|Mecca -- Pilgrims at the Kaaba|
Circumambulation is the simplest and easiest form of spiritual exercise. It means walking around, usually around something, often a holy object or site. Every religion practices some form of it.
Hindus walk around the inner sanctum of their temples in concentric circles; Zen monks walk in a circle between meditative sittings. A Jewish bride circumambulates the groom. Catholic priests walk around the altar, shaking incense from a thurible. Even we Protestants will walk a labyrinth.
The most circumambulated place in the world is the Kaaba in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. During the annual Hajj, pilgrims circle en masse, symbolizing the unity of believers.
Anyone can circumamabulate. Even a child can do it, and get something out of it. Walking in a circle focuses the mind, creates a center. Centering is the same as meditation -- the words mean the same thing. And almost anything can be circumambulated. The very act of circling creates a sacred space, marked off for contemplation.
|Pulpit Garden -- Cathedral of St. John the Divine|
In Leonia, New Jersey, I like to walk around an elephant. This is a beautifully rusted steel sculpture, installed outside the Leonia Library -- a witty mashup of nature and civilization, our animal and industrial natures in one. Walking around it always produces an admiring chuckle, to see what God and humankind hath wrought.
Cicumambulation is easy, but it can be made more challenging. The Taoist discipline of Tai-Chi is based on circular movements -- including walking the circle, an elaborate dance-like exercise. In the Himalayas in northern India, I walked around the mountain home of the Dalai Lama, and met a young Buddhist nun who was circumambulating on her face. Instead of walking she was diving into one prostration after another, going around the mile-long path like an inchworm, her face and clothes all smeared with mud.
In some traditions, circumambulation is clockwise. In others it's counter-clockwise. I prefer counter-clockwise -- somehow it takes a little more effort and will to go against the prevailing psychic wind. In baseball, you circle the bases counter-clockwise, with somebody trying to get you out at every turn. Getting home is the challenge.
Still, walking about is easy, in any direction. And circumambulation carries a message of liberation -- from seeking answers, from striving after goals. It says, in the most literal way, that the path is the goal. We end where we began, and begin again.
-- Copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
|Leonia Elephant -- Frederick Prescott, sculptor|
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