blaker and have been working with the Network for over 30 years. William Bryant is a Waldorf educator deeply steeped in the work of Rudolf Steiner, whose understanding of the reincarnation process was evolutionary. He suggests that synchronicities in life are in fact orchestrated by a deeper self intent on growth – presenting new opportunities and connections while relating the inner with the outer.

The book begins with a general discussion of rhythms and cycles, then with detailed chapters on the cycles of 7, 12 and 30, leading to an exploration of fate, freedom and destiny and how these may form part of a larger pattern of death and rebirth. We are all in a sense time beings located in time bodies that have their own rhythms and cycles of expansion and contraction (suffering and crisis), inhalation and exhalation. There are some interesting correspondences between rhythmic numbers: a pulse 72, a breathing cycle of 18, a precessional rhythm of 25,920, and a cultural epoch of 2,160; breathing 18 times a minute equates with 25,920 – although my own rhythm is much slower than that. More significant is the relationship between linear and cyclical time in the rhythms found in our maturation process. Some readers will be familiar with a part of the seven-year analysis from Steiner, illustrated with a number of fairytales. Here the author could have made some interesting comparisons with Erikson’s life stages, but his work does not appear in the bibliography, nor does that of Steiner scholar Owen Barfield with his stages of participation. Readers can work out for themselves whether the cycle dates are significant, but, as in archetypal astrology, the question arises whether other numbers and years might also be equally significant.

The book is illustrated with the biographies of many famous people, including van Gogh, Schweitzer, Tolstoy, Einstein and Newton, Hannibal, TE Lawrence, Balzac, Marie Curie, TS Eliot, Nobel, Goethe and Rembrandt. In the case of Goethe, the author would have been interested in the excellent book by John Barnes entitled Goethe and the Power of Rhythm which undertakes a similar analysis, although with different time cycles. I am familiar with the biography Schweitzer, who at 21 (7×3) resolved that he would live for music, philosophy and theology until he was 30 and who at 30 (Saturn return) fulfilled this by becoming a medical missionary and ultimately achieved three Chronos cycles, dying at 90. There is a detailed and fascinating analysis of the 12-year cycles in the life of Tolstoy as reflected in his novels and the various crises through which he passed – stations along his life’s way and always demanding a further transformation. The author remarks that he, like all of us, are ‘living contradictions, incongruous compounds of lead and gold.’ And the function of our life experience is distillation, digestion and assimilation into the self.

Here we reached the kernel of the book, the idea that ‘our voyage across the ocean of time is charted by the spiritual-psychic nucleus of our being, arranging the placement of particular experiences at specific times. We convert experience into consciousness, gradually increasing the scope of our freedom, dependent as it is on the level of our consciousness. Hence ‘experience is the vital connection between the growing self and the world’ (p. 183) as we evolve from fate to freedom. The author points out that mechanistic genetics is pure fate while mechanism implies determinism. Here Steiner adds the perspective joining physical with spiritual heredity and creating ‘resistances promoting the challenge of self transformation, the conversion of suffering into consciousness. Thus, this self-evolution converts fate into freedom’ (p. 195) which may in turn involve a deep surrender and acceptance as we embrace our destiny and expand our spiritual understanding (in terminal suffering, we may only find freedom through the quality of our acceptance as we surrender and release our hold on the physical). This process is what the author calls the imperative to mature through experience as the driving force in all human biography where ‘the goal of all destiny is evolution through transformation’ (p. 203) individually and collectively through a series of lifetimes.

In his forthcoming book Diamonds of Heaven, Christopher Bache proposes that death and rebirth occur at every level in the cosmos, which dovetails with the assertion in this book that every crisis is a process in time and implies a transition to a new phase – ‘between what we were and what we will become’ in an ascending spiral of fulfilment. To be incarnated is to contract, while to die is to expand, as many near-death experiencers and mystics attest. In terms of rhythms of transformation, the author observes that ‘plant biography is the transformation of form in space and time (as Goethe discovered). Human biography is the transformation of experience in the psychological and spiritual growth – in time and space’ (p. 229) and a sense of destiny infuses eternity into time, incarnating the universal in the individual. Readers will find much food for thought in reflecting on how these archetypal patterns show up in their own biography, leading to a deeper understanding of life and how it unfolds.

 

 

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