The Shape I’m In

Artist Mary Patterson

Artist: Mary Patterson; Fishchild
12″ x 12″ acrylic on primed masonite

This house was one I often drew as a child, and other than simple stick figures, my only attempt at art. An illustrator turned my drawing into the cover for Behind These Doors: a red house with a peaked roof, a door, a window, and five flowers—surrounded by a tree, some grass, and a sunny blue sky. I later ran a jagged crack through the upper quadrant so it would not appear to be a children’s book. Represented on the cover are five shapes, external symbols of our internal psychic states, along with some other representations. Below is a paper regarding these shapes that I wrote ten years back.

Signs of Life: Five Universal Shapes

preferentialshapesWhat are the five universal shapes? There is the circle, symbolizing wholeness, the square which equals stability, the equidistant cross signifying relationship, the triangle indicating goals and dreams, and the spiral which stands for growth. These five basic shapes are a part of all cultures, appearing in their art and artifacts. They are a part of our language, living, and dreams. They are also a part of me, appearing in my psyche and my everyday life. These shapes and I, we dance together, and as I grow and change and transform, our dance changes too.

Where am I? (The circle, my current growth process, and my place from which I deliver my gifts.)

I am a circle, in wholeness, unity, and circulation. I’m a soft edge, a smooth rim, a wheel in motion. I’m at the core of my very nature, my current growth, and where I bring my gifts. My circle is my essence.

There are things outside my circle however, things I can’t be with—about me, about you, about them. I have anger, victim mentality, and thoughtlessness outside my circle. I have blame, judgment, and retaliation outside my circle. I have resentment outside my circle. I have Bush and Enron and right-wing fundamentalism outside my circle. How do I expand to include them, and have them contribute to me? Ahh, now that is a question—and a whole other conversation.

I am a creature of comfort. I’m content when my stomach is full, my body warm, and nothing is poking me. When my comfort is at risk, my alarm bells go off to protect me from the certain death from freezing, starving, or exhaustion, even though I’m simply cold, hungry, and tired. I’m a creature of order. The minute I have everything tidy, a little clutter here and a little clutter there pops up, like gophers in a half-dozen gopher holes. Then I frantically bat them down and put everything back nice and neat; it makes me feel like I have control. I’m a creature of perfection, with an eye for detail and for what’s missing. Some just think I am nitpicking. However, I like my circles perfect.

They are everywhere: the sun, the moon, the earth, the planets are all circles. They are the doorknobs in my house, the polka dots in my robe, the blueberries in my pancakes. They are in a bowl on my blue tiled counter: fresh oranges and grapefruits and melons. They are in my yard: an umbrella table, a bird fountain, a silver gazing ball. They are gumballs and green peas and red holly. They are a wedding band, a string of pearls, and my grandmother’s mirror. Everywhere I look there are centers, dots, orbs, and cycles. My lamp bases and candles, my steering wheel and tires, my flower pots and stepping stones and plates and pans and bowls. My pores and moles, my irises and pupils. My compact and my lipstick tube, my pen point and my pencil lead, my CDs, records, and my iMac base. The period at the end of this sentence. Michael’s mandala on my bedroom wall, my watch face, my hoop earrings, my quarters and nickels and dimes, my drains, dryer door, tea ball, my God, they’re everywhere! I’m spinning in circles, just thinking about them.

Circles are social, they are soft, they are sensitive. They are harmonious. Continuous. And endless. Circles are whole. Holes. Holy. We are born, we live, we die—we come full circle. The acorn grows to an oak and the oak tree reproduces acorns to grow more oaks—they come full circle. Mysticism led to formal logic. Formal logic led to dialectics, and dialectics to trialectics. We are now returning to mystery and mysticism—full circle. It’s like the line-of-dance in the clip of a country-western two-step and the lilt of a waltz; the couples pass by where they started—full circle.

Where I think I am. (The square, which currently has my attention and where I’m most aware and most comfortable.)

I think I am a square. I think my inherent strengths are responsibility, stability and the ability to be fully committed where I give my word. I’m known and valued for my integrity. My square is my foundation.

A square is also a box, like the one my sister claims I was born in. What does she know? Just because I’m confused at times, just because it’s safer in here than out there, just because I can be gullible does not mean I was born in one. Maybe I choose to be in here. Maybe I like it.

Boxes (squares) keep things in, and they keep things out. They (boxes and squares that is) are contained, neat, and orderly. They have sharp edges to protect me and defend me. They are dependable, sensible, and useful. You can stack them, live in, sit on, store in, and tie red bows on them. They come in all sizes, but not so many shapes. A square is a square is a square. There are square acres, square inches, and square yards. There are town squares, quilt squares, and graham-cracker squares.

If you lay it flat, you have a mat. If you stand it up you have a wall, overhead—a roof, underneath—a floor, cut in half—a door. If you turn a square on its point, you have a diamond, which come in Jacks, Queens, and Kings. An Ace of Diamonds is handy too. Squares are hard working and committed. It takes a lot of energy to constantly keep four corners from bending, folding, or collapsing out of shape. My perfectionism and attention to detail serve me well, in spite of making me predictable, very, well, square-like. I’m organized (when I’m not cluttered), and tidy, logical, and practical. This is not just where I think I am—this is where I live. I live in a box step, a Rumba, a Traveling Four-Corners, the predictability of an old-fashioned square dance. I like it that way.

What are my strengths? (The cross, which assists my growth and comes to me effortlessly.)

The equidistant cross is my strength, my current nature. It symbolizes equality, and even though I want to be special, I know I’m the same. It brings me back to my center. It is a meeting in the middle. It’s a venturing out to the four directions, north, south, east and west. It’s balanced. It’s equal. It’s integrated.

My strengths are my process of integration, my people skills, my ability to develop relationships easily. It is my ability to achieve balance (I know it’s out there; I see it every time I swing by). But it’s hard to walk a cross. Do you retrace your steps, do you meet in the middle and back track, do you go from end to side to end to side? How do you do it right? If you’re not careful and decide to cross outside, you could be a fish instead. It’s confusing. You get cross-threaded. Then what? Cranky, cross-eyed, at cross-purposes.

Some crosses are more tolerated than others:
Acceptable crosses: crossbars, crossbeams, cross-cultural, cross-references, cross-stitches, cross roads, and cross walks.
Unacceptable crosses: crossbones (unless you are a poison warning label), crossbreeds (unacceptable in the past), cross-dressers (unless you live in San Francisco), crossfired crosspatches (grouchy people), cross-purposes, cross coaching (especially in personal growth work), cross talking (unless you are Italian or Greek—then it’s a genetic issue), and double-crossing.

My final strengths? I’m well versed regarding cemetery crosses, proficient with crossword puzzles, and adept in a Cha-Cha crossover break.

Where is my growth, my motivation? (The spiral as it points to past challenges and circumstances that motivates my current process of change.)

What stretches me? That question always takes me where I don’t want to go, but meeting it readies me for my wholeness. It is the spiral, my shadow, my dark side, and it’s all that is outside my circle. It motivates me to do my core work, that place of becoming whole. The spiral is sexuality, creativity, flamboyancy, all the places and spaces and roads and paths that can make me nervous. Dust devils. Cyclones. Tornadoes. Spirals are like bad carnival rides, bad perms, and bad trips—too scary, too curvy, and too mysterious. They are constant movement and constant change. They are messy, confused, unorganized, especially for a square. Squares (where I think I live) are uncomfortable with too much fun. Too much fun is too spontaneous, too out of control, and lead to too much trouble.

Spirals are like a snake, like a plume of cigarette smoke, like the legs of entwined lovers. Spirals make my head hurt. I spiral down, down, down into the dark night of the soul. I spiral down the rabbit hole. I spiral into my shadow; then I have to go to confession.

When I spiral up, however, I find the sacred labyrinth, the pathways in English gardens, and my own process of growth and evolution. Each new level rises, offering me a fresh perspective, allowing my witness to mature, presenting me with expanding possibilities of development and awareness. I am flexible. Resilient. I’m the springs in my bed, the struts in my car, the hair on my Buddha. I am ingenious, creative, interesting. I’m a Tango, a whirling dervish, a Sufi dancer in disguise.

What are my goals and dreams and visions? (The triangle, my least preferred shape, identifying processes I have outgrown, resist, judge, or dislike.)

I am very triangular. Pointy headed, opinionated, competitive. Not a broad thinker. I want things done the right way, my way. I’m the boss, the leader, the manager. I want to be in charge­—I just don’t want to be responsible. I have the ability to co-ordinate and delegate, though can be impatient when you can’t, won’t, or don’t get to the point.

Triads are threes of this and trios of that: love affairs, chords of tones, a section of Pindaric odes. Triangles are the eyes of jack-o-lanterns, the tail feathers of birds, a patch of pubic hair. It is a pyramid, a musical instrument, and George Washington’s hat.

I have achieved my goals of the first half of my life. Successful in business, financially stable, a healthy family life (well, except for my younger son who doesn’t speak to me, but he just wants to be mad, and my ex-husband who I’d like to slap silly because he STILL isn’t the father I think he should be), a balanced physical (except for exercise), emotional (well, that does vary from day to day), intellectual (okay, so I still don’t have a sense of direction but that has nothing to do with my intellect), and spiritual life (to tell you the truth, I have no idea what my spiritual beliefs are, other to define them by what they are not). I practice living in the present, for about thirty-six and a half seconds each day.

Where am I resisting the process of honoring my present dreams?

  • I have stopped writing my book (temporarily, only temporarily).
  • I want to let go of my business, but duty, common sense, an affinity for it, and the acquired appreciation of living indoors keep me there.
  • I have the desire to wake up, but I’m not about to allow, by choice, the complete dismantling of my ego. Of course a car wreck or bolt of lightning could take care of that in a flash.
  • In my family, I would like to see the genetic traits of resentment and anger transformed; however I see where I still want to slap the other cheek.

The triangle represents my goals, my dreams, my faith. It is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It is my subconscious, my conscious, and my super-conscious. It is a three-legged stool; more stable then a two-legged or a one-legged stool. It is trialectics, an expanded school of logic (Oscar Ichazo) containing three parts:

  1. Change occurs in leaps at pre-established points in a cycle.
  2. Everything contains within itself the seed of its apparent opposite.
  3. Change occurs in accordance with one’s attraction to a higher or a lower possibility.

Occasionally I have the presence to remember this logic. Really, I try not to believe everything I think, particularly in knowing that I lie straight-faced to myself. I’m so used to my thoughts and emotions dragging me around town that I just don’t want to let go sometimes; it’s so comforting, believing I’m right.

What is my triangle dance? It’s my favorite, the Night-club two-step: gracefully turning on a three-point turn, floating across a smooth wooden dance floor like a soft summer cloud, continually turning away from and returning to my partner’s embrace, being totally free, then reconnected, then free, in still-frame moments of time.

I have respect for my process, for my basic expression of my human nature. I’m well versed in the fact that timing is everything, and it is a time of stasis for me, a time of rest. I honor this time, these shapes, this work. Sometimes I wonder where I will end up; I do not have to give it much thought as my wake foretells my future, and it is good. I only have to show up, pay attention, and dance my dance.

Signs of LifeThe above paper was written by me in November of 2004, while attending the University of Creation Spirituality. In her book, “The Signs of Life,” Angeles Arrien, a teacher, author and cultural anthologist, developed a Preferential Shapes Test, allowing one to discover one’s current worldview, her conclusion being the five shapes “are indeed external symbols of our internal psychic states. The preference for particular shapes is an announcement of the values and process active at any time for an individual, a group, or a whole society.”

A couple years after writing it, I gave this paper to Angeles at one of her book signings in Sonoma, and some weeks later she sent me a beautiful note saying she loved it and how much she liked my writing. Can I find that note? No, I put it some place safe. Sadly, Angeles, a teacher of transformation and a master in the art of living, died in April of this year, a huge loss to her students and community. In gratitude, intention, and affirmation, I thank her for what she taught me, and blow her a kiss in return.

Catherine Sevenau, 2014

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  1. Carole, so interwoven are we. I think we may have been twins separated at birth—born to different mothers at different times but on the same day. Who knew!

  2. Catherine. Your details spin my imagination ~ create a powerful force. I also keep discovering our common threads. I got my MA in Creation Spirituality in 1988 and Francisco and I took Angie Arrien’s year-long program in 1990 or so. Last spring while in New Mexico I had this image of a thin space opening between this world and the next through which the great matriarchs passed ~ Angeles, Maya Angelou, Rosa’s mother Lupe and my two aunts Kathryn and Rita (the last of their generation on my mom and dad’s family line). The cadence of your language reminds me of a dancer.

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