The spiral staircase of growth

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Spiral steps Spiral steps by Matti Mattila, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

We tend to think of growth as being like climbing a ladder (for example, "the ladder of success"). The image is one of continuous upward movement in a straight-line toward the goal. Each lesson along the way is learned once (one rung on the ladder) before we move on to the next lesson.

But that image just doesn't match my experience on my journey. Not only does growth often feel to me like downward movement into greater depth, it's seldom (if ever) anything that approaches a straight-line.

Over time, I've come to think of my personal growth more as resembling a spiral staircase that I am slowly descending, and that image makes all the difference.

Rather than visiting each lesson once and being done with it for all time, I keep cycling back through various lessons as I come around the spiral again. Each time I come back to a lesson, I find that I see it from a slightly different vantage point and in slightly greater depth.

Each time through a particular challenge both highlights the way I've grown since I last visited that challenge and shows me the areas where I still have more room to grow into greater depth.

I had the opportunity to revisit an area recently that has been a long-time challenge for me. This time around the spiral, I found myself noticing familiar patterns and changing them faster than I've ever done before. I made different choices than I once would have made and was able to listen more clearly to my own intuition about the situation in order to make those choices. I'm seeing places that were once broken that are now seams of gold.

It feels really good to be able to see the results of the work I've done over the last several years, and I am grateful for that.

Of course, it also shows me that I still have more work to do to be the person I want to be. There are still a number of places where I could have chosen better, responded better, and paid more attention. There are still broken places that are awaiting their kintsugi repair. I imagine that will always be the case in this life.

But the greatest gift of all is noticing how much more grace-filled it is for me to live into this image of growth than into the traditional ladder image.

When I imagine growth as a ladder, I beat myself every time I re-visit one of these challenges rather than seeing how much I've grown in my handling of it. It feels like failure not to have learned the lesson and be done with it when I'm in ladder mode.

When I imagine growth as a spiral staircase, there is no judgment in revisiting an issue. Because I expect the staircase to lead me back into familiar territory, I find myself noticing instead how I've grown on this visit compared to the last one, so I respond with gratitude instead of condemnation.

When I think of myself descending the staircase into greater depth instead of ascending to the heights, I not only find my journey to be one that I can more easily trust and relax into (actually helping me open to greater growth), but I also find myself less tempted to compare myself to others around me because it's harder for me to visualize competitive progress on a spiral descending deep into the earth than on a ladder reaching up into the sky.

The spiral and the descent are, of course, both more feminine images than the masculine ladder image, so perhaps it's natural that I would gravitate toward them. But as my self-understanding grows deeper (see what I did there?), I am also convinced that they are better representations of my reality on this journey and therefore better guides to empower continued growth.

What images of growth do you use for your journey? How do those images facilitate greater growth for you?

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