Impression of Contentment…

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso image Wikipedia

I never really got contentment. “Are you happy?” I once asked a friend. “No, but I am content,” was his reply. To me, it wasn’t enough. It seemed like accepting some kind of mediocrity. I was young then and life was lived in all the vivid hues of passion. Emotion ran sky high or hit the depths… the times in between were bland, a mere waiting for the next rise and fall of the rollercoaster.

Emotions, back then, were all sharp-edged, like a cubist painting… and like such works, always disassembling the object of them to examine them from every angle. Some of the edges were so sharp you would bleed if you touched them… but you were alive. There were no in-between days of grey and dun.

Alizarine: sandorfi, maklary
Alizarine: Etienne Sandorfi, image: Maklary

A little older and the days took on a greater realism. The consequences of action and reaction were more direct as the responsibilities of adulthood were revealed in stark detail. Like looking in the mirror, these days reflected back at you only what you projected into them. The colours were still sharp; the detail and emotion clear… all the edges well-defined. A delineated life, with specific duties… niches for the fragmented self that is required by the roles demanded by the varied aspects of a society that likes to label everything.

But even that changed, morphing into abstraction where the lines and stark hues threw everything into question and the secure assumptions of youth that had flown direct as arrows suddenly seemed to realise that infinity is not a straight line. Stubbornly held beliefs were taken out of the strongbox and held up to the Light. Some were found to be tarnished, others broken, some simply too outmoded to be of any pertinent use. Yet there is a freedom in that de-cluttering of heart and mind, a simplicity that leaves much open to interpretation and, like a gallery, the fewer you hold on to, the more you can begin to appreciate what remains in all its glory.

The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewiit
The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewitt

These days I have a preference for a more Impressionistic style. I like my edges softer, the detail less focussed. I like to be able to stand back and lose myself in the moment in order to see a bigger picture, full of suggestions and possibilities half-glimpsed; open to the imagination and the emotional whispering of the heart-centred soul. There is something about this time that both softens and excites. I find that I like the lack of definition, the gaps only my heart and mind can fill. Instead of wondering about the name of the artist, I ask instead what message they were trying to convey.

And finally, I know contentment. It is not that there is nothing I could wish had been different. Nor is it that there is no looking back in the knowledge that I could have done things differently… for better or worse… Yet there is an acceptance that everything has its purpose. Like the myriad dots of a pointillist painting, each speck of experience may seem out of place when looked at too closely in time and emotion, yet stand back and the colours of the days blend and merge into something beautiful, understandable and whole, where every scrap of colour is in the perfect place.

A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat. Image Wikipedia

There is a new beauty… and it is far from the mediocrity of my youthful disdain. The colours of this new world are deep and rich, their contrasts sing against each other, dark illuminating light. I can see that both are needful and their harmony beautiful. The detail fades in importance; the whole is where the story lies, waiting for our eyes to read it on a wider canvas than the frantic myopia of youth can encompass. The frame of my days holds a beauty only the heart can see and its starry skies are streaked by the fingertips of the creator.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh. Imgae: Wikipedia

Infinity and beyond…

Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no more snowflakes to count.

Mind boggling as the concept is, the magnitude of that number is probably as close to the idea of infinity as our normal human thoughts can grasp. Yet it is so far short of an infinite number! Scientists calculate that there could be as many as four and a half billion planets similar to earth in the Milky Way galaxy. Each one of those with its own possibility of snowflakes.  And it is thought that there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Yet are we sure that there is only one universe? Quantum physicists don’t seem to think so…

Suddenly our infinity of snowflakes seems a little puny compared to the possibilities that exist in this wider reality we but dimly perceive.

We in the UK may consider we get a lot of snow. On the whole, it isn’t a vast amount. A couple of inches can be considered ‘a lot’ in southern counties. The north gets more as a rule. We do have the occasional bad winter, and higher ground is harder hit. But I’ve been to places in Europe where snow meant that roads were cut through it with fifteen foot banks of the stuff on either side. Yet a friend in Malta, not so very far away, has never seen a snowfall.

It is all relative.

We think in terms of personal experience, taking into account, perhaps, what we know from the experience of others. While we are aware of these other realities… such as snowless countries or the ones that get twenty times the volume we do… we behave almost as though we don’t truly believe it. We look out of the window and see a foot of snow as either a wonderland or the end of the world… depending on whether we are going out to play or have to brave the roads. We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.

Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us. These hidden realms may occasionally be populated by apparent impossibilities and within them we may be able to transcend the limitations of physics and experience. We may question the accuracy of the reflected world within this sphere, but we do not doubt the reality of mind and imagination. Through it we access concepts and abstractions that surpass the limiting bounds of physical existence. We create and innovate and can comprehend the mind-boggling at a level and in ways we cannot in ‘real life’.

We cannot count every snowflake ever to fall, but imagination gives us an inner feeling for the infinite. It is so far outside the bounds of direct experience that we may never truly understand it. Maybe we do not need to. But we are able to get a personal picture that represents it for us, whether we look at the ocean from the point of view of a single drop, or see ourselves a pinprick in the vast sea of interstellar space. The mind allows us to form an image, a representation that allows us to ‘know’ at a very intimate level. After all, we live within the matrix of infinity and are intimately woven with it.

For many, the idea of the infinite is inextricably linked with that of divinity. Here too imagination allows us to form a personal image with its attendant emotions, regardless of the tradition in which we were raised or the path we have chosen. The image we have will be unique, like a snowflake,  whether we have chosen to view it with faith, belief or dismissal. Divinity is as impossible to grasp in Its entirety as the idea of the infinite within the mind of the everyday world. Maybe we do not need to. If we accept Its existence in any form, then here too we live within It.

A single snowflake is made by hundreds of individual ice crystals coming together and there are so many different ways in which they can arrange themselves that it is said that no two are alike. Statistically, who knows whether or not it is true? From the billions that have fallen or are yet to fall we have examined, perhaps, a few thousand. It doesn’t really matter. Their delicate beauty is transient and can be destroyed by a breath, transformed back into the element from which it came, not lost, but returning to earth to begin the cycle again.

I wonder sometimes if our thoughts and dreams are not the same, fragile and ephemeral as they are, easily damaged or dissolved by the wrong touch. Perhaps they are not lost altogether but return to their component parts, waiting for us to bring them together again in a design more beautiful than the last.

Yes, I know I have a weirdly wired mind, my sons tell me so frequently….

Bittersweet

The misty dawn blushed a soft, rosy pink, probably  embarrassed by the number of clichés it was inviting. It had begun with a delicate glow, suffusing the rising mist with gold as I shivered on the doorstep, then painted the world in pastel colours, as gentle as an apology. As the sun rose, the temperature plummeted, the swirling mists turned to fog and you could almost see the ice crystals forming. Another morning was born…

The sudden frost highlighted every detail of plants still resolutely green, each strand of spider silk and the edge of every fallen leaf. The ordinary became beautiful. Details that are overlooked a hundred times a day were limned in crystal and became unmissable… yet, but for necessity, I would have taken the option of comfort, stayed warm indoors and seen nothing. As I scraped the ice from the windscreen of the car, I was once again struck by how simple it is to learn the lessons of life by observing Nature at work. My own experience of the morning was one of frozen fingers and yet, the bitter frost served only to highlight a beauty that might otherwise have been missed.

Necessity and inevitability so often lead us into bitter and painful situations, but without them as a contrast, would we…could we…truly appreciate all that is right in our world? Would we notice a dawn if the sky always wore the colours of sunrise or do we need to experience darkness in order to understand the essence of light? Looking around too, I noted that while some plants were still green and would remain so in spite of the coming cold of winter, others were sere and brittle, giving every appearance of being mere skeletons of the vibrant life they once wore. Yet here too, Nature teaches, for beneath the soil, those brittle bones wait only for spring to grow once more… different in appearance, perhaps, but still essentially the same.

There was nothing new in those thoughts… no fanfare, no great revelation. It was no more than a gentle reminder, a reassurance that we are never called upon to make sense of this world and its upheavals on our own. There is always a teacher on our doorstep, always a deeper wisdom than our own, older and with experience of all that has ever been. It knows the tides of night and day, of winter and summer, freedom and necessity…and it is poised to teach us, every day. We do not always listen, we are wayward students and easily distracted, but the earth knows her children well and repeats her cycles, waiting for our chattering minds to quiet and allow us to understand. And when we do…when we listen… sometimes, it seems as if she smiles.

Magical mornings

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It was a luminous dawn, the world blanketed in a thick cocoon of frost against the darkness and silence of a newborn morning. The sun rose, pale and gold, strewing a million diamonds on the tarmac path; setting a fire in the heart of ice. There is a magic in the morning light that seems to bathe even the hard edges of winter in a soft glow. Where the light streams, its gentle warmth sends showers of tiny droplets glinting to earth, yet where the shadows hang heavy, the frost lingers, clinging to the day with hoary fingers.

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Looking down, splashes of unexpected colour stand out against the whitened world… the scarlet stalks of ivy and bramble, the earth tones of autumnal remains and the vibrant shades of the evergreens. Details, hitherto unnoticed, leap to the attention, thrown into relief by the blank canvas of the frost. Shapes unseen are highlighted; fractal patterns that seem to hold the story of creation in their humble familiarity.

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Looking up, the birds are waking, stretching chilled wings against the morning. I wonder at them… their delicate frames and fragile bones kept safe through the frozen night by no more than a feather. So tiny, so light, yet they can fly against the storm winds and through the battering of the rains. This morning I watched the sparrows as they woke, fluffing their plumage as we might shake an eiderdown. Such busy little birds, clinging to the smallest perch to watch the day begin.

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Light strikes the trees, turning them golden as the sun rises higher, painting the doves pink and waking the jackdaws in a flurry of wings. On the low roof the frost crystals turn the little clumps of moss into the hollow hills and forests of a faery landscape where imagination walks, painting tales of otherworlds to be explored. Even the cars are clad in jewelled fur that makes them look like the surface of some fantastic planet.

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I love mornings like this. They truly are magical, both to see and to ponder, when the delicate overlay of a winter frost changes everything and yet the beauties revealed by the frost are always there, just waiting for us to see them. We are blind to the familiar world, habituated to its presence. It takes change to open our eyes and hearts to what is already there waiting for us. In this way such a morning reflects the journey of the seeker; turning to face the light of being and seeing that no matter how far the journey may lead him, no matter how many changes may come, his destination has always been a place he never left.

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A Wooded-Isle…

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Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior immediately set out for the sea-shore.

There, moored at the mouth of a natural cave in the cliffs, bobbed a coracle.

They both clambered aboard…

*

…The King of Castle-Hill took the magic halter to the cell of the tower on his wooded isle and presented it as a gift to appease his imprisoned daughter.

“Of what use to me is a magic halter,” sobbed the princess, “if all my days are to be spent cooped up here seeing none but my hand-maids.”

“With the halter comes a wondrous cow, my child, its inexhaustible supply of milk will sustain you,” soothed the king, “and I shall bring your food everyday and relate the comings and goings of the kingdom. Far better a sequestered life than one without a father.”

As the King of Castle-Hill left the tower to attend to his duties, the magic halter cascaded against the back of the cell door…

*

Brother-Warrior and Brother-Wizard landed at the wooded isle in their coracle.

“The magic halter is with the king’s daughter,” said Brother-Wizard.”

“And where is the king’s daughter?” said Brother-Warrior.

“The king’s daughter, is in a tower in the centre of the wood which is surrounded by nine home-steads,” said Brother-Wizard, “you must enter the tower and sleep with her.”

“And what’s in the nine home-steads?”said Brother-Warrior.

“You’ll see,” said Brother-Wizard. He gave his brother a Cloak-of-Darkness and put a spell on his hands so that whatever door he came to would open for him.

“Wish me luck, brother,” said the warrior, turning to leave.

“One more thing,” said the wizard, “be sure to leave the magic halter with the princess, we will return for it another day.”

“I thought…” began Brother-Warrior but a withering look from the wizard stayed that thought and sent him swiftly on his way into the wood.

*

Seeking Spirit

“You could find something spiritual in doing the dishes,” said my friend, as if this was unusual.

“He’s right. And although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it,” said Stuart, “ you could probably find spirituality in going to the toilet.” Half a dozen themes suggested themselves as he spoke.

“Disposing of the old and outworn…”

“…and how unhealthy hanging onto it too long can be…

“An illustration of how difficult it is to find personal time and peace in modern life… ”

“A meditative interlude…”

“One could talk about chemo constipation and how a breakdown in the system affects every other part of the body and mind…”

“…which shows how health is not static but a process. Nature has worked for thousands of years to create a process that works beautifully…”

“A perfect system. Recycling waste to feed plants and through them the animals that in turn feed us…”

“A completely self-contained system. And we think we can do better… and treat it with little or no respect.”

“We’ve only just got away, in evolutionary and social terms, from living with muck. Manure and its human equivalent were very much part of our everyday lives till recently… now we’ve moved away enough to become squeamish. “

“So we try to feel in control…”

“And fail miserably.” Because, when all is said and done, Nature is a bit bigger, a lot older…and a great deal wiser than we are.

So they were both right… you can find something spiritual in anything. Especially in Nature. It depends, really, on how you define ‘spiritual’.

For some, it is a side of life that is finer than mere flesh and earth. These are elements to be escaped, transcended, left behind as we strive for a higher state of being. For others ‘spiritual’ is something to do… attending a place of worship, perhaps… praying or adhering to the rules of a religion… following a moral code, meditating, or seeking the answers to the age-old questions that have beset the heart of humankind. And it is not by accident that the words ‘question’ and ‘quest’ share the same root.

There are as many ways of approaching spirituality as there are souls. None of them is right or wrong… each must fit the feet that walk their path.

For me, my approach to ‘spirituality’ changed decades ago when I first began to actively study the Tree of Life. I was reading The Mystical Qabalah, the best approach to this glyph and system that has, in my opinion, ever been written. Dion Fortune, undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the past century or so in the magical field, writes with a down-to-earth clarity that illuminates the stuffy corners of the academic approach to mysticism…. two concepts that do not really go well together, but knowledge is a necessary fuel for understanding.

When I read the words ‘God made manifest in Nature’, I knew what I had been missing in my own approach.

When you see divinity, by whatever name you wish to call It or in whatever form you choose to picture It, made manifest in Nature… pervading everything, from the sand on the beach to the plants, animals… and even into the works of humankind, because they are, in many ways, as much part of nature as the nest or mating display of a bird… then you see the world and indeed all creation, through a different lens. There is a rightness about it that even finds space for what we see as ‘wrong’ because, in the wider scheme, everything has a place. Even darkness, pain and evil have something to teach, for how could we choose between two paths were we only to ever encounter one?

And, when you see the world through that lens, then how can you see your own life through any other? The spiritual life is life, warts and all. It is not something to aspire to, nor something to seek… it is neither distant from nor alien to our base human nature… it is everything we see, feel or experience… from going to the loo to washing dishes, from watching the rising of the sun to holding a dead sparrow in our hand. You do not have to find the spiritual in your everyday life, It is already there. It is life… and It is you.

Changing tides

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He tripped, catching the pointed toe of the winklepickers on the kerb. Righting himself he looked around, his eyes darting self-consciously to seek out any possible observer, even while he reassumed his pose of studied nonchalance. Do they even call them winklepickers these days? From the anonymity of the car, I watched… the shutter of memory capturing the scene in vivid detail.

I took in, with some appreciation, the shiny black shoes, drainpipe jeans and striped shirt. Honey gold hair, worn a little too long to be called short, carefully coaxed across his brow. From one hand dangled a blue jacket… but what had caught my attention was the brown waistcoat and large, black satin bow tie.

This was a late summer Saturday. His attire both too warm and too contrived to be casual. An incongruous look, even if he was going to a wedding or other social gathering. Heading in the direction of the town centre and around fifteen, at a guess, I couldn’t see him making his way to such a function alone. The town and the plate glass reflections of shop windows were, I guessed, his goal. And possibly a girl. He looked nervous enough.

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You could read his emotions in the way he walked… every step seeming to shout ‘look at me!’, even while something in his stance suggested he still wondered if he looked as cool as he felt or as idiotic as his father may have told him.

I smiled to myself; a mother of sons. There is something very fragile about those first, tentative steps into a grown-up world of independence and learning to express the person you know yourself to be on the inside. It is a time of great vulnerability when the desire for acceptance and approval can lead to you conforming to the patterns laid by others, responding to their image of who you ‘should’ be.. and a time when the fledgling wings are easily clipped, damaged or irreparably broken by an unkind word or a lack of trust in your ability to become an individual in your own right.

The indulgent smile froze for a moment as I realised that some aspects of teenagerhood are not reserved for teenagers… but can happen to us all at any point in our lives. I thought about my hair.

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It is now non-existent, lost to chemotherapy…a temporary state, I can hope. It had once been dyed red , but although it had felt outrageous, in retrospect it was fairly tame, almost natural. A small, domesticated and timid attempt at self-expression. It had been building for a while and though the mahogany was quickly allowed to fade back to propriety, the lava was rising.

I was in my fifties when I dyed my hair rebellious; a colour somewhere between disaster and flame. It was short too; I had hacked it off with the meat shears in an act of sheer defiance… carving an image that owed no thought to anything but my own freedom to choose. I loved it. It carried danger signals and waved a flag of independence, screaming in no uncertain terms that enough was enough and I would no longer take either the garbage or the begrudged crumbs of affection upon which I had subsisted for far too long. I had no idea where this was going, but that it was going to go somewhere… anywhere….I was very certain….

Basically, I was little more than a come-again teenager, facing the world all guns blazing to assert a self-image I had yet to form and a confidence I had yet to feel. It was a time of change and reaction where I tore off the masks I had allowed to take up residence and began to wear instead the passion for life that I had always felt and kept locked primly away in the staid closet of domesticity.

Such a conflagration can go either way… but having once embraced the searing of the flames, I grew to love the contentment of the warmth of glowing embers. I did not need to display the blazon of a passion that will always burn. The challenge became a more carefree confidence, the red once more its gentler, natural shade, though now comfortably streaked with silver and growing wild. Outwardly, I have come full circle, back to the place I began, yet I see now through different eyes from another arc of the spiral of understanding.

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Major changes always bring on a moment of panic, while the wave rises high and gathers momentum. A new job, new parenthood, the end of a relationship or the beginning of a shared life… all call for us to readjust our perception of who we are as values and the demands we make upon ourselves are shaken out of their accustomed patterns and rearranged. We can change our style, choose a different expression of who we are, or who we want the world to perceive, but these are no more than outer manifestations of an inner state of mind and heart. At some level of consciousness we are always wondering who we will be when the wave of change finally crashes to the shore, spreading its fanning arches of foam across our lives.

As I watched the youngster walk up the hill, I realised I could not have told him the answer to that question…it is always one we have to learn for ourselves through lived experience. We will be who we have always been… our essential self does not change; we may learn and grow, we may alter our perspectives, swap one mask for another or discard them altogether… We may seem to recede into our own shadow or blossom in the sunlit fields of joy… but the essence of our true Self remains as clear and pure as the day we were born…and at any moment we may turn and drink from the well of being that resides within.

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The long night

The seasons turn as we approach the turning point, the Solstice… the longest night… just three short weeks away. And yet, the sky is beautiful this morning, a clear, deep blue graced with the lights of heaven. The world is still and silent, even the birds are hushed as dawn creeps over the horizon of a rain-washed world. The moon lights the village and touches the rooftops with silver. Branches are down in the lane and few are the leaves that still cling tenaciously to the trees, most stripped away by the vicious fingers of winter winds.

There is such strength in the grasp of leaf to twig, both so fragile they can be plucked and broken by a child, yet the bond of life so strong it can withstand the most inclement weather. Until it is time for them to fall.

Even when the leaves fall it is part of a greater renewal, the confetti of the marriage of the seasons, nourishing the earth and the tree from whence they fell. The tree sleeps through the winter, seemingly lifeless, husbanding its resources against the coming of spring. Beneath the skeletal surface of this dying time the life within shapes new leaves and blossoms, waiting in pregnant patience for the warm kiss of the sun.

northagain 064Leaves fall, branches break… the old and sere stripped away by the turning wheel of the year, clearing the way for a green birth.

There is so much laid out before us, even in the avenues of our city streets. The life of nature is so strong and so beautifully balanced. So easy to damage when, with careless hands her children grasp at her skirts, taking anything that claims their attention and desire… yet strong enough to recover when we are no more.

In the little wood where we sometimes walk, the small dog and I, man has left his traces. From the earliest times, track and road have passed this way. From the air, the circled marks of ancient homes can be seen in the fields, the line of a Roman road, lost now to plough and furrow. And still we carve this little patch of green to serve our needs. Yet as soon as we turn our back the wild things cover our tracks, reclaiming the earth for themselves, our little lives more fragile than their delicate blooms.

In towns and cities, sites and factories that were once hives of industry fall silent as technology moves on and we are proud of our advances, not noticing the quiet crown of plant and sapling our forgotten edifices wear, the gentle but inexorable hand of nature taking back her own as soon as we depart.

The seasons of the earth are echoed too within our own lives… we are part of the cycle, our bodies dance to the same natal song of the seasons. Life springs from death, death from life in an endless round.

northagain 108The cadence is echoed within us as we laugh for joy beneath the sun of summer and weep in grief when winter touches our hearts. In the dark days, we too may feel as if leaf and branch are being stripped from us, battered by the winds of change and the storms of emotion. Yet like the trees only the damaged and broken falls from us… the green heart is strong and holds the pattern of renewal within itself.

As the wheel turns it is easy to become lost in the dark days, feeling a verdant spring to be too far to reach, fearing in the shadows that it will not come. Perhaps, like the trees, we too are then husbanding our strength, withdrawing within where growth and renewal can work their magic unseen, ready to blossom at the first touch of the sun.

When the Solstice comes, the world, still facing the worst of winter, turns almost unnoticed towards summer. We know this, yet the winter is still to be endured. The days will lengthen, the light will be bright on days covered in snow, ice is yet to break open the cracked stones, and we will huddle by our hearths as if there is no warmth in the world, forgetting that we have passed the nadir and the eternal dance of the seasons carries us onwards towards a brighter dawn.

When we are lost in grief, gripped by the cold of fear, it is hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, hard to believe that we have passed the worst point when we see a dark road still looming ahead. Yet this is the rhythm of life itself, as the earth holds us in the reassuring and loving embrace of a Mother and shows us that not all is lost in winter, it merely endures the frost while within, nourished by the fallen leaves that were stripped away by the storms and the turning year, the green life springs anew.

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A Harmony of Eight…

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The point sits at the centre of the square,

where its two diagonals intersect.

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From the same intersection, another square

can be drawn at right angles to the first.

Like this, we create eight equidistant points.

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By taking the original squares and extending all

eight sides, a new set of intersections is generated.

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The new Octagon, bigger than the first,

 is perfectly derived from its archetype.

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Extending the sides of the Octagon generates another pair of larger squares.

The pattern is infinitely extendable around the point of origin with

perfect symmetry in every direction…

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A point indicates a location in space which is present but has no dimension…

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https://silenteyeblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/dragon.jpg

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