C is for Cycles

| February 21, 2014

Our class discussion on 2/11, concerning the labyrinth as a proto-educational narrative, got me thinking about the ancient perception of education, transformation, and personal growth as inherently cyclical. While there may exist a continual process and goal of upward momentum, there is always a sense of return embedded in that process–the journey upward is less a straight trajectory than a series of interconnected Mobius strips, moving backward to ensure that what has been learned will be properly digested, incorporated, and then passed on to future generations to ensure the teachings’ survival.

This continual returning is not Sisyphus’s futile push of a backward-rolling stone; with each completion of a cycle, we return to our starting state a little wiser and more capable for the journey, and can thus re-enter the old world with a new–and shareable– perspective. We see this journey epitomized in such Shakespearean comedies as “As You Like It” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which the protagonists flee an orderly-but-stagnant environment for a brief vacation into the fertile chaos of a liminal “otherworld.” Thanks to the lessons and exploration gleaned in this space, when the time comes to return to the “real” world, the characters take with them the wisdom necessary to balance and improve their once-oppressive surroundings.

We may argue that our society, and the educational system which both feeds into and is fed by it, focuses so much on a perpetual ascent, a race whose conclusion either always remains tantalizingly beyond us or offers no follow-up plans if/when we do finally reach the summit. Perhaps it would benefit us to reconsider the ancient cyclical model, and address the backward, integrative movement as just as vital to the process.