The Rhythm of a Man's Life
The Rhythms of a Man’s Life
By Donna Eden
While he was apparently dying of heart disease, my father went through a transformation that was both beautiful and profound, and I relate it here as an example of the power of moving through a difficult rhythm within the seasons of one’s life.
Daddy was strong in the rhythms of both spring and summer, but he lived the worst, not the best, of each. Spring is the season of absolutes, of taking root, of pushing forth into life. There are no in-betweens: you blossom or you die, and Daddy saw life in black and white, right and wrong. Much of life’s richness was lost on him. Spring is also assertive, as the seedling explodes out of the ground, and it is protective, fiercely defending its young. But when stifled, it becomes anger. Daddy’s demeanor could immediately put others on the defensive. He was a very angry man.
Summer, on the other hand, is carefree, full of passion and feeling. Daddy had a dynamic emotional life, but in the rural South where he grew up, to be so sensitive earned him the label “chicken heart.” So he stifled all sentimentality and feeling. Whenever he thought about his shortcomings, he would think of his “chicken heart.” His sensitivity, of course, was the part of him we longed to know but rarely saw. He was a bitter and unhappy man, full of emotional contradictions.
Spring is a time when judgments must be made. Where is it safe for seedlings to grow? How shall resources be allocated? To be stuck in the rhythm of spring is to hold on to those judgments, failing to adapt to new information, resisting the coming of other seasons. My father was stuck in his own positions and judgments. But when you do not heed life’s fundamental demand that you cycle through the seasons, your body will insist. If all external means for forcing change have been exhausted—such as breakdowns in love, family, work, or finances—the body finally gives you a slap to get your attention, to give you one more chance to align your own rhythms with the rhythms of nature and the cycles of your life.
Not only was Daddy stuck in his ways, his heart was stifled. Heart disease is a particular vulnerability for people who are out of balance in summer’s rhythm. When he was fifty-five, Daddy had a heart attack. While he was hospitalized, his heart stopped nine times in five days. He was revived each time. The last time, he was pronounced dead, but he came back as the resuscitation team was leaving. During this ninth “death” he had a classic near-death experience. He saw a childhood friend who had died long before. The friend greeted him warmly and said:
“You can come with me or go back.”
“Why would I ever go back?”
“Because you haven’t learned a damned thing, Cecil!”
Daddy started to protest when the friend said, “No, no . . . you haven’t learned how to love.” With that, Daddy was back in his body. He opened his eyes and began to say “I love you” to each person on the startled resuscitation team, which was already leaving. One doctor became embarrassed and uncomfortably replied, “That won’t be necessary!”
While it happened in only moments of clock time, Daddy’s near-death experience captures the essence of autumn’s rhythm. In the Chinese system, metal is the element that is associated with autumn. The quality that makes metal a good symbol of autumn’s rhythm is that metal is enduring. In the autumn of your life, you evaluate what has been of lasting value and what has not. Like searching for gold, you mine the ore of life experiences that hold eternal truths, discard impurities, and complete the cycle with nuggets of wisdom for the next round.
In that intensified moment of transition to autumn’s rhythm, Daddy died to his old prejudices, judgments, and anger. His friend’s statement that he hadn’t “learned a damned thing,” hadn’t learned how to love, was like a lens for viewing the impurities in his approach to life. Love became Daddy’s gold standard. He lost passion for any aspiration not infused with love, and he was reborn. From autumn’s rhythm, he moved for a time into the rhythm of winter, which is deeply reflective. And then back into the rhythm of spring. But this time he found himself on the favorable side of spring, no longer black and white, but rich in its blush of colors. He found truth and beauty in everything. He had the aliveness, vitality, and laughter of a child. He saw wonder everywhere. I remember how he once cried over a rose, he was so taken with its beauty. During the 16 remaining years life had with him, he became the happiest person I’ve ever known.
Excerpt from Chapter 7, The Five Rhythms, pp 215-217, of Donna Eden’s book Energy Medicine.