The end of the world as we know it

Pondering the alarmist, the mystical, the way-out-there ... and the surprisingly hopeful sides of Dec. 21, 2012

|
()
"There is a strange parallel with what the ancient Maya foresaw": author John Major Jenkins

steve@sfbg.com

It's easy to dismiss all the hype surrounding the auspicious date of December 21, 2012. There's the far-out talk of Mayan prophecy and the galactic alignment. There's the pop-culture lens that envisions the apocalypse. There are the extraterrestrials, about to return.

But even the true believers in Mayan folklore and its New Age interpretations say there's no end of the world in sight. Time doesn't end when the Mayan cycle concludes; it's actually a new beginning.

And even some of the most spiritually inclined on the 12/21 circuit agree that it's highly unlikely that anything of great moment will happen during this particular 24-hour period in history. The sun will rise and set; the winter solstice will pass; we'll all be around to see tomorrow.

In fact, instead of doomsday, the most optimistic see this as a signpost or trigger in the transformation of human consciousness and intentions. Their message — and it isn't at all weird or spacey or mystical — is that the world badly needs to change. And if all the attention that gets paid to this 12/21 phenomenon reminds people of what we have to do to save the planet and each other, well — that's worth getting excited about.

Check out the news, if you can bear it: Global warming, mass extinctions, fiscal cliffs, social unrest. Now stop and turn the channel, because we're also writing another story — technological innovation, community empowerment, spiritual yearning, social exploration, and global communication.

Both ancient and modern traditions treat the days surrounding the solstice is a time for reflection and setting our intentions for the lengthening, brightening days to come. And if we take this moment to ponder the course we're on, maybe the end of the world as we know it might not be such a bad thing.

THE LONG VIEW

The ancient Mayans — who created a remarkably advanced civilization — had an expansive view of time, represented by their Long Count Calendar, which ends this week after 5,125 years. Like many of our pre-colonial ancestors whose reality was formed by watching the slow procession of stars and planets, the Mayans took the long view, thinking in terms of ages and eons.

The Long Count calendar is broken down into 13 baktuns, each one 144,000 days, so the final baktun that is now ending began in the year 1618. That's an unfathomable amount of time for most of us living in a country that isn't even one baktun old yet. We live in an instantaneous world with hourly weather forecasts, daily horoscopes, and quarterly business cycles. Even the rising ocean levels that we'll see in our lifetimes seem too far in the future to rouse most of us to serious action.

So it's even more mind blowing to try to get our heads around the span of 26,000 years, which was the last time that Earth, the sun, and the dark center of the Milky Way came into alignment on the winter solstice — the so-called "galactic alignment" anticipated by astrologists who see this as a moment (one that lasts around 25-35 years, peaking right about now) of great energetic power and possibility. The Aztecs and Toltecs, who inherited the Mayan's calendar and sky-watching tradition, also saw a new era dawning around now, which they called the Fifth Sun, or the fifth major stage of human development. For the Hindus, there are the four "yugas," long eras after which life is destroyed and recreated. Ancient Greece and early Egyptians also understood long cycles of time clocked by the movement of the cosmos.