Joseph Anderson

Soul Cartography: the Patterns of Our Lives

Patterns in Nature is a beautiful book by the wonderfully lucid and insightful science writer Philip Ball. He explores the many ways the natural world, both organic and inorganic, manifests principles of order that derive from fundamantal properties of the physical world. While it is not an explicitly spiritual book, there are many spiritual insights lurking under the surface. In the Soul Cartography class last week we looked at these design principles and used them to further explore the patterns and structures of meaning in our personal stories. 

  • Symmetry – if an object looks the same in every direction (such as a crystal sphere), then it has perfect symmetry, but no pattern. Pattern breaks perfect symmetry and introduces structure. In nature as in our lives, not everything is like everything else, and in living things especially one of the fundamental patterns is a balanced symmetry, either in radial form (like a starfish) or bilateral form (like a peacock). We can usefully consider these symmetrical patterns as reflecting the characteristics of our lives. In what ways can you see your life as having five (or three, or seven) aspects that need to be kept in balance with each other, like the radial symmetry of a starfish? How might you see your life as having two halves that need to be integrated and woven together, like the bilateral symmetry of most land creatures?
  • Spiral – The shells of the snail and the chambered nautilus express a pattern of growth according to an algorithm. The creature does not plan to create a spiral, but rather keeps generating the same shape over and over again, at increasing scale, following a curve, and the spiral is the result. What are the formulas at work in the construction of your life? What patterns are being created, possibly without you realizing it, as you grow?
  • Foam and Bubbles – Honey bees create perfectly symmetrical six-sided cells in their honeycombs-how do they do that? Part of the answer is in the physics of bubbles. When a semi-viscous foamy film is stretched out so that a single layer of bubbles is formed, the bubbles adhere to each other and form a raft of polygonic shapes. Bees take advantage of this propensity toward order in liquid beeswax as they craft their combs – they do not build them from scratch. The substance of our lives (our karma, our genetic materials, our experience) has its own tendencies toward order. If we work with those tendencies then harmonious development is the result, a partnership between ourselves and the underlying principles at work in our lives.
  • Fractals – as you zoom the view of many natural objects in and out, the same patterns recur. Think of fern fronds, coastlines, trees, and clouds. This self-similarity is a fundamental design principle throughout the natural world. We can see it at work in our own lives too. We see the small reflecting the large in our lives through symbols and metaphors. Tiny things, the details of living, connect to much larger patterns, and the larger patterns also expose much about the details.
  • Crystals – snowflakes are water crystals, and their six-sided form mirrors the structure of the water molecule. What is the interior angle of your life, that governs the creation of the structures that manifest on its surface_
  • Cracks + when a sheet of mud begins to dry, shrink, and break apart, the patterns that form follow the lines of least resistance. Cracks are a beautiful expression of effortless grace as a field of tension seeks to resolve itself. We this in many mediums, from paint or wood drying and shrinking to lightning seeking out the most efficient way to release built+up electrical tension. What are the forces of stress in your life_ What patterns appear as that stress is released and cracks form_
  • Waves + there is rhythm everywhere
  • Flow + speed results in greater complexity. Slowing down makes the complexity visible and manageable.