Drawing Circles

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn.  --Emerson

Evan Kaufman Photography.jpg

Being itself is like this—round and seamless.  We see it in the many spherical objects of nature, we hear it in the looping sounds of bird calls and streams, sense it in the circle of human life, where birth and death seem to emerge from a single, mysterious point. The circular nature of being is what Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, 1994) refers to as “the phenomenology of roundness,” the simply recognition that “being is round.” Bachelard explains, “When a metaphysician tells us that being is round, he displays all psychological determinations at one time. He rids us of a past of dramas and thoughts, at the same time that he invites us to actuality of being.” Here, we are called to the attention of our roundness, our circularity. There is no qualification. No cause. No effect.

We might call attunement to this roundness poetry. It is what Emerson, in his essay Circles, identifies as the rushing, “on all sides outwards to new and larger circles… without end.”  And yet, as Emerson cautions, “It is our thoughts, heaped one on another with habitual force [that] solidify and hem in the life.”

Thoughts are part of the natural, perceptional process of creating abstractions that help us to name and make sense of the world. We look for patterns and relationships and we order them into perceptions that give our experience meaning. Yet, as eloquently as the mind is constructed to navigate and order a multitude of sense impressions, it can overtake the actual experience of being.

It is here, in the mind of experience, where we so often become stuck and weighted down, that our thoughts and perceptions are no longer connect directly to the juicy, gushing roundness of being, but take on the function of self-reflexive coils that cinch ever tighter around us, as if we’re constrained in all directions and can expand in none. It is in the awareness of this condition that we identify a problem. We feel stuck, depressed, anxious, indecisive.

Our lives can become a nearly reflexive act of seeking precise points and straight lines of cause and effect where there is only roundness. Watzlawick, Beavin Bavelas & Jackson (Pragmatics of Human Communication, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011) identify this roundness as an axiom of communication called circular process. Recognizing and disrupting the homeostatic regulation of this process is a chief aim of the therapeutic dialogue. It may be understood as the “doing” of roundness, the one experience Emerson believes we really seek in this life—“to draw a new circle.”