I was clicking through TV stations a couple of weekends ago leading up to the Daytona 500 when I stumbled upon a NACSAR race in progress. I watched the action for a bit as the cars careened around the track at nearly 200 miles per hour while, for the most part, remaining only inches apart—something which I more or less do each morning on my way to work. Thus, in short order, I found the whole affair pretty boring. First of all, there are exactly four corners on that track, so it quickly became apparent that any real excitement was most likely to occur just as the pack was entering or leaving a turn (or, in my case, an amber traffic light). In between, of course, there was the rapid increase in speed on the straight-aways, and then braking for a turn. And so on. And so on. In circles, unending.
But, as I was about to point-and-click again, the rear-end of car 31 waggled a bit and came into contact with the nose of car 47, aft and to its right. Upon impact, car 47’s front end whipped to the right as well, and then the driver over-corrected, catching the rear fender of car 31, causing it to turn completely sideways, and then, well, all hell broke loose. Now THAT was fun to watch.
The world of ovals and circles is not limited to race tracks, of course. In fact, some philosophers would lead us to believe that our lives and the world as we know it actually consist entirely of circles.
Thus, circles are often deemed to be symbols of one thing or another. Certain Native Americans have the “Circle Symbol,” which is the symbol of equality, and the Hopi, in particular, have the Solar Cross, in which the four quarters of the circle each represent one of the four elements of air, fire, water and earth. The Maori (New Zealand) have their “Circle of Life,” which includes a small hole representing the never-ending cycle of life, and so on.
One of the most well-known of these symbols is the Japanese ensō circle, typically a calligraphic representation—an example of which you saw at the beginning of this article. It is said that such a circle is simultaneously the most fundamentally simple and yet the most complex of shapes. As such, it represents the whole of life, from beginning to end, and is closely related to the Zen Buddhists. It is also said to be the symbol of teaching, reality and enlightenment, among other things.
Some of these ensō renderings are full circles, suggesting the totality of experience, whereas others, such as the one above, have a gap, thus a beginning and an end. Most importantly, as similar as various renderings of this symbol may be, each and every one is unmatched in its irregular execution. Thus, the point: the beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning, and every circle is unique.
I think we all get the feeling from time to time that we are stuck going in circles. Thus, we may be inclined to seek ways by which we might make things a little more interesting. In the case of the auto race, the drivers were essentially determining who amongst them could do the same thing over and over for 400 laps or so without making a mistake. But, nothing really happens until one of the drivers tries something new. And when that happens, he or she is faced with essentially four possible outcomes: 1) no change at all; 2) the driver improves his position in the pack; 3) the driver worsens his position in the pack; or 4) all hell breaks loose.
So, when you feel like you are in a rut, or maybe a gerbil on a wheel, which is a circle unto itself, of course, you may not be able to get out of your circle, but you can make it your own just as do the ensō calligraphers. And, I suppose, if one were to pay close attention to a NASCAR race, each and every lap is just a little bit different than the last.