Contrapuntal Equinox Experiment

Public life these days is so filled with stories that intend to grip the audience – wildly countervailing narrative and dramatic “melodies” all playing at the same time – that it can be a strain to hear one’s own profound song. My sense is that becoming a benevolent and clarified master storyteller, a deliberate singer/songwriter of life, is a good way to stay clear in the chaos. So I’m offering here some ideas for an experiment in creative inner movement.

The word “contrapuntal” popped out when my mind went in search of a word for the disparity I was feeling. This demo might allow you to feel what I mean – maybe the way only pure sound can – both the disturbance of two apparently separate melodies and the happy relief of harmony when they converge.

The disparity had first arisen when I noticed I’d had a reversal of unconscious expectations: in my early life (my deepest bias), summer was rare adventures, indulgent relaxation. Fall meant back to work. This year the dynamic was radically reversed: from Spring Equinox through Autumnal, I’ve been grindstoning a huge editorial project – an inspired manuscript that’s becoming a beautiful and exotic book. At the peak of completion, I realized that in laboring toward the autumn harvest, I’d been more in sync with my ancestral northern agricultural cycles than ever before. I heard two opposing seasonal melodies playing, but only when I stopped to wonder. And listen.

As the delight in this discovery expanded, it mingled with the previous day: I’d opened some old screenwriting instruction books to stoke the creative fire, having found that the screenwriting imperatives of show-don’t-tell, and pacing/continuity/sequencing, are helpful for all kinds of writing. I was astonished to notice two melodies: my surface mind was envisioning new characters, plots, goals, and conflicts, and at the same time my inner voice started blurting out fragments of my own history that wanted to be included in the storytelling. Half-uncomfortably, and half in an explosion of liberation, the memory-bits revealed themselves to BE “only” stories – but superficially: to the extent they’d been frozen carriers of old feelings, I got greater and greater sensations of unlocking, melting, dissolving, freedom. I was only half-surprised that it felt as good for the trapped good memories to dissipate as for the difficult ones: once my treasured feelings about the good stuff were unmoored from something long ago, they were free to return and revitalize the present moment.

I think the resonance of buried memories started humming with the surface because the craft of storytelling aims to evoke the same kind of uncertainty and surprise that “real-time” life creates – particularly reversals into the down-spiral, but into up-spirals too, after prolonged erratic suspense. There’s a timeless thrill in Whooaaa I did NOT see THAT coming. The electrical charge of that moment might get stored (storied) because our nervous systems evolved to be alert to the potential dangers in ignorance or conflict or pain, even in fear of losing something really good; so, even after the moment has passed, the neurons file things away, for safety next time. That’s why well-crafted stories are sometimes said to be “gripping”: while in the grip of a story, an old memory might start humming and either re-enact itself unconsciously or open to new conclusions, inspire new motivations. Becoming more aware of the signs of old stories being activated is, I think, a key to parsing the new stories being concocted and spun through the webwaves and airwaves – and the mindwaves, our own or others’. Hearing the different melodies playing opens the gates to better-informed choices, and to the potency of coherence.

If anybody wants to try this experiment, to clear out old inner material so the world can be perceived and engaged creatively afresh, a zillion such books are on the market and on the web. If you don’t know where to start, you could check out Linda Seger’s Making a Good Script Great, Robert McKee’s Story, Dara Marks’s Inside Story, or Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. These are such classics they’ve become clichés in some circles, but the mental/emotional ACT of plumbing the imagination for stories is what I’m enthusiastic about – not necessarily generating a non-formulaic script (though that could happen too).

It wasn’t till I wrote all this out that I remembered that the dark-light fascination of this time of year reflects the psyche’s contrapuntal dual-melody essence. When so much of life feels split between the shiny and the shadowy, moments of aware convergence – the dawn or twilight of a day, a year, or a life, when the truth of the continuum is obvious – can stir the soul. Without straining against extremes, without the need to light candles in the dark or find shade in the day, the shimmering balance can allow a subtle lift into a higher more panoramic peace. Is this the renowned seasonal “thinning of the veils” between this world and the next?

In this free-floating zone, it’s easier to consider the subplots of life that were ignored before, to gin up new perceptions of people and events – almost to rewrite life, deepening, expanding, reinterpreting, the way all artists do. The risk factor is in feeling lost at sea for a while, with no familiar anchor-stories, but the freedom and flexibility become more and more enticing.

In the context of this post, two different melodies are playing. One is the day when daylight and dark are roughly equal, which is Equilux – on September 26 for most of the United States. The other is the official, globally shared “moment” of Equinox – when the Earth’s ecliptic is perfectly aligned with the center of the Sun, our spin-axis untilted toward or away – at 1:02 p.m. PDT on the 22nd. I like hearing both melodies playing together – the way they did in my ancestral agricultural world in the 35th parallel, where the two are always so close together as to seem to be the same thing. Like the worlds on either side of the veils.

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photo credit: ramasamy chidambaram via stockxchange