Our lives are shaped by symbols, which are the primordial images that have been inherited from our ancestors and are deeply ingrained within the collective unconscious. When we trace the use of symbols from ancient times to the present, it becomes clear that it is the spiral, perhaps even more specifically than the circle, that defines the form and force of everything in life, including the development of consciousness. In The Mystic Spiral, author Jill Purce remarks, “The spiral tendency within each one of us is the longing for and growth toward wholeness. Every whole is cyclic, and has a beginning, a middle, and end. It starts from a point, expands and differentiates, contracts and disappears into the point once more. Such a pattern is that of our lifetime and may well be that of our universe.”
The spiral movement is responsible for the creation of many forms in nature, including the solar systems, along with their suns and planets, the galaxies, and the vortical flow of water. Cycles and movements within the macrocosm provide the model for the cyclic nature of the microcosmic individual life. Within the spiral form “the potential for movement in either direction manifests as choice”—the spiral upward or the vortex downward, as well as the directional right or left along the vertical axis. The spiral process represents the course of evolution, humanity’s developmental climb to realize heightened consciousness.
The spiral tendency exists within each of us, and is exhibited within the evolution of our own consciousness. If we imagine our individual life along a continuum through time, we can envision a straight line. But in reality, the cyclic nature of life allows for a return, as well as a continuous movement forward; and so we can effectively move in two directions. Since any transition moves us through successive stages to completion, we can assume that transformation sees the individual returned to his/her life, but in a state vastly different from how they were before the transition. The spiral movement, thus, describes not only the movement forward, but also a return to a higher level, another successive winding upward.
Using the same principles, we can move in the opposite direction as well. The spiral movement can take us up or down, left or right. We can start at a point of origin along the continuum and travel backward to clarify issues, find answers, and gain insights from the past that will help us move forward. Or, we can utilize what we’ve already learned in order to revisit unfinished business and unresolved issues, and hopefully, apply this new information to help shift our perspective. Although it is our goal to grow, to spiral upward, at times we regress, spiraling downward. Neither one is a permanent state; a point of origin, where we had once been, is always within our view and capacity. The potential for and the capacity to change is always available to us. We can always spiral around to find the answer or the solution.
In attempting to understand the evolution of consciousness for humanity as a whole, philosopher, author, and visionary Ken Wilber’s extensive body of research and writings tap into and expand the theoretical work of several cutting edge researchers. Wilber’s integral theory of consciousness pushes beyond linear thinking to embrace Spiral Dynamics. In A Theory of Everything, borrowing from the work of Beck and Cowan, he describes human development as a movement through eight general stages, called memes, which are “not rigid levels but flowing waves, with much overlap and interweaving, resulting in a meshwork or dynamic spiral of consciousness unfolding.” For Wilber, the natural tendency of each wave is to “transcend and include.” Each wave transcends the one that preceded it, yet includes all of those previous capacities and strategies, and the potential of each of these stages is available to everyone.
This is such a provocative idea, since proponents of numerous ideologies would like to forget, or worse, eradicate whatever existed before it in order to claim its dominance and expound its “rightness”.
The “mystic spiral” describes the development of humanity’s psycho-spiritual unfolding as well. It is no mistake that as we strive to recapture a sacred balance between the rational and the intuitive, symbols re-emerge to help us accomplish this. The labyrinth is an ancient meditative tool to describe many things: the cosmos, the Mother, the Way—the journey through life. This archetypal tool has resurfaced from our collective unconscious to find ever-increasing expression everywhere. What is so compelling about the labyrinth is that it fully embodies the archetype by engaging both subconscious and conscious. The labyrinth creates a physical space, a container that allows access to the subconscious through conscious intention, through the physical act of “walking the archetype.”
Moving outward to ever-increasing expanses, we go further and further to the edge; the movement inward integrates what we have assimilated from our outward journey and from our successive windings. Constant to this process, like the axis our planet revolves upon, is the center, a homecoming to the self.