Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Circling Back: The Ouroboros


If I were to get a tattoo, it would be some variation of the above image called an ouroboros. An ouroboros has many meanings that reflect a rich heritage of thought. The symbol can be understood in terms such as the infinity of nature, the beginning and end of something, or a circling back to the beginning of a place, thought, or an event. The snake eating its own tale can represent secular and non secular ideas, be culturally specific, and can have both an individual and group oriented meaning. The possibilities for interpretation of the symbol are endless. (Pun intended!)

For my own personal explanation, I see the symbol in terms of the circular nature of things. Through my own experiences I have come to believe that we are never through with things. We never come to the end of a problem or really resolve it for good. The same problem always shows up somewhere down the road, surprising us with its reappearance and sometimes its intensity. 

As an example, recently I read a blog post in which the writer talked about dealing with old issues that she thought she had conquered long ago. She had done hard work to get through the problem and so was surprised when the same issue resurfaced. The feelings surrounding the problem weren't as intense as before but still, they were there to be dealt with. 

My first thought upon reading her post was just as I mentioned above. I don't believe that we have ever completely conquered something. We never become our "best" selves but simply live with the messiness, finding a way to cope with it. Problems leave an indelible mark on our souls and in our brains and though we strive to eradicate those marks, they remain stubbornly affixed to our self conscious. I think that at the most, we simply live with the remnants of things and keep them at bay as best we can. And whether we like it or not, just as the snake will circle back on itself, swallowing its own tail, so will we continue to encounter our own problems from long ago. 

My own personal example of never being finished with something involves my parents. My mom has been gone for nearly 5 years now. My dad is still living but I have little contact with him. Over the years, especially right after my mom died, I did a lot of work to get through some long standing problems that centered around my relationship with both of my parents. Even now, I do this kind of internal work almost daily. I feel, at times, that I have done really well to reframe my view of things. But, I am taken by surprise sometimes when old emotions resurface. My anger and frustration are immediate and right at the surface. There is no build up or threshold, the feelings are right on top of my consciousness. How can this be, I think? I have made all of this progress with handling these emotions. Will I ever get to the end of things? Why am I here in the same mental space again?

I have tried to make sense of these seeming setbacks and the only way I can do it is by giving the problems (thoughts included) a kind of physical shape. It's almost like a visual that would be used in a meditation practice. In this way, I have come to see problems as being circular in nature rather than linear. When we think of a problem as being linear, such as a math or chemistry equation, we want to start at point A, proceed to points B, C, and D and then arrive at a solution. The mistake though is in believing that emotional problems are the same as mathematical problems.  They are not. Emotional problems are nuanced and subtle and complex in a way that science is not. They also involve human beings which are just not the same as numbers (at least not yet anyway). Problems are also multi- faceted and can be both solvable and unsolvable at the same time. In this way, we are never done with something, we never come to the end of things. A someone quipped, it ain't over till it's over.

The early Egyptians saw the ouroboros as both a symbol of chaos and of renewal. The circular snake represented both order and disorder. This idea of duality has been useful to me as an explanation for why I seem to experience the same things over and over again, despite having done "the work" to overcome those problems. Understanding the circular nature of how the world works, of there being both order and chaos simultaneously, somehow lets me off the hook. So long as I have made an honest solid effort to be better, I know I am doing OK. Some things are out of my control. And its this duality that drives my ability to cope when I am unhappy with the direction that my life is taking. I reflect on the circular nature of things and it somehow gives me comfort in knowing that I have been here before, worked on things, gotten to a good place and will undoubtedly be back again for more. Even though I may be frustrated, I know I have the skills to persevere. And that's everything isn't it?

*If you have read this post and liked it, please let me know: libbyfife@ymail.com

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Year, A View and Some Thoughts From Outer Space

View From Lake Hogan Trail
Stand in awe before your creator and all that you see. Know that there is something bigger. Take comfort in that thought and be satisfied. 
On Christmas Day we watched a movie. It was The Martian with Matt Damon. (Yes, I know I am very late to the party. We just don't watch many movies.) It was very entertaining and oddly enough, very moving in a real spiritual sense. I have included a quote from the film here which really struck me. The quote from the movie is Mark Watney's letter to his parents to be delivered by his commander in the event of his death. In the letter he talks about his job, how he loves it and isn't giving up the fight but just preparing for an outcome. It's the last part though that really got me, the part about him dying for something  greater than himself. He accepts this and seems satisfied with the knowledge of what may happen to him. It was a very moving scene. May we all be so composed and content as our end approaches.

I should mention now that I am notorious for not quite getting the "required point" of a story, an article, a quote, or someone's narrative. I always miss the main point and turn it into something slightly different. (This was a real challenge for me throughout my school career and continues to be so, obviously. I was constantly being corrected.) The above quote is no exception to this lifetime "rule." I am sure that even though I know what Matt Damon's character wrote, I really took it to mean something else entirely. I am offering my own take on things, as can be read in the opening lines of this post, and yes, I quoted myself! So there!

His words resonated with me and appeared at just the right time. There is some part of me that always wants to be at peace with my life no matter the circumstances. No matter what my past life has been like and no matter what the future holds, I would like to say that I am satisfied. Believing that there is something outside of myself, beyond my comprehension, would be wonderful. It is a relatively new way of thinking for me so I continue to work on the idea.  I can't fully grasp it though just as I can't fully stand in awe of my creator as I would want to. I'd like to be able to look out at the mountains and lake each morning on my walks and really have that kind of faith; the kind of faith that is peaceful, complete, and sure of itself. The kind of faith that the character in the movie has. (Even though he is a fictional character the idea of his resolution seems true and firm.) And I know that having faith in anything is a lifetime endeavor, one that you never come to the end of. Still.

So for those of you who love New Year's resolutions, new beginnings, fresh starts, do-overs and all of that sort of stuff, may I suggest the above quotes as places to begin? Whatever your own spin may be, I wholeheartedly encourage it without correction!

Happy New Year to anyone reading. May it be peaceful and full of satisfaction and awe.
Libby

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