At first, there was nothingness. But then, a clever one made a circle around a bit of the nothingness, and that became something. Both the circle and the piece of nothingness. The circle, we came to call zero: the empty place. From nothing comes something. From something, everything is formed. We are formed.
We who are pieces of the universe. The uni-verse, or “one turn” — describing a complete circle. A rotation, an orbit, a cycle, a year.
Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.
- Haruki Murakami, “Kafka on the Shore”
The circle accommodates all shapes within itself. The circle is the One, the Whole, the Monad. “The power of the world always works in circles.” Circles are the cosmic center. The Chinese Pi. The Greek Omphalos. The Egyptian ouroborous. The wheel. The bowl. Tree rings. Saturn’s rings.
The lenses through which we comprehend the world are circles — Iris and Thaumatos, sight and wonder. Loops are our breath — in, out, inhale, exhale. Create, maintain, dissolve, renew. A loop is a day of 24 hours, a week of 7 days, a year around the Sun.
And then go inside. We loop around and around the same concepts as kids, repeating until we grasp. We hear songs on loop in our brains until we can’t stand them anymore. We loop stories of truths about ourselves internally until we believe them. But we don’t see the loops for the stories.
We spend a lifetime waking up, becoming aware, observing the patterns; and still we get frustrated with ourselves for looping. So many things send us under or back, when we believed ourselves to be going forward. But we must double-back to continue forward. The Hero must go below to emerge again above. And yet, as we grow, the loops grow too — they rise; and we begin to spiral, upward and out.
The rings of the Golden Spiral increase as they grow — this is a pattern of nature, of the universe. The Fibonacci sequence describes the ratios of a Golden Spiral, coming ever closer to perfection, over and under the Golden Mean (Phi), always approaching it, never achieving it. That is the calm in the eye of the storm — the asymptote, the center, the ideal. The Golden Spiral has a motto: Eadem mutato resurgo. Literally: same having-changed I-rise.
See, too, how our invented worlds mimic this spiraling, looping universe we inhabit. The Hero’s Journey. Sagas of leaving, dying, returning the same yet changed. The stories of unity — division — reunity. We teach them to our children, forgetting that the reason these stories are handed down is partly for pleasure, but partly to point them towards this looping, these cycles. To prepare them for the forward motion, the disappointing downturn, and the rising.
“History repeats itself.”
“There is nothing new under the sun.”
Our small stories are replicas of the whole story, the universe story. We cannot help but repeat it because it is our life and breath. The veins in a leaf describe the entire tree. A single dandelion seed conveys the parent plant’s biology. Bonsai tree art is based on the concept of revealing the whole through a part. A single piece of a holographic photo contains all the information of the whole. This is the basis for fractal mathematics and the heart of chaos theory.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”
And yet, we exist in tension, in a search for the perfect balance that the Golden Spiral seeks, that the Golden Mean describes. Our language is fraught with our awareness of duality. We casually define “binary” now as “opposing,” but the word means “two together.” The Dyad cannot be separated. We cannot know the light without having experienced dark.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Our polarity comes from the meeting of two wholes in the Dyad — they each remember their source in the One, and so they call to each other, but also strive to be separate. In mathematics, these two overlapping circles are the vesica piscis.
Each circle touches the core of the other, and between them, form what geometers call a womb. Using a compass and pencil and straightedge, a geometer can create from the vesica piscis all the shapes and patterns that the universe is built on.
From birth, we are whole but separate, remembering our origins and reaching toward them, while pushing away to be our own whole. From this natural state of polarity and tension, we have built a language that describes our internal state. Old poets and Sanskrit texts refer to this hoard of binary words as “the dual throng”: good/evil, true/false, always/never, win/lose, right/wrong. Gödel’s theorems of incompleteness arise in part from the idea of this “dual throng.”
The beauty in this polarity is in us — in our power to navigate the tugs from either side. By finding the common ground, the point of balance between opposites (beliefs, opinions, intuitions), we can pass between the opposed sides without being pulled toward either.
The Golden Spiral teaches us balance — it is upward, around, under, and rising again. Spirals symbolize movement, transformation. The loop is constant, simply larger or smaller or slant from previous loops we remember. The Dyad, the “dual throng,” clashes and resolves into a Golden Spiral, over and over and over again. Contrast — understanding each half of the dual throng and seeing the way between — births change, transformation, growth.
A man is deficient in understanding until he perceives that there is a whole cycle of evolution possible within himself: repeating endlessly, offering opportunities for personal development. -Indries Shah, Reflections
[I am finishing the book “The Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe.” It is math for people who failed math in school, and it’s blowing my mind. It also somehow has tied together a lot of the pieces I’ve picked up over the last year and a half. I highly recommend it, especially if you’ve always had a sense that there’s more beneath the surface than you can put your finger on.]
I’ve had an interesting year. And as I’m completing another circuit around the sun, I’m rereading and revisiting the things I’ve been learning. This is a series of posts pieced together from my journals, life coaching sessions, and booklist. I hope you enjoy.