Spiral   Leave a comment

A spiral differs from a circle.  There’s motion in it, and change.  The track or trail of movement is itself motionless. (Well, comparatively:  the boat’s wake dissolves in ripples, the jet trail fades, but some time after, at least; the jet’s long gone.)  It records the journey.  But journey in a spiral is not repetition.  It’s recognition, re-encounter from a fresh perspective.  History, planetary or personal, doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often spiral.

[Originally when I took the photo I was simply looking for a background that would contrast with the bowl.  Only later after I’d uploaded the photo did I realize that the grain of the wood holds at least as much interest as the spiral design of the bowl.  Talk about not seeing the obvious.]

You may remember the chorus in Joni Mitchell’s lovely song “The Circle Game”:

And the seasons they go round and round
and the painted ponies goes up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
from where we came
and go round and round and round
in the circle game.

Joni, it’s lovely, and it’s easy to be seduced by the beauty of your song, but you’re wrong.  Or at least, you’re right only about one choice among many.  It’s a game, and therefore we’re no more captive than any player is who agrees to the rules in order to play at all.

We can choose to play the game this way and be participants in time.  That’s the only way to live in a material world anyway, from what I’ve seen:  in time.  Once we release the drive to “get ahead” or “win the race,” we can begin to jump through time, from moment to moment, recognizing “infinity in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour,” as William Blake has it.  Time is illusion, yes — but in the sense of play (Latin ludere, lusus, illusio = in+ lusio — “in the game”):  a set of rules to make sense or pattern out of the flow of experience, which is e-lusive. We need “before” and “after” in order to begin (or return) to experience “now.”  The moment of illusion, of play, then broadens and deepens.

“Time is the stream I go fishing in,” says Thoreau.  I use this as a mantra when I get stressed about deadlines, minutes ticking, the illusion gaining hold in a way that’s no longer a game, no longer pleasant to be playing. There’s nothing wrong or cruel about time, once we let go the fear that comes with clinging to any particular moment — of resisting the play because life is supposedly such a serious thing.  “Eternity is in love with the productions of time,” Blake says in another poem.

These “long lessons” are ones I keep learning.  Most of us do — most of us are slow learners — earth’s a place for those with “special needs.”

To live any other way is to suffer needlessly — never my favorite thing to do, anyway — and to be trapped in regret and loss.  We’ll all have a taste of these if we live long enough, as part of the balance that comes with fullness of life — why seek out more, and worse, elevate them to a kind of icon of authenticity?  “I’m not human unless I make a fetish of my suffering,” some people seem to say.  “I AM my suffering,” say others.

The Circle Game goes best when we treat it as a game, as a shape of experience.  But it’s not the ONLY one.  We hear of people being “lost in the past.” How about seeing what it’s like to lose yourself in the present?   Nowhere is now here, to make a linguistic jest with wisdom at its core.

Robert Frost was on to it in “Birches.”

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return.  Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

If I don’t experience it on this curve of the spiral, it won’t be there for me the next time to “come to and begin over” in that “can-be-delightful” encounter of the “familiar-new” that often flavors our experiences. I cheat myself of so much joy, thinking there’s someplace “where it’s likely to go better.” Now, here, is when and where it’s at.

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