Most of the time the natural events that happen over and over again escape our attention. So we often dismiss them as unimportant. This is especially the case with events that happen over long periods of time, such as the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Yet we also fail to notice regular bodily functions like respiration and the beating of the heart. There are countless cycles going on around us and inside us which we usually take for granted.
Why give any thought to events that just keep repeating? One reason is that our lives depend on them. We are sustained by hierarchies of cycles that regulate every level of our being. Every periodic change is part of a larger cycle, and that in turn is part of one that is even greater, and this continues on with ever larger cycles throughout the great expanse of the universe. There is an infinite network of "wheels within wheels," from the microcosmic rhythms within us to the immense cosmic movements of the stars. And every one is needed to coordinate the workings of nature.
Take the orbit of the sun, for example. The sun is over 152 quadrillion miles from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which is about 600 quadrillion miles across. The Milky Way has six immense spiral arms, and our solar system is located near the outer edge of the Orion arm. As these arms rotate around the central hub of the galaxy, the sun travels through space in a colossal orbit. Just one revolution — one Galactic "Day" — takes over 200 million years to complete.
Consider the staggering coordination involved in these galactic cycles. According to modern science, when our solar system came into being, the earth was a super-volatile ball of nebular dust. It took a million millennia for it to stratify into core, mantle, and crust — but this was less than five Galactic Days. The earth had a period of extremely violent volcanic activity, which released the gases that eventually made the atmosphere and condensed to form the oceans. This took half a billion years — but only two Galactic Days. The next Earth Age lasted over two billion years, and the earliest physical traces of life on earth date back to this time. It was followed by a dozen evolutionary periods that lasted thousands of millennia, and millions of species evolved — yet this again was just a few revolutions of the Milky Way.
We find the same coordination of cycles on the microcosmic scale. Our physical body is alive with cyclical hierarchies. Breathing in and out, the beating of the heart, the circulation of the blood, hormonal, digestive, and reproductive cycles — each bodily system has its own periodic functions. Underlying these is the constant regularity of biochemical reactions, the movements of molecules, the pulsation of atoms, the orbits of electrons, and the spin of countless immeasurable subatomic particles. There are worlds within worlds of endless complexity, and all of them are absolutely interdependent.
Yet these examples are only outer manifestations. Before things take on physical form, they must be prefigured in ethereal realms. Every level of being is an emanation from a more ethereal level, and these extend inward through finer and finer realms of ethereality. The source of these emanations is Cosmic Intelligence itself. It impresses the elemental forces that prefigure every plane of existence, and these etheric outlines guide the entire universe through a series of cyclical transformations.
This view changes the way we think of any physical manifestation. The earth did not come into being as a ball of dust. It began as an emanation of Cosmic Intelligence which held all the fundamental outlines of terrestrial evolution, essential patterns of energy that guided the manifestation of earth and all its kingdoms. Evolving as a single dynamic system, the planet and every form of life went through a graduated series of cycles, forming more material vehicles in each succeeding period.
The coordination required for such a system leads directly to the concept of a living earth. If living beings and their material environment are a single evolving entity, then all of matter is part of life. It then follows that earth has its own life cycles. Through gradually manifesting vehicles, it has repeatedly gone through stages of birth, growth, full development, decline, and "death." It also has periods without physical activity. After each decline and death, it passes out of manifestation and is re-energized by the Intelligence of the universe, which enables the globe to manifest again through cycles involving more developed vehicles.
There must be similar stages for every form of life, including our own. In the essence of our being, each of us is an emanation from the innermost realm of Universal Consciousness. This essence takes on vehicles from every kingdom of nature, and these are still reflected in our own biology. The most fundamental cycles in the human body can also be found in the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, and the animal kingdom. Just as there are worlds within worlds, within us there are lives within lives.
But why do we need to cycle through so many forms of life? If there is one Universal Intelligence that emanates the essence of every form of existence, the consciousness of the One is evolving through us. Its emanations continually develop new ways of expression — so it can experience the essential oneness of diversity. Being informed with the idea of unity is not enough, even for Cosmic Intelligence. It needs to know oneness through infinite variety.
Over and over again throughout every cosmic cycle, the One and the Many have this same fundamental need. Transformation after transformation, we and all the hierarchies of the cosmos ascend the Great Chain of Being. To express our evolving consciousness, we develop more and more capable vehicles. We are driven by the universal longing for self-discovery. What is the essence of who we are? If we ever feel at one with nature, if we respond to an inner connection with other beings — we are discovering who we are. Whenever we have a deep sense of fellow feeling, we are expressing our essential Self. Through cycles within cycles we develop this potential: to experience the essential oneness of existence. All of life depends on it.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2005; copyright 2005 Theosophical University Press)