In New York, where I grew up, the differences between the seasons were dramatic and obvious, each bringing sweeping changes in temperature and color. The whiteness of winter was broken by early spring crocus flowers poking yellow heads through the snow; verdant summer green yielded to fall’s palette of vivid yellow, red, purple and gold.

Here in Northern California, our two-cycle seasons are less distinct, shifting gradually from dry to wet. Amidst our drought, lying in bed listening to raindrops on the skylight is dreamily reassuring, offering natural comfort in these otherwise turbulent times.

Before the advent of the calendar and clock, natural cycles dominated narratives about time. The seasonal cycles of birth and death were honored and reenacted in social dramas that engaged entire societies in rites and ritual. Some of these were none too pleasant to our modern tastes, ritualized human sacrifice among them. The more peaceful engaged in ceremonies that gave thanks for the generosity of heaven and earth, and made appeals to the great spirits to bless the land and its creatures. It is not without cause that we speak reverently of Mother Earth; the earth and its seasons reflect our own natural coming and going.

Cycles transcend yet include individual components. They are greater than each component, but without them cycles cannot exist. We can observe cycles yet cannot separate ourselves from them, much as the sun cannot be separated from the phases of the moon.

This is not to say that we don’t make attempts at separation. Waking up by alarm and going to bed long after midnight breaks our diurnal rhythm. Working for eight hours straight despite the body’s need for rest breaks another cycle. Something as ordinary as electric light illumination disrupts the natural cycle of nightly hormone release. In short, while we have created new cycles within our lives, their imposition is social in origin – derived from the need for efficient labor within an economic system – not natural biological or physical need.

Despite whatever we impose, however, the natural cycles of existence are so profound that there is no way to escape them. All created things are subject to change, no matter how solid and permanent they may appear to be. If this were not so, the universe would be static, fixed, unchanging and would prohibit the arising of living creatures like ourselves. Everything is in a universal, continuous and dynamic state of flux, and the changes people notice produce both happiness and sorrow. Upon this continually shifting totality of experience we attempt to impose fixed points of reference and stability, and it is the impossibility of this task that often causes our distress.

The events of the world attract our attention, then our attachments and desires fuel happiness or sadness as things change. We can love, but because we have loving hearts, they can be broken. Such experience is what makes us uniquely human and the sheer act of living is a mixed, bittersweet experience, like catching sun-struck magnolia trees blooming in radiant shades of pink outlined against steel gray clouds in a darkening sky.

The spring cycle of renewal is upon us. This is not because we have behaved well or badly, said prayers or cursed heaven. Gratefully, it’s beyond all that – simply the world as it is.