turning toward the spiral of life

The Destroyer becomes our ally when we recognize the need to change or give something up without denying the pain or grief involved.

Carol S. Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within


This morning I woke up thinking about Carol Pearson.

The spirals came later.

Actually, I was thinking about something Carol said eight years ago in Minnesota. About 10 of us were sitting in a Holiday Inn conference room and she was teaching us about the assessment she created: the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator/PMAI. (Kind of like the MBTI but focused on our unconscious rather than conscious processes.)

Anyway, Carol was talking about the Destroyer archetype.

The Destroyer is all about deep-down metamorphosis, the kind that demands we look loss in the face, and then let go, give up, hand over what no longer serves us on our journeys. So yeah, it can be distressing and not always pretty.

Carol said a lot of people score low on the Destroyer, which on the face of it would indicate that the archetype isn’t really active in their lives. Often it’s a false low score, though, because the assessment asks about unwanted or challenging change and loss. People kind of go into denial around this and skim through the questions.


After using the PMAI with clients for years, I’ll vouch for that.

People can feel pretty vulnerable around the ouchy parts of their transitions, so they check out a little in an effort to distance themselves from that. But the thing is, even the most-desired transitions require some discomfort around letting go and moving on. And like Carol said in the training seminar, it’s not unusual to worry that you’ll get depressed if you allow yourself to actually go there.

Then she looked up from her notes and said, “Of course, depression is not the same as sadness.”

She meant that it’s okay to allow ourselves to feel sad. That sadness is an emotion, like any other. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re depressed.

But you’re smart so I bet you already know that. I know it too. Still, for some reason I woke up thinking about Carol and the Destroyer and the difference between sadness and depression. Clearly, there’s something I want to say about it, this Destroyer-Sadness-Not-Depression thing. It’s hard to put into words.


Maybe I just want to tell you that I’m intimately familiar with this Destroyer character. I know what he looks like.

The Destroyer of my imagination is dark and faceless, sort of like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He’s witnessed a lot in the past decade of my life, and not just the growing pains of life and work and relationship transitions. He’s witnessed a lot of death too. For both Dave and me.

Dave’s brother, father, mother: gone now.

My brother, father, aunt, uncle: gone now.

And then there’s Alfie, Margo, Leo, Tess: gone now. Yes, they’re cats. They’ve always been part of the family and losing them hit hard.

But like Carol also says: An awareness of death can call us back to remember what truly matters.

She’s not just talking about awareness that we’re all going to die. She’s also talking about awareness of the hundreds of other losses we’ll encounter, like relationships, expectations, abilities, experiences, passions, ideas, beliefs. She’s encouraging us to turn toward the awareness (and sadness) that this is the cycle of life, repeated again and again in ways both small and large.


There’s a beautiful shape and color within that awareness and its companion sadness, I think. 

Maybe that’s what I really want to tell you today.

It’s a spiral shape for me. How do I know this? Well, I looked down at the notes I scribbled in advance of writing this. I hadn’t realized it, but right there in the middle of the page I’d doodled a series of spirals. I doodle those a lot, actually, rather unconsciously.

It’s funny, because I didn’t know what the spiral symbolized until a few minutes ago. Truly, I am still naive about some things (I kind of like that about me though).

So here it is: the spiral symbolizes the cycle of life-death-rebirth. The spiral is another face of the Destroyer.

You know, I sure do love it when the collective unconscious gives me such a gracious nudge.

Finally. I know why I woke up thinking about Carol and the Destroyer and the sadness-that’s-not-depression.

And here’s what I truly want to tell you: when the Destroyer is my long-term house guest and I’m in that sadness-that’s-not-depression, it helps me to turn toward the spiral. I draw it. Notice it in nature. Walk it (without even realizing it). Trace it with my finger.

Eventually, it brings me to the place where I remember the lessons of loss, death and rebirth.


Thankfully, it calls me back to what truly matters.

* * * * *

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11 thoughts on “turning toward the spiral of life

  1. Really like this post – it covers my fav topics: archetypes and symbolism. Spirals are drawn by soul searchers. When the spiral begins in the center and spirals out it signifies inner work and self reflection that can be used or expressed outwardly, in the external world. Are you left-handed? You make a lot of leftward moving spirals (reaching back to the past for answers). Only the blue one in the image is rightward…I wonder what you were thinking then…

    • Wow, thanks for the insight on spirals. I notice I doodle them a lot while talking with clients on the phone or exploring my own thoughts and feelings, which definitely fits with your idea of inner work expressed outwardly. They seem to comfort and ground me, and it’s a shape I’m naturally attracted to. I’m right handed, though.

  2. Patty,

    I met a woman once who believed all transitions deserved to be grieved. She had an entire chart and paper about this. At first, I didn’t go with it because it made grief seem so fleeting. After all, leaving an occupation isn’t the the same as losing someone, but now I can see the wisdom in what she (and YOU) are saying.

    I do have to grieve for the transitions in my life, whatever they are. My grief isn’t like the grief of losing a loved one, but it is still grief and I need to allow myself the time to sit with it and acknowledge it.

    Thank you very much for your beautiful words and reconnecting me with this this important lesson about loss:~)

    • You’re very welcome, Sara. Your grief is yours, unique to you, and don’t let anyone tell you different!

      I think a lot of us don’t want to make a “big deal” out of our “small” losses so we tend to minimize them. Just as likely, those around us minimize them as well. And certainly, there’s a societal thing about just sucking it up and moving on. What I’ve discovered for myself and with clients is that when we minimize like that it can create unfinished business that stays with us for years.

      By the way, there’s a wonderful process called “writing for healing” that’s helpful. Have you heard of it? Maybe I’ll write about it soon.

  3. I like it how you say that death and loss are just faces of the same spiral, or facets of the same diamond, perhaps. The diamond itself never disappears — we are simply conscious of different sides of it at different times, like the blind men trying to figure out that they’re touching an elephant.

  4. I’ve come to the same conclusion through many, many losses: death brings us back full circle to living life fully, if we so choose. Grief is a wave that takes us forward to a new shore of deep acceptance and new joy, if we’re not afraid to let it. Thanks, Patty!

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