Symbols—derive the abstract from the concrete

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by Michael Maciel

The circle with a dot in the center is one of the oldest symbols for God. It dates back thousands of years and maybe longer. No one really knows. And since our best understanding of what this symbol means comes from our scientific knowledge that has only been known for about three hundred years, the very fact that the Ancients used it at all is nothing less than extraordinary.

Some interpreters claim that it symbolizes the Sun, which the ancient Egyptians regarded as God. But the Sun has no dot, not any that are visible to the naked eye. Others have said that the Sun represents waking consciousness, but the Eye of Horus does a much better job of depicting this idea. The best interpretations, however, are those that see this symbol an archetypal form, one that is universal and scalable to an almost infinite degree. These interpretations have only become obvious during our current scientific age.

dotWe now know that nearly everything in the universe shares this basic architecture – a central point around which rotates a coherent structure. Galaxies, solar systems, cyclonic storms, vortex streets, cells, atoms – all of these are essentially identical in their appearance. And it’s not as though the form itself is the most real aspect but rather that it reveals the forces that cause the form to show itself. It’s as though whenever anything moves in this universe, it starts to spin.

So the circle with a dot in the center turns out to be more of a snapshot of an activity than a static form. Buried within its image is the knowledge that those things that appear are not what’s real but only footprints left in the sand indicating that something more real has passed this way. After all, which is more real – the form or the energies that shape the form?

socratesThen there’s the ancient maxim “Man, Know Thyself.” This little bit of instruction didn’t spring unbidden out of thin air. It was the answer to more fundamental questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? In other words, what is God? What is the nature of reality? What is human being? The answers to all of these questions were contained within this one symbol. The implication of it was pointed at in yet another saying: As Above, So Below. This was the idea of the scalability of Being. No matter how small or how large the scale, reality is the same. And this remains true for us as human beings, as well. Whether we see ourselves as individuals or as social beings, our lives follow certain patterns, and these patterns are true in the moment, the day, the year, and an entire lifetime. In other words, our lives are cyclical, and the cycles seem to repeat themselves over time.

Now, there’s another interpretation of the symbol of the circle with a dot in the center. This one is more psychological. It has to do with the way we interact with reality. It’s less about what we are and more about how we are being. In this interpretation, we can look at this in terms of consciousness. The point in the middle of the circle is what we know. It’s not just those things, ideas, and experiences of which we are conscious, it’s also what we can articulate. This is the world, both internal and external, that we can name. If we lay out in the sun and our skin gets hot and starts to turn red, we know exactly what’s happening and why it’s happening. We not only understand the experience, we can explain it in terms that anyone can grasp.

But then there are those things that we can all experience but that we have a lot more trouble articulating. Color is one example. When we say the word “blue,” we know what we mean by it, but we can only assume that others are experiencing it the way we are. Art is like this, too. We can look at a painting in the Louvre, for instance, and be deeply moved by it along with untold thousands of other people who have been similarly moved throughout history by the very same painting. But can we say why in such a way that will match what anyone else has to say about it? Not likely. Therefore, the space in between the dot and the circumference of the circle represents that which we know but cannot articulate.

Then there’s the circumference. This is the border between what we know and the unknowable. Outside of the circle, whatever exists is beyond our reach. It is the unknown. We have no way to relate to it. And yet, even though we are separated from it by our inability to conceive of it, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t still affected by it. We can be totally oblivious of a radioactive substance and still suffer its effects. Someone close to us may have plans that we are not yet aware of but that will affect our lives profoundly. So much in life is this way. So much of reality is this way. We are subject to unknown causes whose effects are every bit as real as those we can see.

This symbol of the circle with a dot in the center is a rather complete map of our being. It includes everything that we as conscious beings experience, whether we know it or not. As a symbol, it doesn’t try to explain God as a thing but rather as a be-ing. God, you might say, is what’s happening, not what’s happened. God is the potential for everything that can happen, not a historical figure who created the universe and then left on vacation. We might not know what lies on the outside of our perimeter, but we can sense that it is there. We don’t have to know what the potential is in order to feel in awe of its presence. It might be wonderful; it might be terrible. Who knows? But it’s as real as everything we can lay our hands on, either physically or intellectually.

 

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