The Spiraling Pattern of Growth
The spiritual path holds so much promise when we first embark upon it. Our consciousness seems so expansive. We soak up new information and ideas like sponges, and at times it almost seems as if those new perspectives have direct power to transform us simply because we understand things so much better than we ever did before. The call of the authentic Self motivates us to grow and change in ways that we might never have imagined before we tasted the sweet subtleties that Spirit can infuse into even our ordinary daily life. Someone annoys us? That’s just an opportunity to show love! Some desired plan is thwarted? That’s just a providential nudge to take a different approach, or maybe it’s a lesson in patience, that Holy Grail of spiritual growth. Even when we stumble, enlightenment (whatever that is!) feels inevitable. A few more workshops, another couple of years of meditation, or maybe just the right teacher will come along and then we will attain the levels of consciousness that beckon to us so compellingly.
Yet for most of us whose time on the path measures not only in years but even decades, progress may feel disappointingly slow at times. Sure, we’ve grown beyond where we were at the outset, but some of our more stubborn patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior still have a disconcerting way of rearing their ugly heads just when we had thought we had overcome them. We may get glimpses of a frame of mind we hold that has captured us for years or maybe even lifetimes, but we’re not quite sure what it will take to really change it. Or maybe we have not yet found the level of personal well-being that we’d assumed to be one of the rewards of our spiritually oriented efforts. More common still is the nagging sense that we are not fulfilling our true spiritual purpose. Somewhere along the way “life happens,” and it turns out that it’s not always easy to remember who we really are. Those higher states of love and deep connection that we intuit to be the true measure of our growth may continue to elude us, and at times we may become weary on a spiritual path where we never really feel “done.” At these times we may even feel deeply broken somewhere inside and wonder what it is that we are missing.
The truth is that we are all “broken” in certain ways. Few of us get into adulthood without some degree of emotional wounding, and often we must face the ramifications of this repeatedly in our lives. The emotional wounding may be a pattern from a past life that is ingrained in our consciousness, waiting there for us to uncover and release it. We try to find the learning behind the situation, but sometimes come up blank. Even those with no particular consciousness of “wounding” may feel a bit broken by patterns of failure to live up to the spiritual ideal they have set. Whenever we feel stagnant or blocked in our agenda toward ongoing, expansive growth, it can seem like something that was once alive and quickening has become broken in some way.
How, then, do we keep our motivation up over the long haul, accept the fact that we must “keep on keeping on” and at the same time recognize and celebrate those ways in which we have, indeed, made noteworthy progress? Part of the answer to this question lies in examining the nature of growth itself.
The spiral is a more realistic model for our ongoing growth and healing than models suggesting straight linear ascent. This is because the spiral form conveys the way we continue to encounter the same pattern at ever-higher levels of manifestation and wider contexts of meaning. We often find ourselves confronting the same issues and patterns repeatedly in our lives and erroneously conclude that the repetition means we have not made progress. Yet, if we will look more carefully, we will usually see that we are meeting the pattern at a higher level or in a broader context than before. Take, for example, an emotional challenge like fear of speaking one’s truth. For the one dealing with such an issue, the way you met that fear as a child may have been quite different from the way you met it as a young adult, and the way you meet it as a mature adult may be different still. You may well be facing the same root pattern of fear of speaking your truth, but notice how you have to meet it at both higher levels of challenge and within the broader context that your ongoing experience provides. The child may fear and not even know why. The young adult may experience the same fear and understand more about where the perceived threat lies. With maturation, there may be growing insight about the responses one makes to the fear and the motives of others who may be involved in the fear-inducing situation. There may even be the introduction of spiritual understanding along the way. We may not be skyrocketing beyond fear for ever and always, but rather meeting it each time the spiral curves back around to that pattern. And so we spiral upward. In this way, we grow.
The nautilus has long been a favorite metaphor of this spiraling spiritual growth. As a soft and vulnerable creature grows larger inside its shell, it spirals outward, creating successive new homes that are larger than the one before. The calcified, walled nautilus shell is such a perfect metaphor because it graphically illustrates both our spiraling, expansive growth and how encased and calcified we can nonetheless become at each stage that we attain.
We, like the nautilus, often find ourselves running up against walls that are nothing more than leftovers from previous boundaries we have built around ourselves. These include our ideas about who we are; the interpretations we put on our circumstances; our beliefs about what is and is not possible; the emotions that have taken on a life of their own; patterns of behavior that we repeatedly exhibit; and our notions of what we are and are not willing to do to facilitate our ongoing growth.
When we are stressed or discouraged, it is good to remember that we do our best growing when conditions within our lives and our inner world become too constricting for us to tolerate. Then – and usually only then – do we break through to new levels of awareness and identity. Like the nautilus, we all must expand the contexts and boundaries of our lives in order to manifest more developed expressions of Spirit and move not only ourselves but the human race toward greater consciousness of Oneness.
Years ago, I chose a beautiful nautilus as my lockscreen image, just to remind myself of this. Every time my computer goes to sleep, I see that nautilus as I wake it up. And, if I’m paying attention, it wakes me up just a bit too.