Circles of Confusion

Circles of Confusion

Escher is famous for sketches that warp our perception of space, continuity and progress. The people in Eschers’ sketching, Ascending and Descending, appear to be walking endlessly around a rooftop, going simultaneously up and down the stairs and getting nowhere.  It is a sentiment we sometimes share when our drive for personal growth has us going in circles.  The explanation for our apparent lack of forward movement can be found in the mechanics of repetitive patterns.  A repetitive pattern is one that reappears long after we thought it was resolved.  We all have them.  As we get older our tolerance for them (and other people’s tolerance too) gets shorter and shorter, causing us to look for better ways of coping.  Take Michael for example, a man who struggled to control his outbursts of anger since childhood.  When he was 40 years old, he sincerely vowed to exercise more self-control.  After successfully managing his anger for a period of time, life seemingly chose a day to conspire against him.  On that one day, he received a late payment on a bill he thought was already paid, his boss asked him to work late again, and when he finally got home from work he found that his spouse had accidently erased all of the saved shows on their DVR.  Michael fumed in frustration, and when his spouse responded in a non-sympathetic way, he lashed out at her.  She snapped back, saying “I thought you were going to control your temper.”  Michael was sunk.  He thought he had resolved his anger issue only to find that he was right back where he started from.  His anger escalated from there, leaving him feeling like all of his good intentions and hard work were for nothing.  That’s the Circle of Confusion; a repetitive pattern that leads us directly back to our old habits in ways that confuse us about our progress.

When dealing with repetitive patterns it’s helpful to remember that although we find ourselves back at a familiar starting point, we’re actually addressing the pattern from a more mature and informed position.  In the above example, Michael’s theme of anger remained the same throughout his life, but he was addressing it from a different point of consciousness as he matured.  When he was younger and his anger was triggered he indulged it, feeling self-righteous while being completely unaware of its effect on others.  After years of working on his self-control he was able to mitigate his angry responses more quickly.  Although the pattern remained the same, his relationship to it was quite different.  He showed more empathy for others, was more aware of what triggered his anger, and developed much better coping skills.  He was dealing with the pattern from a different vantage point so when he became angry he was not really getting back to the beginning at all.  It just felt that way.

The takeaway is this; even though we feel like we are going in circles when dealing with repetitive patterns we are actually advancing far beyond our starting point because our relationship to the pattern shows growth and maturity with each new repetition.

Concepts In Motion2 comments

  1. Roberta York says:

    Nicely put and helpful.

  2. Barb Sherman says:

    I love how you utilized the Escher sketch in such a positive way to illustrate the road we invariably travel. Thanks for the eloquently expressed perspective. It can certainly be easy to forget that the vantage point has matured when we find ourselves in the same pattern once more.

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