Some of the most beautiful things we encounter are spirals. Think of a spiral staircase, a nautilus shell, a galaxy spinning in space. Some of the most terrifying things we encounter are spirals. Think of a tornado, a cyclone, a hurricane, a whirlpool.
The journey inward is a spiral, and it can be terrifying or beautiful. If you’ve never practiced introspection, the very thought of looking inward can be frightening, like a dark passageway in an unknown neighborhood. It’s hard not to think of what might be there. If you’ve cultivated a habit of introspection, however, you know that you’re more likely to gain understanding, balance, and peace when you look within. What you encounter on the journey may be painful, difficult, depressing, or frustrating. But it will not destroy you; it will strengthen you and open you to God’s work in you.
There are certain questions that are useful in self-exploration. Not surprisingly, they can be summed up in the journalist’s old list: who, what, where, when, why, and how. There are endless permutations on these six basic questions. Here are a few to begin with.
Who am I?
What are the forces that have shaped me?
Where am I in the universe?
When am I in time?
Why do I exist?
How do I respond to my existence?
These questions and their many variations do not form a simple line or a straightforward melody. They’re more like motifs in a fugue, or shapes in an abstract painting. They turn back in on themselves, each leading to another and another and back again, in a complex spiral. Exploring one leads us to all the others and back again to the first, but not at the same point where we began. As we re-encounter each question, it presents itself in a more complex form, requiring further investigation and deeper understanding. The journey never ends. We spiral more and more deeply into self-awareness and self-understanding. Along the way, we come to better know our world-self and our soul-self, and we find the sacred within us.