Circles (& Boxes): Magic! (& Magic Lost)

<March 1/10>

I’ve been thinking about circles (& boxes) lately.

I keep noticing how important circles are – & how so many of the things that make us feel good – make us human, really – are kind of circular.

Things like, for one notable example, gratitude. When we make it a point to be grateful/appreciative of the blessings in our lives (yes! Here I go yet again about gratitude!?)(1) – it soon begins to seem as though there are more & more things to be grateful for. The circle gets bigger & bigger. And also, when we show appreciation for the people in our lives, they seem to appreciate us more too, & we all rather shine, I think, when we really feel appreciated, & that is all a kind of wondrous, magical circular process.

I know Buddhist scholar/long-time activist Joanna Macy has said, along with her co-author Molly Young Brown in their book Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (New Society Publishers, 1998), “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world,” & I can say from lots of experience that this is, most happily, very true! Along with the grace comes more energy to do more work, & then more grace, & …well, you get the picture, hmm? On & on it goes, a lovely & very un-vicious circle.

When you muse on all this for a while, you notice that, actually, we are utterly surrounded by & immersed in circular, cyclical processes.

The seasons go around in circles & our own lives are cyclical in nature, & families & human communities are circles of caring & compassion (when they work well) & we live on a round, orbiting ball of a planet, don’t we? It shouldn’t perhaps surprise us too much to notice all the magical circular processes when really, our own lives & Life itself is all about circles.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that thousands of years ago, human beings understood intuitively that our lives are guided by these circular processes, but that somewhere along the way (perhaps when we moved away from the tribal lifestyle of gatherers & hunters in favour of settled agriculture?), it seems we mislaid our understanding of the power of circles (& began boxing ourselves in).

I recently re-read the fabulously interesting & well-written book The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of the wildly best-selling Eat, Pray, Love) in which she delves deeply into the life of Eustace Conway – an utterly fascinating man & “a true American original.” Eustace Conway is an outdoorsman of truly mind-blowing capabilities & knowledge. The story of who he is & how he came to be who & where he is, is riveting.

Conway understands very well the phenomenon of circles & expounds on it in the book.(2) He also points out very convincingly that most of us these days live not in circles, but in boxes.

Gilbert quotes him saying to an audience of young people, “Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anybody you know?”(3)

Phew! He’s nailed us, hasn’t he??

He sure makes our box-like existences sound more than a tad unappealing, doesn’t he?

Well, I muse on this kind of thing quite a bit, & I notice that our world seems to be in a wee bit of a mess (don’t you think?), & I wonder whether more of us might begin looking outside the boxes a little more.

It also happens I’m an obsessive collector of thoughtful & inspiring quotations, & I recall that Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates.” I can’t help noticing that boxes (& the nuclear family, & consumer society & our proclivity to skirt around some pretty big “elephants” in the room/our lives/the world) definitely have the effect of keeping us inside our own little minds/world/boxes, feeling separate & too often, lonely, inadequate & downright alienated (which leads to all kinds of problems, but let’s not go there right now…).

And I think about the activists I know, & the truth-tellers, & the fact that a lot of us are people who are nudging us back in the direction of those circular processes. In my own life, I’ve seen how the magic of following my bliss (as an environmental activist & writer) has succeeded in making me feel very alive – very appreciated – & very much a member of a large & quite wonderful tribe…not just a small & rather inadequate (& aptly named) nuclear family.

I think too that people who are brave enough to tell the truth give us all a leg up & help boost us up out of that lonely box that confines & limits us, giving us an opportunity to find & join in more of the magical circles.

And for some reason, this reminds me of a sign I saw recently in a store window. You know how you often see signs that say “Help Wanted: Experience Required?” This one said “Customers Wanted. No Experience Necessary.”

This gave me a chuckle on a slightly lonesome & dreary day.

And now I offer it to you, dear Reader, as an invitation to climb up out of a life of boxes & into a world of circles.

No experience necessary; just learn as you go. As poet Antonio Machado said, “We make the road by walking.”(4) Let’s get walking!!


p.s. A few circular things I can think of: smiling, being friendly, being cooperative & open to collaboration, truth-telling, honesty. When we smile, are friendly, cooperative & open to collaboration, are honest & tell the truth, it seems to encourage the people around us to do the same. (There are vicious circles too, of course, & negative feedback loops – so since “what we focus on expands,” I direct my energy toward the un-vicious type as much as humanly possible!) Loving acts seem to lead to loving feelings – leading to more loving acts & … ‘round & round it goes.

p.p.s. Sometimes I notice that some folks seem to almost hoard their friendliness & their smiles. I don’t know if they think there is only so much of that kind of good feeling to go around – but in my experience, it’s quite the opposite! The more I smile & am friendly to people, the more they are friendly & smile back – & that makes me feel good, so I keep doing it, &…. you get my drift, hmm? Actress Sarah Bernhardt said, “Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

p.p.p.s. I wrote a blog post several months ago called “Hope – or Action?” At the time, I felt I was losing or had lost all my hope. I mused on it some, read some things, talked to some folks, & decided to start taking action. In taking some of the actions I took, I seemed to grow some hope (must say too, it’s young people’s energy that seems a critical ingredient – for me, anyway). That seems to me another lovely kind of circle. Turns out hope is a renewable resource, which is pretty cool!! Action > hope > action > hope, etc. etc. For sure too, the more we do, the more we give, the more we receive back. So yes, all of it circular, & also rather magical…

‘Quote of the Day’ with this post: “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” – Tuli Kupferberg

(1) If you go to ‘Gratitude Postings: A list & an insight’ you’ll see a distressing # of links to blog postings about gratitude. I’m an absolute broken record about it – but only because it’s so darn important!! Dear friend Penny says, “Gratitude is the first order of the Universe.” Not sure where she picked up that line, but she is absolutely right!!! I hope you’ll consider checking out some of my postings about it…

(2) The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert, Penguin Books, 2002. Page 18.

(3) Page 19.

(4) The blog post “We make the road by walking” contains the Machado poem that this line is from.