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3.2 The Spoked Wheel ~ The Exquisite Risk - Daring to Live an Authentic Life ~ Mark Nepo

Movement 3 - How Can We Go There Together?

The Spoked Wheel

"What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same."

  1. Imagine that each of us is a spoke in an Infinite Wheel, and though each spoke is essential in keeping the Wheel whole, no two spokes are the same. Clearly, in a spoked wheel, the spokes separate as they each move out to support a different part of the rim. And clearly, they are all connected in a central hub that gives them the strength to form a wheel.
  2. We could say that the rim of that Wheel is our sense of community, family, and relationship, and the common hub where all the spokes join is the one center where all souls meet. So, as I move out into the world, I live out my uniqueness, but when I dare to look into my core, I come upon the one common center where all lives begin. In that center we are one and the same.
  3. In this way, we live out the paradox of being both unique and the same. For mysteriously and powerfully, when I look deep enough into you, I find me, and when you dare to hear my fear in the recess of your heart, you recognize it as your secret that you thought no one else knew. And that unexpected Wholeness that is more than each of us, but common to all - that moment of unity is the atom of God.
  4. The spoked wheel serves, then, as an image for how we are inextricably linked together. For without Spirit at the center or community as the rim, we find ourselves as unrelated and unsupported spokes drifting in time. We might cluster or gather around ideas or catastrophes, but we seldom discover our underlying relationship to each other and the world.
  5. The heart of the paradox of the spoked wheel is that when we, as individual spokes, move inward and pursue the truth of who we are, we inevitably enter deeper realms of being where all souls meet, and there, we discover the hub of the Wheel - our common center of Spirit. When we pursue our outer work in the world, we inevitably experience our uniqueness as we enter more engaged realms of becoming, and there, we discover how our gifts form a rim.
  6. Without valuing one over the other, Confucius beautifully described being and becoming as two ways that we are inclined to learn: through nature and culture. He suggests that when we arrive at understanding through being our true self, that is nature. When we arrive at our true self through understanding, that is culture. These dispositions to learning, like relational chromosomes, constantly inform each other and our way in the world.
  7. Mysteriously, yet not surprisingly, the depth of that common center enables us to be uniquely who we are. Like wildflowers and trees whose roots begin in a common soil, the root of our individual souls finds its life in a common ground of being that waits beneath all individual selves. This is the shared sacred Selfhood that Hindus call Atman, Buddhists call Dharma, Christians call the Holy Spirit, and that Sufis call Qalb. The Spanish call it El Meollo: that which is deeper that connects the one to the many.
  8. But what are the dynamics of the Wheel that affect us day to day? If we can accept our place on the Wheel, it is easier to hold and respect our unique differences. It is easier, then, to trust the mystery of the Wheel and to honor that no one way holds the key. All ways inform each other. Inevitably, all parts are necessary. Without the rim, there is no wheel. Without the center, the spokes cannot support a rim. Without the spokes, the center and rim are useless to the living. This means that without community or relationship, we will go nowhere, except in isolation. Without Spirit and a common ground of being, there is not enough strength in who we are to support any kind of community. And without our beautifully unique selves, Spirit and community will never inform each other.
  9. So where is your work right now? In your being or becoming? Near the center or the rim? Are you a natural learner or a cultural learner? It helps to realize that the closer we are to the common center, the more personal our work, and the more fundamental our efforts. And the more we move outward from the center, the more relational our work, and the more we are involved in efforts to manifest Spirit in the world.  When near the center, we tend to share our share our learnings of inwardness. When near the rim, we tend to share our learnings of action and community and relationship. So where are your strengths? Where are you challenged? What do you need to attend these days to be both common and unique?
  10. The image of the spoked wheel is not new. As far as we know, it was used by the third-century Desert Fathers, the early Christian Mystics. Like all metaphors and stories and myths, something essential, elusive, and useful is seeded in time, carried by one generation, left in the dust, and picked up by another generation brought to life again.
  11. It is interesting that we find echoes of the Wheel elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, Carl Jung defined the sacred, shared Self as both the center and the circumference at once. This implies a fundamental interdependence in being human: that we are more together than alone, and that we need each other to connect the center and the rim.
  12. Even further back, Lao-tzu in Chapter 11 of the Tao tells us that:  "We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.  Thus, while the tangible has advantages, it is the intangible that makes it useful."
  13. This speaks to the physics of the heart: how inner informs outer, how being manifests as becoming, how with Spirit at the center, our innate connectedness can shape and heal the world.
  14. Never was this more clear to me than when I was sitting in a waiting room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, staring straight into this Hispanic woman's eyes, she into mine. Though we spoke different languages, we both knew the same unspeakable incline of this climb called life. In that moment I began to accept that we all see the same wonder, all feel the same agony, though we all sing and cry in a different voice. Though we couldn't say a word to each other, our meeting in the common center was instantly healing. I know now that each of us being born, inconceivable as it seems, is another Adam or Eve.
  15. It's been seventeen years since that meeting, and now I accept my place on the Wheel. Through illness and grief and disappointment and unexpected turns in career - through the very breakdown and rearrangement of the things I have loved - I have come to realize that, as water smooths stone and enters sand, we become each other. How could I be so slow? What I've always thought set me apart binds me to others.

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Introduction and Table of Contents ~ The Exquisite Risk ~ Daring to...

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