A circle until filled contains only space, nothingness, just as the word ‘O’ has to be filled with meaning. When the actor playing Othello comes on stage saying, ‘O! O! O! O!’ he has to fill those circles with the emotion he imagines Othello experiencing in that moment. Then, too, the word ‘O’ also means, ‘There are no words to express what I feel,’ – which is perhaps why it is so often used in religious liturgies!
Jung referred to the circle as ‘the archetype of wholeness’. Tibetan Buddhists create mandalas, circular representations of the universe, as part of their meditation practice. In Zen the enso used in calligraphy, a circle painted with one brush stroke, represents the totality of the great void. When Pope Benedict sent to Giotto for an example of his work, Giotto created a perfect circle in red ink. When the messenger asked if this was the only example of his work that he was to take back to the Pope, Giotto replied, ‘it is enough and too much.’
The circle also works upon us in other ways. Sometimes when I lead a group I ask everyone at the start to stand in a circle facing outwards. Out there, I say, is the outside world from which you have come, and which for the next few hours you are going to leave behind. I ask everyone to bow to that world and then turn inwards, facing each other. The space within this circle, I tell them, is the space they are now going to explore, their own inner space. I then invite them to bow to that space and to one another. At the end of the day we reverse this, bowing inwards to acknowledge what we have drawn from the inner circle, and then turning outwards, to prepare for our return to the outside world.
After meditation, especially if one has an unsolved problem, it is interesting to draw a circle on a piece of paper and then wait, until one’s pen, pencil or brush is drawn to add something to the interior of the circle-space. Slowly an image, simple or complex, will emerge, rising from the unconscious, often providing the answer to some dilemma, or pointing a way forward.