Let’s talk about spirals!
The one we’re most likely familiar with is the concept of the “downward spiral.” There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there, especially the notion that it isn’t so much that an event, or thought, or emotion, or anything happening in a given moment that takes us out, but rather that it’s when we (vertently or, more commonly, inadvertently) set ourselves off and get trapped in a pattern. And once in that pattern, we’re kind of hosed. We make further mistakes, which upset us further. We take poor actions, which exacerbates things. We lead ourselves down thought rabbit holes, creating stories and scenarios that lead us and our experience into the gutter. It builds, and we drive ourselves continually downward to where we really don’t want to go.
Another aspect I like to fold into the downward spiral is that it’s rarely just one thing that knocks us akilter, but rather two, three, or simply many things that overlap all at once. They may even be small things, but taken together they add up, bumping against each other until we’re set off. Which then, alas, creates more things that piles up to create and accelerate the spiral.
It’s always easier to avoid the downward spiral in the first place, of course, but the great news is that we’re never totally hosed. The moment our mindfulness catches it we can do the work to interrupt it. We can label it – “Aw man, I’m caught in a spiral!” – and we can even chuckle at ourselves – “… again! How fascinating. Alright, here I am, what’s next? What do I need to do to get off this crazy train?”*
And then comes the beauty of the second, much less talked about spiral, which is that of the “expanding spiral of radiant delight.” A much fancier name, but really it’s mostly just the downward spiral in reverse. For as we create new possibilities, and overcome barriers, and expand our mindfulness, empathy, generosity, and love, it radiates outward, opening up new pathways and more possibilities. Things get ‘easier’, and our experience soars. Both for ourselves and for those around us, which, in turn, creates greater freedom and possibilities, onward and onward and onward.
When we’re not aware of this second type of spiral, it seems like the only real vectors are either downward, or, at best, to tread water. But it very much is bidirectional, and the more beauty we create into the world, the more it spirals outward to create a pattern that leads to where we very much do want to go.
* Not to disparage trains in any way… I very much love trains! A gloriously civilized way to travel.