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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Spiral, Symbol of the Journey of Life



                                Photo by Garic Groenemann   Irish Spiral

For mankind the spiral has always been a compelling shape. Why does it have a positive meaning for every culture that ascribes a meaning to it? Perhaps it is because we, on this tiny planet whirling around one of 100 billion suns, can call a spiral galaxy home.

The spiral has found its way into the art of almost all cultures, from ancient primitive rock carvings on all continents to today's corporate logos. They show up in Celtic art, native American petroglyphs, Nazca earthworks, Arabic architecture, Japanese rock gardens, Hindu spiritual texts, Australian aboriginal paintings and African art. Surprisingly, no religious or political group has claimed exclusive rights to the spiral. It remains non-sectarian, or maybe pan-sectarian. The spiral belongs to everyone and excludes no one.

In various mythologies the spiral is a globally positive symbol. Here are some of the meanings that have been attributed to the spiral:

* Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, said that the spiral is an archetypal symbol that represents cosmic force.

* In ancient Britain, the spiral seems to have been associated with the feminine as the doorway to life.

* It has been associated with the cycles of time, the seasons, the cycle of birth, growth, death, and then rebirth. The cycles of time and nature are the cycles of life.

Some consider the spiral a symbol of the spiritual journey. It is also considered to represent the evolutionary process of learning and growing. It seems that life doesn't proceed in a straight line. The path of life more closely resembles a spiral. We seem to pass the same point over and over again but from a different perspective each time. This is often referred to as “coming full circle.” To walk and then stand in the center of a spiral or labyrinth has been a psycho-spiritual exercise for centering the consciousness.

The spiral stands for coming into being:

The spiral shows up often in nature - in hurricanes and tornados, in the pattern of seeds in a sunflower, in the growing tips of ferns, in the pattern that leaves grow on a stem, in the shape of a nautilus shell, and, as a helix, the shape of the DNA molecule.

For me personally the spiral represents finding deep peace in the midst of the constant chaos of life.  My students tease me about how often I talk about "going with the flow" of life.  And, it is true, that I see life as a river, much like in Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha.  In that river the surface is dramatically affected by the crises of flooding or wind or downpours of rain.  Yet, also in that river are deep, deep pools where one can drop to the bottom and be totally unaffected by the traumas taking place on the surface.  I visualize that settling to the bottom of a deep pool as allowing myself to descend into the center point of a spiral.  Here is not a place of escape, for you can clearly observe what is taking place, and the furthest reaches of your spiral float outward like tentacles or antenna keeping you connected. But you can also remain centered and calm regardless.

So I like to think of the spiral as the basic symbol for the journey of life and at the center, like the center of a great hurricaine, you can find your center, your peace.  That peaceful center is my wish for you today as we begin fall of 2010.



3 comments:

  1. Beautiful writing, Jan. The section on the flow of life made me smile...Thank you.

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  2. My favorite pair of earrings feature a spiral engraved on a flat disk of silver...made by a Native American in New Mexico. I believe she said the spiral represented the cycle of life to her people....and I LOVE fiddlehead ferns! A beautiful natural spiral...I love seeing shapes through your eyes, Jan.

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  3. I've been seeing spirals a lot lately everywhere I go, I think it's a sign from my angels

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