the quaternary pattern of all things
My Dear One,
If a pattern exists, it’s usually very helpful to catch on to it.
If you do something that makes your loved one smile, you should remember that and do it again sometime. If you find yourself in the same predicament over and over again, it’s possible there is a useful lesson to be learned that could help you in the future. If you try a new food and like it, make a mental note so you can repeat the pattern of eating it again in the future.
Life is built upon patterns and those same patterns help give meaning to life.
Noticing these patterns, however, requires attention and attentiveness to what’s going on around you and within you. Otherwise, you might live for years and never realize something that’s been staring you in the face all along. We all do this. We all miss it (whatever it is). The good news is that God is both patient and persistent. And the old saying holds true, Buddha (or God/Spirit/Fate) keeps putting in front of you the lesson you need to learn until you learn it.
A few weeks ago, my 12 year old son became convinced there was something to the number two. Everywhere he looked, he saw two pairs of things. A couple of days later, it was the number three. He joyfully acted amazed each time he saw a set of three, acting as if it was some sign. Perhaps wondering if in some way it was.
I believe there is, however, something very important to the pattern of four. As I wrote in a previous WayPost, Carl Jung believe God is better understood in a pattern of four. As we will continue to explore throughout the following The Way journey, every major faith tradition is built upon the same important pattern of four. And indeed all of creation is built upon fours.
Humanity has intuited from early primal religions onward that most basic things exist in a patterns of four. We observed and developed the concept of the four seasons, four cardinal directions, four stages of life, four quarters of the moon, the four corners of the earth, the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water), etc.
As we have progressed and delved deeper into science and art, we continue to find the pattern of four: the four nucleotides that make up the building block of life DNA, the four humors, the four classical temperament types (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic), the classical music quartet, the four gospels of the New Testament, and last but certainly not least: John, Paul, George and Ringo- the four Beatles.
There is a beauty and completeness in the number four that appears to speak to the depth of our beings as human creatures. Last WayPost we looked at the possibility that God is Four. And if God is Four, then it would only make sense that creation, made in the image of the Creator, exists in patterns of four as well.
I’ve previously shared that I had a deeply formative mystical experience during prayer one day when I was studying to become a priest. The experience ended with this image:
Ever since then, I’ve seen this image everywhere. I came to realize it is the Sacred Symbol. It clues me in, makes me pay attention, makes me think and wonder and notice when God is winking at me. It is like my own personal treasure hunt. It’s fun. I encourage you to try it.
As I encounter this four-quartered image, I’ve noted and researched it, finding it exists in most religions and cultures in a pretty foundational space. Here are just a few examples:
The Sun Cross is the most basic version and goes back to prehistoric times. We find it painted in caves and other ancient artwork from across the world. The Lu is the Chinese and Taoist symbol for prosperity. The Hunab Ku is the Mayan symbol for the One God. The Vegvisir is the Icelandic symbol for “That Which Shows The Way.” The Celtic Cross is the imposition of the Christian cross upon a circle, likely a pre-Christian Celtic symbol representing the sun or eternity. The Dharma Wheel is the Buddhist symbol which represents the teachings of the Buddha, including the Eightfold Path. The Yin Yang, which is a beautiful variation on the pattern, still holds within it four elements which balance one another in equal measure. The Medicine Wheel is widely found across Native American spirituality, representing different things to different tribes but often associated the the four cardinal directions. The labyrinth shown here is of the most famous style found at the Chartres Cathedral.
There are many other examples across cultures and eras. I have found no other symbol that seems to hold such universal meaning from prehistoric times through to the present day. Finally, I’ve thrown in the following The Way symbol to show how it echoes all of these other symbols.
Is it just a coincidence that people from every time, place, culture and race have produced this symbol? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is a pattern that means something. Perhaps there is something about this symbol that represents a deeper truth, revealed by God and drawn up from our collective unconscious.
The events of our lives certainly exist in patterns. Look at your life and all the many ways things have circled back around. What once was old becomes new again. We celebrate our birthdays to mark that we’ve made another successful orbit around the sun and have returned again to the day on which, for us, it all began. The clock face shows how everything that was past returns.
Why do patterns exist? And if there is a meaning to them, how do we discern what they are?
I eventually made a connection between this symbol and the other thing I found was held in common by all people, the Four Essential Truths. We will explore this much more in future posts. For now, I encourage you to be attentive to the patterns you come across and give some thought to what can be learned from them. Our two Practices The Week (below) might help you begin to tune into them.
following The Way,
Our Practices This Week: Mandalas and Looking for Fours
One of the richest traditions of the Sacred Symbol exists within Hinduism and Buddhism in the form of the mandala. Drawn within a circle in thousands of different forms, the mandala is a representation of the universe, the cosmos, and all of creation. Buddhist monks will sometimes take days upon days to create intricately beautiful mandalas out of colored sands. Once it is complete, they will sweep it up from the outer perimeter to the center, collect the sand, and release it into water. This process is both a meditation practice and also a powerful reminder of the impermanence of all things and the preciousness of life.
C.G. Jung, our elder from last week, also believed in the power of mandalas as tools for self discovery and spiritual growth. He drew them regularly and used them in his therapy with patients, encouraging them to draw them and analyzing them in a way akin to dream interpretation.
Drawing them yourself can be a powerful practice. But for this week, I’m supplying you with one of the thousands of available pre-dawn mandalas you can find. Take time this week to color it, any colors or patterns you like. I encourage you to create it slowly, like the Buddhist monks do, as a meditative and prayerful practice. Notice how your body and spirit respond to your interaction with the mandala. Does is relax you? Does it make you tense? What might this be saying to you.
Looking for four
This week, practice looking for patterns of four. Where do you find them? Do you find any significance in their presence? Share what you find in the comments below.