For those who may have followed my stories on Wilson and Azelea, you might know that the ideas of the spiral, the labyrinth, the garden and the sky have all been common themes. A group of my friends and I are in the process of putting together a magazine to inspire movement. I felt it was an appropriate space to theorize my stories a bit. I am hoping to write one more story to complete the series. So here is some theoretical background to my creative thoughts.
What is movement? It is growth: longing, reaching and forward motion. It is to stretch out and expand. It is to inhale and contract. It is to die and be reborn. Movement is not in linear progression; in the journey of a to b. It’s not a ladder to climb, or boxes to tick, or weigh down in papers of things achieved. Movement instead is growth. Growth within the circle of time. It is growth in circles and patterns, like the spiral imprinted on your fingertip. It is non-linear. It is continuous.
This type of movement is akin to the pattern of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a unicursal single path pattern, which leads towards the centre.
In the Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull. Daedalus had made the labyrinth so cunningly, and intricately that he could barely escape it once built. It was only when Ariadna provided him with a skein of thread, “the clue” that he could make his way out again, by following it.
Throughout medieval tradition, the labyrinth pattern has been redefined. As opposed to a maze, and even perhaps the cunningly designed pattern of Daedalus, the labyrinth has an unambiguous route that is not difficult to navigate. The pattern has been used throughout history with resurgence in the middle ages. The pattern was carved into gardens, was seen on ancient cretan coins, and was present on floor tiles in cathedrals across France, Scandinavia and England. The labyrinth patterns were designed as routes around a shape, with famous patterns such as the rose and the cross being at the centre.
History tells us that the Jesuits used to walk these patterns in the morning, and in the evening in a process of reflection. Following the pattern was a metaphor for following the path of life. Within this idea, life began at the entry of the pattern, at the foot of the cross, and ended at the centre, at the bosom of the Father.
If we consider movement then, beginning in a garden in the form of a labyrinth, all our ideas about genesis and growth happen within the circle of time. If we believe that man was born a gardener, and his first work was to tend to the earth against the map of the seasons and the stars then life is more cyclical than we in the Greek tradition had imagined.
Indeed it is in the Greek tradition that we take life to be lived as a linear succession: event after event, centred on time. If life began in the Garden, and according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, is moving towards a City, then we can look at time as based on context rather than on event. In the Jewish tradition, events are based on context, the day that the Lord did something, rather than a plotted progression of days. Movement is based on a collective motivation towards something, rather than an individual success.
Yet just as movement is collective: a group of people toward one cause, it is also individual. It is motion in art, rhythm in music. Movement requires the individual action within the scope of time. In 1945, WH Auden wrote his poem ‘in Sickness and in Health’. Herein he wrote,
“Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm/ and gardened from the wilderness of space/ the sensual properties of one dear face?/”.
Commenters say that Auden wrote this poem at a time when he was making crucial life decisions. The decision to marry. The decision to move countries. The decision to follow Christ. As much as the poetry represents creationism – the mirroring between earth and sky, God and man – it also represents movement. It suggests that movement is not a mere stroll down a garden path, but is an intentional carving of lines and pattern within creation.
Henri Bergson claimed that the essence of time lies in the movement of creation, of life and growth. In his Creative Evolution he argued, “Every living being is cast like an eddy in the current of life.” If you stop for a second to pause on the eddy, you might think of the earth in its orbit, the Milky Way in its spin.
You might think of the clock that turns as babies grow in a round red womb. You might imagine the baby, with milky skin coming out to the cold world, ready to be rocked and swayed in motion. Ready to continue its rounded orbit.
Educational philosophers say that the first shape a child recognizes is a circle. It recognizes the circles in its parent’s eyes, the round corners of their faces. Understanding time then, makes sense moving around a clock, or a sundial rather than up a ladder.
We were born to recognize circles and patterns and seasons.
Bergson says that we are inclined to treat the living being that has spiraled in upon itself as an externally bounded object, or as a container for life. Perhaps to continue its growth elsewhere.
Yet Bergson claimed that life is not contained in all things. It is movement itself wherein every organism emergences as a peculiar disturbance that interrupts the linear flow. These organisms happen to feign immobility so that we are deceived into treating each “as a thing rather than as a progress, forgetting that the very permanence of its form is only the outline of a movement. (1911: 135)” Human beings have their own course of movement within the scope of nature and creation.
Anthropologist Tim Ingold in his essays on Perception put forward the conception of the human being as a singular nexus of creative growth within a continually unfolding field of relationships. This process of growth, he suggested, is tantamount to a movement along a way of life. A peculiar life-infused movement is what exists within a human being, against a background of creation, progress and growth.
And even within this movement, the human was also created to dwell. The Old Testament of scripture talks about the potters that “dwelled among the plants and the hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work” (1 Chronicles 4v23). You can imagine the potters dwelling among the hedges, like the Jesuits wandering along the labyrinthine garden.
Renowned philosopher Heidegger argued was known for his work on the concept of ‘to dwell’. In his writings, he argued to recover the original meaning of the word. From behind the narrow, modernist identification of dwelling with occupation or consumption, he hoped to restore it to its original and primary meaning as being: encompassing the entire way in which one lives one’s life on the earth.
To then talk of movement, in structural terms under the Greek mindset, one must dwell in order to move or build. Heidegger said, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.”
It certainly feels countercultural to view life as movement and growth, along a garden path where one must dwell, in order to build. There is an emphasis on rest before building. There is an emphasis on understanding the nature of seedtime and harvest. Of stretching out and expanding, then contracting and breathing in.
Yet this is movement and it only takes looking to the sky and the earth to see how the human eye mirrors the nebulae in space. How the wind moves like the spiral galaxy, and how human life exists in this opening and closing.
Perhaps in the eddy of life, the human being winds towards the centre of the labyrinth to the bosom of the father. Or, to the single rose that is left in the garden. And the circle forms, the chapter complete, the spiral narrows like a spring.