Spirals – Am I just going around in circles?

I remember the first time I walked a labyrinth; it was at Cloona Health Retreat in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. I had no idea what a labyrinth was, someone told me it would be like a walking meditation. So, off I went on an adventure to discover what would happen to me. I’d never seen a labyrinth before and had no ‘map’ in my head of what one looked like. All I knew about this particular one was that it was built by a group of Tibetan monks who lived in Cloona in the 1960’s. That appealed to me, I liked the idea of walking in the steps of these holy, mindful people.

Bending low to walk through undergrowth, I finally discovered the spiral path. Whatever I had expected, it was not what I saw – I was underwhelmed. I’d had a vision of some glorious ‘creation’ in my mind – some mythic mandala inscribed on the land. What I saw was some vegetation trimmed to below my knees. My brain couldn’t make sense of it, so it took some time for me to find the entrance. After circling around it, I began my journey inward.

At the outset I was intent on finding my way, looking ahead trying to predict the next turn. My focus was on reaching the centre, doing the walk, achieving something! It crept up on me, the sense that I was truly lost. Realising this, I stopped. I looked around, trying to identify the path that had led me to this point, searching ahead to see where to go next. In this bewildered moment something extraordinary happened: I surrendered.

It wasn’t a conscious decision; it occurred, spontaneously, within me. Time and space fell away, there were no images, no concepts, no thoughts. I was gone, and at the same time I was expanded to incorporate all existence. I continued this labyrinthine path with humility and trust, emerging renewed and curious about the alchemy of the spiral.

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen or diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world – all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their souls. … It is rewarding to watch patiently the silent happenings in the soul, and the most and the best happens when it is not regulated from outside and from above. I readily admit that I have such a great respect for what happens in the human soul that I would be afraid of disturbing and distorting the silent operation of nature by clumsy interference.” (Jung, 2014)

I’d had a beautiful, soulful, experience in the labyrinth. Did I expect to have this again? Sure! In my naiveté, I believed every future inner journey would be a bright, beautiful, expansive, experience. However, this was not the case. My spiral path was revealing itself to me in more shadow than light. As I journeyed further, I learned to appreciate the value of what lies in shadow – the treasures, waiting to be uncovered in the darkness.

This spiral path is not walked only when in a labyrinth, my whole life unfolds as a spiral: Issues of mine that were seemingly ‘dealt with’ in the past are revisited in a deeper way or from a different perspective, repeatedly. Now that I’m aware of this, it holds no frustration or despair for me – I expect to meet these challenges again and again. What a joy to be confronted with the same lesson once more and see myself aware and responding instead of triggered and reacting!

I’ve discovered that as I learn more about the parts of myself that were rejected or unacknowledged, I’m reclaiming myself. I’ve noticed it happening in quantum leaps: I will struggle and learn, struggle, and learn, slowly gathering my learnings and wisdom. Then, seemingly all at once, the fear dissolves or the pain melts and I am empowered, strengthened, or humbled, ready to turn another curve of my spiral with more tools at my disposal and a lighter heart.

Spirals are intrinsically linked to the ancient ones who lived in Ireland before us. Our oldest surviving sites are adorned with the spiral and triskele (triple spiral). There is a hint of something greater when I look at these rock carvings, over five thousand years old, beside images of distant galaxies from the Hubble telescope. The spiral growth of seashells, rose petals, and our DNA indicates to me a universality to the spiral. What really intrigues me is seeing how the sun moves through space with Earth, and all the other planets, spiralling around it in this simulation (DjSadhu, 2013).

When I first studied the energy centres, chakras, in our bodies, I recognised the spiral patterns in these ‘wheels’. While training in Chakradance™ and Reiki, I was introduced to a linear approach to the chakra system.  I have since discovered a ‘Celtic’ approach that spirals out from the heart chakra.

‘The triskele spins and spirals its way throughout the Celtic chakra system. It threads its way through Celtic art but is much more than a beautiful pattern, it holds one of the fundamental principles of the Celtic spiritual and mystery tradition, the 3-in-1. There are three main forms of path for humans to walk through the spirit worlds: The straight line, the circle, and the spiral’ (Sentier, 2013).

Straight-line paths refer to conventional, linear time – the idea of our life’s timeline, from our birth to our death – where we progress from a beginning, moving always forward. Circular pathways can be seen in the cycles of our seasons where we are always coming back to the same place. Spiral paths are both linear and circular paths combined – we move in the round but also in a progressive path. This has an expansive feeling. Whether we are spiralling in or out, there is a sense of continuity and renewal to our path.

Am I just going around in circles? No, I’m progressing, evolving, and being – within a spiral. As a shamanic practitioner, I’m aware of observing myself within my own spiral path: I notice when I’ve work to do in certain areas of my life and I strive to become clear so that I can assist others, without attachment.

I see the spiral as a powerful alchemical symbol and teacher that can help us to notice our repeating patterns, accept our challenges, and ultimately free us from them. I’m not going around in circles; I’m spiralling down and in, up and out on the adventure of my life. Will I ever look at a slice of swiss roll cake in the same way again?

Elaine Clancy

January 2021


DjSadhu, 2013. The helical model – our Galaxy is a vortex, s.l.: YouTube.

Jung, C., 2014. Psychology & Alchemy. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Sentier, E., 2013. Shaman Pathways The Celtic Chakras. 1st ed. Alresford: Moon Books, John Hunt Publishing Ltd.