The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Donna Henes Headshot

The Wisdom of Circular Thinking

Posted: Updated:

The circle of time, the celestial cycles, the round of the seasons, surrounds us and encompasses us. All there is, was, and will be exists within its spinning circumference.

Consider the cycles of the systems: the celestial revolutions, rotations, and orbits, which collaboratively choreograph the complex ballet of the galaxies. The planetary circulation of water through the periods of precipitation and evaporation, freeze and thaw, ebb and flow. The circular exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide as plants and animals breathe in and out, making air together, like the Eskimo women who make eerie music by blowing on each other's larynxes. The infinitesimally-slow build up and unavoidable breakdown of sand, stone, skeletons, soil, stars, and continental shelves. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The circle dance of the heavenly spheres leads us along in its hypnotic rhythm as we reel through space, twirl through time, twist, gyrate, through fate. As the world turns, each subtle shift of season, of atmospheric pressure, each nuance of light and dark resonates in our bodies, our spirits, our entire being. And we, ourselves, standing always in the center, become the cycle.

The circle is perhaps humanity's first and most elemental symbol. It stands for the whole, the circumference and all that is therein contained. The creation myths of many cultures speak of the great round, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon or the hoop, from which the world originated. The circle is breast, swollen belly, galactic womb.

Combining as it does the projected authority of the heavenly cyclical forces with that of the female form, the circle confers a concept of a potent creatrix, humankind's first deity. From the beginning, in reverence, in deference, to Her, people invoked the protection and sense of unity of this primordial image. They inscribed, described, circumscribed their lives, their customs, and their surroundings with circles. It might even be said that the Great Round was our first religion.

Prehistoric matrifocal cultures (as well as contemporary tribal societies) built round houses with circular hearths. Vessels were round and granaries. Fences, pens, livestock enclosures, burial mounds, ritual grounds, ovens and wells were round. Villages, and ultimately towns and great cities such as Paris and Washington, D.C. were designed as radiating circles.

Consecrated sites of public worship -- sacred groves, temples, standing stone circles and medicine wheels -- were cast in the round. Magical circles were drawn in rock, in marble, in earth, to delineate and focus the divine powers of the cosmos. When folks danced in ceremonial manifestation of the celestial cycles, it was also in a circle. And when measures of defense were called for, ranks circled in to form a sealed, protective ring.

The circle has indelibly permeated philosophical thought, religious ceremony and ritual practice. Reincarnation is understood by vast multitudes of people around the world to be the way in which we participate in the everlasting continuous circle of life. The related eastern concepts of Karma and the western Pagan law of a three- or seven-fold return, point the way for placing personal responsibility on a universal scale. "What goes around comes around."

Because its perimeter is unbroken, the circle also represents time, which has no beginning and no end but always implies a cyclical return. A circle renders a dependable ordering of existence. Constancy. Stability. Infinity. Eternity. Long before they were able to precisely plot the actual circular paths of the planets and stars, people pictured the cosmos and its regenerative powers -- time, itself -- as circular.

Clocks with circular faces still represent time for us today, despite advanced digital technology. We still gather in circles and rings for ritual spectacles such as circuses, rodeos, theatrical productions, children's games, sporting events, and racing events. We still refer to our closest compatriots, friends and family as our circle. And when we are feeling threatened, we still circle our proverbial wagons in unconscious invocation of the protective powers of the omnipotent cosmic round.

What we have lost over the ages, however, is the ability to think in anything but a straight line. Our culture associates "straight" with "good and correct." We try our very best not to go round in circles. We stand straight. We walk the straight and narrow. We fly straight as an arrow. We are straight talking. We look someone straight in the eye. We shoot straight from the hip. We are expected to keep our affairs, our rooms, the parts in our hair, and our sexual preferences, straight.

But there simply aren't all that many straight lines in nature. So why in the world do we want them so desperately in our minds? Having our heads screwed on straight gives us a stiff neck and makes it practically impossible for us to take a good look around. It seems to me, that if we are to repair the dangerous rend in our disconnected, disrespectful, and dysfunctional relationship with Mother Nature, we are going to have to throw off our straight jackets and start thinking like She does.

From Our Partners