We in Western culture tend to have linear models for progression: moving from point A to point B. We use phrases like “the straight and narrow” to describe a desirable life path. Yet in many dream groups I’ve seen people work dreams that deal with issues they thought they’d successfully dealt with years ago, and they wonder if they’re just “going in circles,” which would be the least desirable path. The answer lies between the line model and the circle metaphor. We tend to progress in a spiral pattern, circling back to issues that we’ve worked with, thought through, and explored, but seeing them from a slightly different angle as we’ve climbed the spiral of life and gained more experience to bring to our understanding.

Raising children is a sure way to bring awareness back to old patterns. As my daughter prepares to leave for college this week, I can’t help but remember who I was at eighteen, the desires that drove me and the flawed understanding I had of myself and of the world. I remember the uncertainties that never fully left me, though they loom less large than they did then. I see my life at that age from a completely different angle, with more compassion and understanding for how my mom must have felt about me then; the curious mix of joy in knowing my daughter is ready to step out into the world and sadness in knowing that I’ll miss her.

The progression of the year feels like a spiral to me as well, as I climb to the top of the circle in July and August and then start down the curve of autumn. All the little and large anniversaries remind me of the years past, and though I mark the days, the emotional intensity of the original event fades with each passing year. This week marks the second year since we adopted two kittens into our family. Though I remember clearly how happy we were to have them, and the moment that first night when I thought, “What have we done?” as I looked ahead to fifteen or twenty years of pet guardianship, they are now just a familiar presence, bringing with them added joys and challenges. This week also marks the third year since my mom’s memorial service. The sunflowers that bloom now will always remind me of her, yet the deep grief has softened and the tears no longer automatically rise at the thought of her.

Jeremy Taylor sums it up succinctly: “Human consciousness perceives and understands consciously that the Spiral form is the inevitable result of rhythmic, repeating, cyclic process manifesting in the inexorable forward flow of time.” [Dream Work p. 176] Every year that passes has similarities with the passing of seasons and the recognition of anniversaries, yet every year is different and we ourselves have changed to perceive the cycles differently. Every autumn I feel I should be starting something new, since that’s when the new school year starts, though it’s been a long time since I attended school.

The spiral also carries the sense of reaching out toward something and having progress opposed. If the reaching doesn’t cease, but neither do the forces curtailing that effort, the result will be a spiral path, always slightly deflected from the goal, but never ceasing. The goal itself may change in this process, as my efforts are deflected and I’m forced to see my goal from different angles. I’ve noticed this with goals in my life, where the longer it takes to obtain them, the more they shift, or become secondary to larger goals that I now glimpse beyond the original. This is a result, I think, of being on a higher or larger part of the spiral.

Even as my goals spiral outward, sometimes I still have to spiral inward, to retreat from the outward changes and find what is at the center. That’s the touchstone for how true and right the goals are.



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4 thoughts on “Spiral Life”

  1. This is lovely, Laura. And it reminds me of the spiral model of education, where you revisit old concepts in ever-widening applications and understandings. We use it a lot in linear algebra, looking first at very concrete applications of eigenvectors as pictures in a 2-dimensional plane. Then we revisit them in 3 and more dimensions. Finally we come back to them in completely abstract vector spaces, where the pictures don’t apply any more, but the underlying principle is still the same.

    1. That’s cool, Karen! I’m sure it makes it easier to understand the really abstract stuff to start with the two dimensional plane.

  2. I hope it does. Though sometimes they miss the point, and say things like “So a subspace is a plane, right?” and I want to bang my head on the wall, but I explain patiently that a plane is *one* kind of subspace, but the the possibilities are endless.

    Here’s a very short article on “spiral” as it applies to education: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_approach

    It’s used a *lot* in math.

    I have to say, I really loved this line of your essay: “I’ve noticed this with goals in my life, where the longer it takes to obtain them, the more they shift, or become secondary to larger goals that I now glimpse beyond the original.”

    1. Thanks! Sometimes it’s hard to keep pursuing a goal. It helps, actually, to have something bigger beyond it.

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