In a week of both tragic and comedic karma, Keith Kachtick awakens to the circular nature of the Universe and our existence in it.
To return home to our original birthplace in the cosmos is a circular journey facilitated by synchronicities, moments of not-so-accidental coincidence. Synchronicities are like cairns left as trail markers. Follow the clues and we can feel our intuitive heart wisdom guiding us as we circle back home.
Recently, while I was composing an email at our Dharma Yoga school in Austin, Texas, a yellow and black wasp the size of a miniature Pittsburgh Steeler noisily buzzed and banged against my office window. I normally escort unwanted critters from the Dharma Yoga sanctuary without harming them, but with this loud, irksome wasp I rationalized the effort was too dangerous. So, I grabbed a New Yorker, muttered, “May you be reborn a dolphin,” and smacked the poor thing six or seven times until it dropped from the window, quivered legs-up on the window sill, and died.
No coincidence that with my final mortal smack, the New Yorker flew from my hands directly into a framed photograph of the Dalai Lama hanging on the wall near my desk, sending His Holiness crashing to the floor. I gasped. Fortunately, the glass didn’t break. Turning to take the dead wasp to the garbage, I then banged my forehead on the edge of the office door. Okay, thank you, Universe, I get it: No more killing sentient bugs. After rubbing arnica on my cleaved skull, I chuckled and texted a colleague about my slapstick karma. She texted back: “Ha! Today’s the Dalai Lama’s birthday!”
The synchronicities kept coming. A week later, I was working in my office at night, planning an upcoming yoga class around the poem “If You Knew” by Ellen Bass, a touching reminder about the brevity of life. As I typed the words, I read aloud the poem’s first line: What if you knew you’d be the last to touch someone? As if on cue, there was a stupendously loud crash of metal and glass on the street outside our building.
Barefoot, I hopped onto my desk to look out the transom window and winced. Oh, that’s not good: An old blue pickup truck had lost control coming around the turn, flipped upside down, sheered the refrigerator-sized stoplight box from its cement foundation, and crashed wheels-up in the grass near the Dharma Yoga parking lot, not 20 feet from our main entrance.
I hopped down and called 911. The next three hours of the night swirled surreally with blue and red lights from four police cars, paramedics, and a flatbed tow truck. Frankly, I don’t know if the driver survived. I fear not, since an ambulance took him away without turning on its siren.
With the first light of dawn, the upended truck and its driver were gone, and the stoplight box was already magically replaced by Austin’s city workers. I wandered through the grass and parking lot, picking up debris left behind from the wreck: a Snicker’s wrapper. A blue-tinted paintbrush. A bag of pecans.
I told students in my first Dharma Flow class that morning about the accident, remarked on its odd serendipity for that day’s theme, then shared the Ellen Bass poem. Throughout our 90 minutes together, a woman practicing in the back row softly cried and wiped away tears. After class, she lingered in the lobby, red-eyed and quietly sniffling.
“I’m sorry I got so emotional today,” she said, still crying. “Today is the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. It’s almost comical. Guess how he died?” She half-smiled, half-sobbed. “He crashed his car in a parking lot.”
Now, I have no idea what that synchronicity means, but clearly this woman’s attendance in this particular class on this particular morning was also no coincidence. She seemed to understand that as well, and walked out the front door looking relieved, as if a burden she had been struggling with for exactly one year had finally lifted from her shoulders.
The more we pay attention to synchronicities, the more we awaken a feeling of recognition and familiarity with the Universe. We remember that sentience and our journey home are divine play. That life is also circular play. “We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars,” Rumi says. “The stars form a circle, and in the center we dance.”
Centuries ago, a famous Christian artist received a commission to paint a mural image of God. He had painted Jesus and the Virgin Mary but had never been hired to draw Divinity itself. The stymied artist pondered and prayed and procrastinated for days before eventually painting a large, perfectly round circle. The artist explained to his patron, “God is too ineffable and mysterious to render any other way.”
Zen masters say of our inherent circularity, “All things in the universe are of one reality, where the principles of no birth and no death and karma operate on a single, clear, and rounded framework.”
The French philosopher Voltaire concurs, saying, “God is a circle with no circumference whose center is everywhere.”
We see sacred circularity in the Self-placed trail markers all around us, in halos and wedding bands, in the center ring of a circus, in the round enso painted with a lone brush stroke by Zen calligraphers, in the spinning of Sufi whirling dervishes as they get dizzy on God.
We even see venerable circularity in the American pastime of baseball, with every home run smashed by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. There has long been a rapturous quality about baseball that inspires sonnets, literary essays, Robert Redford films, and the occasional Broadway musical. Not too many rhapsodic movies about ice hockey or rugby. But baseball—sigh— for a hundred years it’s pulled at our heartstrings.
This pulling arises because most other team sports are brutally linear: Team A is rewarded if it penetrates the territory defended by Team B and scores a bucket, goal, or touchdown. The straight-line thrusting and conquering of basketball, soccer, and football appeals to the baser needs of the self-cherishing human ego.
No coincidence baseball is Homeric, circular, bigger than life: Odysseus stands in the batter’s box at home plate, alone, facing nine opponents charged with keeping him from rounding the bases.
He is rewarded handsomely when he successfully comes full circle and returns home.