When I was studying anthropology, working through stacks of books and articles on culture and development, I was fascinated by the essential structures within particular civilizations. Every group has them, a form of governance, a religious identity, a familial formation, standard practices that are inherent to a group even if they do not have the language to name them directly or even discuss them. In a basic sense, we would consider these elements "how things are done," which you can see vestiges of even now among the country club crowd and any group that retains a notion of class structure. (They are also, frightfully, the common understanding of people in church.) This thinking, this pragmatism, is rooted in the need to not question institutions but to simply follow them.
Every society participates in these foundational institutions, or else it would result in chaos and either fizzle or migrate outward. Think of the horror of Babel, when suddenly major groups no longer spoke the same language. It was their language, the essential, standard institution, that had allowed them to conceptualize the tower in the first place. Instantly they were robbed of a foundational institution.
I wonder if they were each given an individual language. The story doesn't read that way, but that their language became confused. Perhaps then they were given the mercy of being grouped. Several languages, but not individual languages. They could regroup. They could start again. Thus, we have the nations.
But these new groups have to make new foundations as well. They have to create a new way to draw the circle.
Drawing the circle is the idea of essential safety in a society. I don't know many people who call it that, though I was delighted when I came across it in Joan Didion's personally seminal work, The Year of Magical Thinking. It is the principle, and a good one at that, which states that societies create these foundational norms for the sake of the safety it brings them. Perhaps they don't articulate it as safety, but that is nonetheless what it is. Drawing the circle are those actions, small or large, which signify a space as put to rights.
It is the rejection of the chaotic Other. Within the circle, only safety can exist. Jung writes that, "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order." Drawing the circle is that enclosing, the tabernacling of the cosmos and the order in the chaos and disorder.
I have friends in California who enjoy the luxury of traveling often. But when they come home, no matter the season, they light a fire. Fire means they have come home. This is how they draw the circle.
It is a great tragedy and problem in the modern age that we have lost this notion of safety. Everything must now be busy, rushed, pushed, and hastened. In fact, it has become our functional norm to see the essential lack of safety as our safety. The point is to hurry, quicken, speed. Abandon everything at all times. Be immersed in chaos. But this does only harm to us. It can only, ultimately, harm us.
I have done my best to rebel against this. I spend unnecessary hours baking when I'm home on the weekend. I write by hand even though I learned incorrectly how to hold a pen and it hurts my hand to do so. I take long walks in silence with God. This is how I draw the circle. Sometimes it's with my Bible and the early morning sunrise. Sometimes it's with friends.
If we lose drawing the circle, if we lose finding time to be essentially unessential--that is, to do things for the sake of having done them, not for their functional purpose or efficient cause in our understanding of success--we miss the basic principle of the creation of the Creator. That is, that all beauty and grace are a kind of excess, superabundance, that serves no functional cause save for the fact that they are created.
If we don't draw the circle, we live only in the literal and miss the deep Story. We do not understand that, "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also His offspring."
Back to poets. Freud did not know what to do with them. He put saints and poets together as the only groups of people who broke the understanding of standard psychoanalysis of persons.
I'm not too great a fan of Freud. But this he got right.
How do you draw the circle?