Moving the World Forward on the Spiral of Life

Appeared on Feminism and Religion, January 17, 2015

The wasp nest dwells at the edge of my vision waiting for me to notice what it has to show me. In my mind, I have come to this beloved circle of earth beneath the embracing branches of this tree to ponder because the need is urgent for all the world’s women to have lives of peace, safety, equality, opportunity, and enough prosperity to guarantee necessities, and to save our planet from ecological disaster. I seek new ways of thinking about my life and actions and those of the global community of women to inspire more effective means of progress.

wasps nestI finally spy the wasp nest. I follow its spiral shape, beginning at one point and then expanding in circles ever-outward and upward. I wonder, what if, in addition to perceiving my life as the more traditional journey or age-defined stages, I imagined it as a spiral like the galaxy, flowers, ancient sea creatures caught forever in fossils, swirling water, and so much else of nature? What if at my birth I was like a spiral’s central point, perhaps me at my most essential or as an infinite potential, and then, over time, I spiraled endlessly into the cosmos?

When I envision my life as a spiral, I experience myself expanding with every circling. No longer bound by my own or anyone’s notions of who I should be or what is appropriate for me to do, I am free to venture as far from my center as I choose to go, to explore every nook and cranny of human experience. I can move beyond where I am at any given moment by seeking new knowledge and pursuing new actions, friendships and family ties. I can dream for myself, for all women and our planet, goals and ways to reach them beyond what I had assumed was possible.

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA
At the same time, spirals circle back to the vicinity of where they began. The center is not a starting point in which I will never again dwell, but rather a home that I keep rediscovering as I move ever-outward, but yet always come round to again. I may have expanded my focus beyond my ordinary life but who, where, and when I was born has meaning for what I can offer to these efforts for change. Whatever I do, I must remember the special gifts of my life history and bring its wisdom to bear on my actions. I must gain strength from drinking from the well of where I came from while also never forgetting that its waters are connected to the oceans that circle the whole globe.

Finally, I consider how spirals naturally encompass parts of other spirals as all expand in the same space, much like many circular lilies all arising from the same pond. I remember how this is true of so many of my relationships with women. Women don’t just cross paths, as lines do when they meet, but we take each other into our lives, become part of one another’s being. I am not simply touched by other women, but transformed by them as each one, even if we only meet once, becomes part of me.

The spiral image can help us envision what we will do to forward a more just, equal, peaceful, and sustainable world, but what does a spiral look like in action? Perhaps it resembles the Seven Summits Team of young women from Nepal who recently reached their goal of climbing the highest mountain on each continent. The seven young women come from backgrounds that include fleeing forced marriages, child labor, and extreme poverty. Through education and determination they became not just independent but renowned for their climbs and other achievements. In addition, they have used their global acclaim to further the education and empowerment of women in Nepal and globally and to promote environmentalism by visits to over 200 schools, community organizations, governmental agencies, and more, as well as a planned book for young people. They have gained worldwide media attention and met with world leaders.

From Seven Summits
These young women seem to have an expansive view, with their lives on a trajectory that goes far beyond what they might have anticipated as a goal for themselves or what their families and community would expect them to be doing at this stage of life. They move upwards, both physically and metaphorically, with no limits in sight. Yet, at the same time, by their social action work, they have not forgotten their pasts or lost their centering memories of why they are pushing themselves to accomplish so much. Finally, their lives touch each other and women all over the world. They are not just a mountain-climbing team, but close friends who depend on one another, and they feel a responsibility to all the world’s women.

Our lives are a succession of days spent doing what we can to make a life of meaning, joy, and love, and bring into being our vision of a better world than the one we were born into. When we awaken in the morning, we don’t know if we will lay our heads down again to sleep at night. When I look up and see the wasp nest and then up at the sky and know that I am traveling on our galaxy’s spiral, I see that I, too, am a spiral made of days instead of stars, of thoughts and ideas bound into bundles of time instead of wasps nest glue. I come to know that while my life may be finite and I may perceive of myself as alone, in reality I have elements as infinite as the universe itself as I rise and circle, that my spiral can move in rhythm with those of all other women around me, and that, together, we can eventually reach the top of whatever mountains we choose.

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