Jump to the following topics:
- What is a cycle?
- We find cycles in virtually every realm of life.
- How can we use our understanding of cycles?
- Cycles can be difficult to discern.
- Some cycles seem to be synchronized with one another.
- Why do cycles occur?
- The study of cycles adds to our philosophical and metaphysical understanding.
What is a cycle? It is "a periodically repeated sequence of events," according to The American Heritage Dictionary. We can also call it a predictable pattern of occurrences, as in the upward and downward sweep of a sine curve. In some patterns, we see distinct stages of rising, sustaining, falling, and dormancy.
We find cycles in virtually every realm of life. They are in:
- Science. There are cycles in physics, biology, astronomy, etc.
- Psychology. There are cycles in emotions, brain activity, various behaviors, etc.
- History. There are cycles in wars, politics, etc.
- Economics. "Business cycle research" is a vital study for many governmental and private organizations, because a knowledge of these cycles offers opportunities for business success, personal wealth, and management of the economy. Some cycles are unmistakable, like the yearly surge in purchasing prior to Christmas, or the increase in swimwear sales in early summer. Researchers have found cycles in stock-market prices, economic depressions, manufacturing production, prices of various goods, fads and styles, real-estate sales, agricultural production, and other areas of economics and business.
- The human body. Whether we call it chronobiology or biorhythms or "the biological clock," we can see evidence of our body's cycles:
- Miscellaneous cycles: the 28-day cycle of menstruation, the 90-minute REM cycle of brain activity during sleep, the rhythms of the individual brain waves themselves, the cycles of heartbeats and breathing and digestion, the 12-day cycle in the muscles' proteins, the 128-day life-cycle of red blood cells, etc.
- "Circadian" rhythms follow a 24-hour cycle in the liver, blood pressure, kidneys, and other organs and bodily processes. (When we disrupt this circadian rhythm through airline travel, we experience "jet lag" while the body re-sets its inner clock to the new time zone.)
- On a larger scale, perhaps life itself has a rhythm through reincarnation, with life following death following life.
- Miscellaneous cycles: tree rings, floods, rainfall, animal migrations (including the lemmings' mass suicide in the sea every 3.86 years), water levels in lakes and rivers, barometric pressure, animal populations (among all types of animals -- mammals, insects, fishes, birds, etc., and even microorganisms), and the 24-hour (circadian) rhythms of sleep and activity.
- There are geological cycles (which can be studied over a history of millions of years) in the occurrence of earthquakes, volcanoes, and sediment deposits.
- The solar system has cycles, in the planets' path around the sun, the planets' rotations into their own day and night, the rotation of our Milky Way galaxy, and so on. In a study by the Foundation for the Study of Cycles, sunspots were studied from 1527 to the present, and were found to vary in a cycle of 11.11 years.
- Perhaps even the universe is in a cycle, expanding outward from its Big Bang, and perhaps destined later to contract back to its original point, only to repeat the cycle; this type of cosmic cycle is one of the beliefs in Hinduism.
How can we use our understanding of cycles?
- We can prepare for events. For example, if we can pinpoint our position in a cycle, we know when to buy insurance, sell stock, protect ourselves against destructive weather (which would cause floods or droughts), take measures against forecasted political unrest, engage wildlife management to compensate for predicted increases or decreases in wildlife populations, schedule our daily activities to take advantage of the "highs" in our biorhythms (including those of mental clarity, emotional vitality, general vigor, etc.), and capitalize on the many other cycles which have been discovered. In Talking Straight, Lee Iacocca said, "As far back as I can remember, I've always been a strong believer in the importance of cycles. You'd better try to understand them, because all of your timing and often your luck is tied up in them".
- We stop fighting the inevitable. While we can prepare for the inevitable, we no longer waste our effort in trying to stop the cycles. For instance, on the upsurge of a cycle, we don't resist "an idea whose time as come"; on the downturn, we don't fruitlessly try to prop up something whose time has passed. We adopt the attitude of "going with the flow" -- being attentive to the cycles around us, and positioning ourselves within them to gain the benefits during the increase, and then divesting our holdings in them when they fade. The latter is a lesson in detachment -- not the type of detachment which means uninvolvement with life but rather a full involvement in life, savoring whatever gives vitality and opportunity but then releasing it when it no longer nourishes us. This strategy is well-known among stock-market investors who want to buy a stock as it is rising and sell it when it is falling; if we approached the other aspects of our life with such "detachment," we might have less stress and turmoil.
Cycles can be difficult to discern. There are many reasons for this difficulty:
- A cycle may actually be a conglomerate of individual cycles. For example, the "economic cycle" is a generalization derived from many separate cycles -- the cycles of every commodity, every stock, every type of business and industry, etc. Because the stock market has stocks from hundreds of corporations (each having at least one cycle of its own), one expert detected 111 cycles while another found 230 cycles; overall, the stock market has a 9.2-year cycle, a 40.68-month cycle, and other cycles. In nature, we find an example of these "conglomerate cycles"; for example, the cycle of ocean tides actually results from two cycles -- one which is created by the moon's gravitation and another which is created by the sun's gravitation.
- Cycles affect one another. We do not study a cycle in isolation; it is part of a worldwide system which intertwines influences from economics, nature, politics, etc. For example, if the cycle of international conflict is rising, a war would affect the price of stock in the defense industry.
- Random elements occur. For example, an economic cycle will be disrupted if a nation discovers a huge deposit of gold ore in the middle of a cyclic recession.
- Some apparent cycles are mere coincidences. For example, a valley might be flooded every three years during a nine-year period, but we cannot say that the phenomenon is indeed cyclic unless we discern many periodic repetitions.
- Cycles are affected by trends. A cycle is not a circle which starts at one point and returns to that same point; some cycles never return to the same point. For example, if we are experiencing inflation (which refers to the trend in overall prices), the low point in the cycle of wheat prices might be higher than the highest point of the previous cycle.
- Cycles have aberrations. Sometimes a cycle continues for dozens of regular repetitions and then -- for unknown reasons -- suddenly skips a repetition, or it inserts a speeded-up repetition which hurries through in half of the expected time.
- Many cycles are not symmetrical. A symmetrical cycle would spend half of its time rising and half falling. However, many cycles are asymmetrical; e.g., their consistent pattern might be to rise 75% of the time, and then suddenly drop during the remaining 25% of the time.
Some cycles seem to be synchronized with one another. They rise and fall in the same amount of time, and also in the same time-frame.
- They have the same time-length. We might anticipate that most cycles would occur in a random assortment of time-lengths (e.g., 2 months, or 3.5 years, or 14.83 years). However, researchers have found apparently unrelated phenomena which have the same time-length. In the book, Cycles, Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr., gave many examples; they included:
- A 5.91-year cycle of business failures, combined stock prices, grouse abundance, and sunspots.
- An 18.2-year cycle of real-estate activity, marriages in the U.S., flooding of the Nile, and tree rings in Java.
- A 9.6-year cycle, for which Schreiner offered 37 phenomena, including worldwide precipitation, British financial crises, wars, U.S. cotton prices, U.S. wheat acreage, Canadian animal populations, etc.
Why do cycles occur? In some cases, the cause is obvious; for example, the cycle of the seasons is caused by the earth's movement around the sun. But we might wonder (1) why other cycles occur at all, and (2) why some apparently unrelated cycles occur simultaneously -- or, perhaps, why all cycles don't occur simultaneously. The regularity and synchronicity of cycles cannot be happening by chance; they suggest an unknown force which governs the cycles. We can speculate on the nature of this cosmic timing mechanism and how it exerts its influence; in Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger Events, Edward R. Dewey suggests that the cycles might be controlled by the cycles of immensely long electromagnetic waves in a variety of wavelengths. Instead of our familiar "megahertz" waves (in millions of cycles per second), these waves would be measured in years (e.g., 3.5 years or 9.6 years); the rise and fall of these giant waves would cause the rise and fall of phenomena which have somehow aligned themselves with those waves, whether the phenomena are sunspots, or animal populations, or the value of a particular stock. That is only one theory among many which might be presented.
The study of cycles adds to our philosophical and metaphysical understanding.
- In cycles, we discern structure, order, and pattern -- in a life which might otherwise seem chaotic and whimsical.
- We learn that there is balance. For every rise, there is a fall; and for every expansion, there is a contraction. Then, for example, if we judge "expansion" to be "good" (as in an expanding economy), we recognize that every such "good" must be balanced by something which we might judge to be "evil," although both are merely two halves of a cycle.
- We have an alternative explanation of cause-and-effect (i.e., "karma"). In various occurrences -- successes and failures, prosperity and poverty, surges and declines -- we might look for reasons, i.e., what we did right or what we did wrong. But if we understand the cyclic nature of phenomena, we realize that no matter what we do, cycles go on their usual course; for example, an economic recession has to occur despite the bolstering efforts of a national leader (who will probably be blamed and voted out of office anyway). This is not to say that there is no cause-and-effect in the phenomenon of cycles; something is causing the cycles to occur, and then the cycles are causing something else to occur -- but this is a different explanation from the one which we might concoct if we were fruitlessly looking for a material reason for an upturn or downturn.
- We can be at peace with our world. If a new car breaks down repeatedly, we might wonder, "What did I do to deserve this?" but if an old car breaks down, we shrug and say, "Well, it's an old car." And if a child dies, we might cry, "Why did this happen?" but if an elderly person dies, we say, "It must have been his (or her) time to go." In the examples of the old car and the elderly person, we recognize the end of a cycle; even in the case of the child, we might recognize the end of a cycle -- perhaps not the expected cycle that would entail a certain number of years of human life, but some type of cycle of "reason for being."