Lately circles have been on my mind. Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’m running in circles as I tackle a lengthy list of necessities that need attention before we drive across the country to relocate from Los Angeles to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Our departure date is now days away and there’s still much to do. The circle imagery, though, has much more significance than simply a visual for my confused and excited state of being.
Circles have long been symbols of wholeness, inclusion, completeness, and eternity. Carl Jung, who founded analytical psychology, often touted the benefits of drawing mandalas (a Sanskrit word meaning circle) to find spiritual insights, and many spiritual seekers, both past and present, suggest walking a labyrinth to uncover clarity and peace. Science even confirms that spirals or interlocking circles are literally part of our DNA. The symbolism, it seems, is everywhere. So what does it have to say about this moment in time for me?
A lot, apparently! Last week as I finished my final hike for the summer in Fryman Canyon, it dawned on me that the three-mile loop I had completed was, of course, a circle. It made me reflect on a phrase I had concocted years ago to end a season of grieving for someone dear to me. In that long ago moment when I knew that it was time to close one chapter and begin another, I also had the overwhelming desire to return to the very place where my relationship with that person had begun. When I did return, I unconsciously uttered the phrase, “Close the circle.” There were no bursts of fireworks or choirs of singing angels, just a peaceful resignation that it was time to let go of the past and move forward. Sometime later, I read a book in which a Native American woman described her philosophy about life, saying that all the journeys we travel in this lifetime are circular in nature. I no longer remember who the woman was or the name of the book, but I’ve thought about that circular imagery for some time.
Over and over, I’ve looked at the patterns of my journeys. I can see that there’s typically a beginning, middle, and end to the spiraling steps we take, and I can also see how one journey leads to another. But what exactly does close the circle mean? And why is it important?
Personal and spiritual growth has always been vital to me. Part of my life journey is working to understand and process the events of my life so that an ending is not a stopping point, but rather, a closure that allows me to begin anew. But closure only happens with awareness and intention. Without that step, our journeys become lopsided and tangled, often mired in disappointment and frustration. With that in mind, I knew I needed to set some intentions about how to properly end this current cycle of experience.
My last hike wasn’t done alone. I did it with my good friend, Paula, who first introduced me to the canyon nearly two years ago. Both of us are writers, so we used those trails to share ideas, story plots, favorite books we had read, thoughts on everything from politics to our favorite restaurants, and vignettes about our families. My friend has been both companion and sounding board for questions and thoughts that needed to be exposed, looked at, and grappled with for meaning. Sharing one last three-mile conversation was necessary to solidify and honor the experiences we had shared and the wisdom we had garnered. While ascending and descending the canyon’s trails that day, surrounded by dry brush, clouds of dust, and the bluest sky I’ve seen all summer, I, consciously knew that I was beginning to close the circle on my Los Angeles adventure. Before parting, I gave my friend a long, tearful, and grateful hug for all that we had shared. Then I spent the rest of the week making phone calls, writing letters, and arranging dinners to utter similar precious good-byes.
Just as saying farewell is part of closing the circle, so, too, is giving thanks. And there has been much to be grateful for – spending countless hours with my granddaughter, driving along the scenic California coast, meeting such a diverse group of friends, trips to Disneyland and the Malibu coast, abundant laughter, and stories shared with family, as well as weddings and births.
Closure also means taking time to recognize and value where you’ve been. It means celebrating the achievements – becoming deeply connected to my granddaughter, writing a book, mastering a backbend in yoga class, and finally being brave enough to drive on the freeway! But it also means honoring and being grateful for the hard times, too – the bouts with illness, the times my creativity dried up and disappeared, the loneliness of not having friends when we settled here, and watching family members struggle with painful experiences. Through it all, I had the love and companionship of friends and family, as well as the spiritual support of a special army of women from Holy Spirit Retreat Center, for which I am most grateful.
My final step in the “closing” process was reflecting on the lessons learned. Here are my top three takeaways:
1) Resiliency is garnered by sifting through the hard times in search of truth and strength. Although neither is easily found, they are there, waiting to be discovered. In the process we uncover an inner strength we didn’t know existed.
2) Decisions and goals can change. We graduate. We change jobs. We age. And, we move on. Hanging on to old beliefs and desires keeps us locked into harmful patterns that slowly erode our happiness. For me, being joyful about where I live is vital to my well being, so although the city of angels once called to me, I now hear the alluring swell of ocean waves and the rustle of sea grass. Moving to LA wasn’t a mistake and neither is moving away.
3) Listening to the longings of your own spirit requires a bit of boldness. It isn’t easy to pursue a dream at any age, and finding your own well of inner courage is essential. I suppose it also requires a bit of magical thinking, of believing that the Spirit of the Universe wants to support and help us in the process. (Though I must admit, there have been days when I sounded a bit childlike as I repeated, “I do believe! I do believe!” over and over again.)
Now that my ritual of closing the circle is complete, it’s time to step into the future – one that I’m certain is full of hope, growth, and new opportunities. Once I’m settled, I’ll pick up my pen and begin to write again. There won’t be any desert canyons to hike or reflect upon, but there will be majestic mountain paths and plenty of sandy beaches to discover. Until you hear from me again, I hope you’ll look at your own life circles, evaluating if any need to close so that new ones can emerge. Maybe there’s a move in a new direction awaiting you, too!