“A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral”
~ Maynard James Keenan
You have heard, I am sure, of the circle of life. Anyone who has watched the Disney Classic “The Lion King” has felt themselves tearing up (or at least in awe) while sitting through that opening number where the interconnectedness of all of nature is emphasized (and with a phenomenal musical score nonetheless). But when it comes to the concept of spiritual evolution, it isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.
Circles are perfect. Just ask the Zen masters who saw the circle as the embodiment of absolute enlightenment. Called the ensō, this circle represented strength as well as elegance. It was used to represent both the void and the universe in all its wild complexity and, more recently, has come to be seen as an expression of the moment and the perfect completeness of “now.”
This is all fine and good for representing the perfection of enlightenment. But what about what comes before? Better yet – what about that which comes after?
Enlightenment, you see, isn’t the end.
Wait, what? Isn’t that what this is all about? Isn’t enlightenment the whole purpose of spiritual evolution? Isn’t the prospect of enlightenment all about the perfectness of the moment, of that instant when everything becomes clear to you and you finally realize the true nature of reality and the reason that you have been put on this earth?
Of course it is. But that doesn’t mean that enlightenment is the end. Becoming enlightened does not mean that you instantaneously become perfect; never have a bad thought or speak a bad word ever again. In fact, enlightenment is, if you will, simply the beginning, for it isn’t enough to know the true nature of reality; to know the reason that you have been put on this earth and how everything fits into place. Now that you know it, you have to live it. You have to live your truth and that, quite frankly, can take some doing.
In fact, living your truth and the progression that comes after enlightenment can actually be more confusing than what came before, and that is because you are no longer on a journey. You are no longer following a path to actually get somewhere. Now that you have got to where you are going you have to create an entirely new life; a new existence; a new reality for yourself, like the pioneers who traveled out west in their covered wagons. They didn’t always know where they would end up, but once they got to where they were going, it was time to get started on the real work; on creating a life for themselves out of the wilderness they had discovered. It is the same with enlightenment.
Once you have awakened; once you have become aware of the true nature of reality and of your real reason for existence, you stop searching and begin creating a life based on your new realizations, and that isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.
Imagine if you will a giant slinky. A slinky is not much more than a flexible coiled spring whose individual spirals are all part of a much larger whole. Now, when you condense the spring into its smallest form you see it for what it really is; a slinky. But when you pull the spirals apart – stretch that flexible spring out to its maximum length, it almost appears that the slinky is made up of individual spirals.
In fact, if you were small enough (and if you turned the slinky on end) you could start at the bottom end of the slinky and slowly but surely walk your way up; spiral after spiral; to the very top.
Congratulations! You’ve just made a visual picture of the evolution of the soul.
That’s right. Once you’ve broken free from the infinite loop of habit; of years and lifetimes’ worth of repeating patterns and conditioned responses; once you’ve attained enlightenment as to the real nature of reality and of your place in the universe, then and only then can you start your real journey, the journey that will take you up the spirals of your soul’s spiritual evolution as you create for yourself a life based on those things that you have come to hold dear.
Each level of the spiral is a circle complete and contains within it that reflection of eternity attributed to the ensō. And yet, as the Zen ensō leaves a small space at the end of the brush stroke completing the circle, so too does a spiral leave a space for the one walking the circle to move up to the next level, completing the circle while transcending it at the same time and integrating everything that was learned in transitioning the circle below into the creation of the life currently being lived.