.:.TIME AND THE FLOYD.:.
Written by Heimlich
I keep finding myself circling back to the Heathen Harvest Webzine. This wonderful beast which has survived reincarnation, decapitation, and chaos with wit and charm intact. After a tour of duty as a reviewer for the old Heathen Harvest site, I’ve been privileged to contribute periodic pieces on the new site. And now I find myself stepping up for more!
I find that my forum of choice shapes my writing, so there needs to be a good confluences of forces. Hence my objective as a more regular Heathen Harvest contributor is to write about psychological and spiritual perspectives through the lens of lyrics by artists I admire. Other themes might creep in there as well, but musical inspiration will be the heart of my focus.
“And then one day you’ll find
ten years have got behind you
no one told you when to run;
you’ve missed the starting gun!”
Thus I would like to begin with some classic words from a band that, while anything but underground, have certainly had a far-reaching impact on the world of subterranean music. I speak, of course, of Pink Floyd.
With the above-quoted lyrics from the song “Time,” Pink Floyd invite us to do a little astrology and a little psychology. The song is a meditation on the lulling anesthetic of day-in-day-out for years on end. On our frightening capacity to become lost in the swirl and hubbub of living. We are at risk of falling away from ourselves and into the world of our concern, our engaged experience (stated with a nod to Martin Heidegger).
Over the years we have a tendency to rack up existential debts, make hard compromises on our identity, values, relationships, and so on. Eventually this has to reach a breaking point, and indeed there are several such that strike throughout the human lifespan. It is worth reflecting on the significance of these shifts; “Time” is certainly inspired by, or at least reflects, such experiences.
Enter astrology. When we are born, the planet Saturn occupies a particular position in the sky. Fast-forward approximately 28 years and it comes around to the same position (yes, that means it takes about 28 years for Saturn to orbit the sun completely).
Saturn symbolizes heaviness, seriousness, taking stock, the dreaded call of the creditor. It presents us with a mirror that unflinchingly reveals every mistake, flaw, and failure. Unless we have been able to be very congruent with ourselves up to that point, we’re likely to find ourselves tearing down a great deal and building up a great deal. All this unfolds between the ages of28 and 32.
For the astrology skeptic, I suggest you put aside the literalism of the suggestion that the stars somehow have anything to do with human existence. Focus on the power of the metaphor, instead. I can say this because in developmental psychology a fundamental transition is the imaginatively named Age 30 Transition. It occurs at the same time as the Saturn Return, and with similar consequences.
Hence, either astrology is metaphysically sound, or else it is just astute psychology dressed up with cosmic and poetic elaboration. Regardless of which is true, there is wisdom here to be seized!
The Floyd are not only pointing us to the opportunities lost in our ignorant or endlessly improvised early years. The whole narrative arc of Dark Side of the Moon, from which “Time” is taken, is about the dissolution of a flawed sense of identity. It is about the swamping of the conscious mind – the ego – with unconscious materials that, fed up at being ignored or fobbed off, have decided to rise into flood.
The title of the album, Dark Side of the Moon, is itself an undeniable reference to the unconscious forces, hidden away from the light of the sun’s consciousness. It could probably be associated also with the alchemical process of nigredo, a state of depression through which the sufferer begins the inner transformations that characterize personal growth.
(The golden goal of alchemy should be seen as a metaphor; even in the writings of historical alchemists there is sometimes a clear understanding that the process is not about literally transmuting lead into gold, but of using material apparatus as a living metaphor for inner work, not unlike art or sandplay psychotherapy approaches).
The Saturn Return is a nigredo process par excellence. Consider these additional lyrics from “Time:” “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older / shorter of breath and one day closer to death!” Here we see captured the blind-siding of the conscious ego by the inevitable decay-and-change demands of the unconscious in flux.
When an individual goes through the Age 30 Transition, they tend to experience two general themes:
They recoil from how blindly forceful and ill-informed many of their beliefs are (and recoil from how willing they are to have strong opinions on almost no basis);
They reassess everything they’ve done up until the present.
The consequences of point one are the lowering of much youthful psychic armor. Whether it is further learning, hard life experience, or just conscientious reflection, the individual comes to recognize that the world is a tapestry woven from a full spectrum of color; it is not just monochrome. Reassessment of relationships and beliefs is all in there – for example, this might be the first time that we begin to see our parents as genuine three-dimensional beings.
The consequences of point two can be massive and dramatic change – dissolution of marriages, changes of career, radical upheavals in beliefs, habits, social circles, interests, you name it! They can also include radical intensification of already-present tendencies – with the Saturn Return we suddenly realize that if we really want to do something we have to get off our behinds and do it!
These consequences are described on the assumption, however, that the individual rises to the challenge. Faced with the pain, fear, anxiety, and discomfort of the Saturn Return, we can also choose to anesthetized ourselves further into the arms of life’s daily doings. We can clothe ourselves in denial, medicate our misgivings into submission with drugs, emotionality, TV, overwork, depression, or a hundred other things. All this can lead to a radical hardening and narrowing of pre-existing opinions rather than the deepening and opening that I described above. If we are unable to grant ourselves compassion and care then the risk of these outcomes increases significantly.
And thus we find Pink Floyd. The band members were colliding with their Saturn Returns at the time that Dark Side of the Moon was being created (Roger Waters, who wrote all the lyrics, hit age 30 in the year 1973, when the album came out). The insane take-off success of the album – which has eclipsed the sales of just about any other release ever – indicates that they were on the right track as musicians and so reaped the beneficial whirlwind.
And yet the band began from that point onward to grind down in ego warfare, petty squabbling, and general unpleasantness; troubles which were aired publicly, sometimes in unwittingly humiliating interviews for example. Notwithstanding continued brilliance through to The Wall, their legacy eventually faded into second-rate releases and petty acrimony. There was precious little left of the adventurous spirit of unfettering that was always the band’s essence.
There is something nigh on universal about Dark Side of the Moon, and that is its confrontation with time and identity, two concerns that all of us have to face. Those who have yet to face their Saturn Return might like to start studying the subject. Again, if you’re skeptical then just look at the material as metaphorical, or focus more on the materialist psychological research.
The point is just to use what is useful, not to get tangled up in irresolvable metaphysical disputation. And to be aware that you’ll probably be blind-sided – that’s the whole point of the experience. I should point out that becoming less absolute and monochrome in one’s outlook does not mean abandoning conviction. It means cutting away empty beliefs and wasted energy and refining one’s values.
(On the cusp of my own Saturn Return I can recall thinking that I had my whole life figured out and that there was nothing hidden that Saturn could possibly show me. I then proceeded to be humbled and challenged and expanded and even healed in more ways than I can enumerate).
To those who find themselves in their Saturn Return years (circa 28 to 32): take comfort! You are not alone. Learn all you can. Seize every challenge and rise to it. Don’t be afraid to question, and to question even your questions. But don’t armor up! Don’t blame everyone else. Look to your part. Embrace the unexpected. Appreciate the opportunities you are given to grow, to be frightened, to change.
If you have finished with your Saturn Return, take heart – another will arrive when you hit circa 56 years of age! Oh goody. In the mean time, live life to the fullest. That way even if, like the Floyd in “Time,” you got blind-sided in the years leading up to your first Saturn Return, at least you will make better use of the years that threaten to deposit you at the feet of your second…
Dark Side of the Moon concludes with the song “Eclipse,” which presents some truly hypnotic and powerful imagery. This imagery draws together the themes of dissolution, transformation, and integration that haunt both the Age 30 Transition and the alchemical process. These words have just as much power as they did when the album came out 40 years ago, and make a fitting conclusion for this article: