The Symbol for Everything

November 30, 2007

We communicate with each other, remember together, and maintain a sense of community through our shared symbols. “Rally ’round the flag, boys!” and “With this ring, I thee wed,” are the kinds of statements which rise from the outward and visible symbology of inner and abstract ties that bind us all.

We need symbols. They serve us because they reflect that which we are unable, often, to put into words. We can talk about patriotism, or love, but specifically satisfying words can elude us. The symbols of those words speak volumes.

There is a symbol which perfectly embodies the worldview we must share, and also commemorates how we- as a universe, communities, families, and individuals- have moved through both our common eternality and personal temporality.

It is the Nautilus shell.


The Nautilus Belaunsis is a cephalopod, whose skeletal structure is external and grows in size to accommodate the maturing mollusk.

Nautilus belaunsis (2)

The newly hatched Nautilus has a four chambered exoskeleton. As it grows, it moves into a larger chamber which has grown ahead of it, in order that it will fit. And on and on until it reaches maturity.

Each new chamber is larger than the one that preceded it, and is dependent on the structure of the previous, smaller chamber. Thus, each of the smaller chambers remains as a functioning part of the whole, vital to its completeness, even as its specific usefulness as a chamber in which to dwell, has been superceded.

And therein is the story of everything else. A baby is born with an infant’s consciousness: everything, beginning with Mom, is an extension of itself. As a 1 to 2 year, the toddler begins to understand the distinct nature of itself. The second level of consciousness supercedes the first, even as it is wholly built upon it. Cognitive abilities continue to increase as the child grows older: from the manipulation of its environment to the complete separation of its personality from parents and others, to an always heightening understanding of cause and effect, then adopting a social self, a critical self, a self-critical self. Each point in the process is built upon the previous one, and is always a part of the previous state of consciousness and understanding.

The whole is a result of previous and lesser sized parts, one built upon the other. No part loses its significance, even as its specific usefulness ha been transcended.

An acorn becomes a shoot, becomes a sapling, becomes a young tree, becomes a mature oak. Everything about the acorn is still a part of the great oak tree, but has been transformed and functions as a much larger and much more complex part of the tree’s wholeness.

I sat in first grade and traced the letter A over and over. Today I’m sitting at a keyboard writing this. Everything that grows, matures, evolves, or changes through time- and that is everything, from the universe to my fingernails- fits into this spiraling model, perfectly seen in the Nautilus shell.

Thus, it is the perfect symbol for communicating with each other easily our own realization that nothing alive is stagnant, that our beginnings are vital and necessary to each stage of growth, and that we share in this universal commonality.


We are rock, we are sunshine, we are movement and growth through time. What has come before is as important to us as we are to what comes after us.


10 Responses to “The Symbol for Everything”

  1. Fadi Says:

    I know this is as weird as it gets when it comes to comments but here goes:

    I was in the shower today reflecting on life when I came to the conclusion that my life was like a spiral. I made connections with several aspects of life. For example, I thought of a child growing (like a spiral) away from its home (the center of the spiral) little by little. I also thought how time was very much like a spiral, never hitting the same place twice yet constantly evolving.

    As I got out of my shower, I forgot about the whole spiral theory. I started surfing the web and asked myself if there was such a thing as a symbol representing “everything”. Naturally, I googled it and came upon this article, confirming exactly what I pondered in the shower.

    It may be a really weird coincidence, or maybe even a revelation, but I can’t leave it here. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think it would be worthwhile to explore this idea further. I just wanted to know, how did you come up with the idea?


    Fadi N.

  2. barryweber Says:

    One day, I noticed the spiral of a moonflower. And then I realized that many of the fossils I find are spiral in nature. It made sense with what I think about regarding the integral nature of all systems, so I googled Spiral one day and found many such references! Spiral Dynamics is one which uses the spiralled shell as a kind of symbol to explain all kinds of thinking..
    Thanks for the note..sorry for the delay!

  3. Jesse Spades Says:

    Music. As different sounds source into life, the sound mimics sounds from before, from earlier times. Such is our lives; we learn from past experiences to piece together our present life. All of the decisions are rhythm to our lives. Rhythm to the sound from other times. Sound combines with one another to create a harmony; such as the unison of power and speed metal. Thrash and Melodic. Two worlds to make one, just as two lives join to make one. Everyone carries a sound from the past just as every song holds a story to tell. Eventually the sound we make will piece another song together; another sound far into the future, till there is nothing left but the trace of the last. Sound travels around from ear to ear just as life is born everyday. The song we make with the sounds that we hear, is like the life we live with the experiences that we pass. It’s a cycle in life, a spiral in which we are. No life, no sight, no smell, only sound that’s all we are. A quark in the universe, a note in a symphony, a curve in a spiral. To grasp hold of an idea that doesn’t flow in a spiral is impossible. Everything is a spiral.
    which answers my question.
    What is the image for all?

  4. lian Says:

    thanks for your reflexions,
    I have been looking for the meaning behind the nautilus shell for a while now, because I really like the form, the shape, the never ending of it.
    This nautilus shell I would like to have tatooed, and before I do that, I need to know the real meaning of it, that is how I fell on those thoughts!!

    The Nautilus for me, is primary simply beautifull.
    It also stands for the inner beauty of nature, which comes with an enormous strength! The spiral of life, the spiral used in many mathematic calculations all turn around and continue!
    The Nautilus is magical to me!

  5. Goldy Says:

    Wow. this is really weird to read these comments. It’s turning into a series of almost telepathic happenings. I stumbled upon this page because i’m trying to design a tattoo to myself that reads “i promise i” on the left wrist and “Anything & Everything” on the right. but i was thinking maybe there’s a symbol that means everything and then the 2nd part could fit better. So i find this article, and i think the spiral is perfect. I draw it all the time because to me it represents life. It’s chaotic but it keeps moving on steadily and perfectly. To me, these tattoos even represent the brain… ‘i promise i’ are words which are interpreted by the LEFT hemisphere of the brain while the spiral, obviously a symbol, is interpreted by the right hemisphere. It’s like what civilizations do to their cities… ‘As above, so below’ Might i add that this is the first link i clicked after searching google with one try. I think i’ll get a nautilus shell. How weird… Just in case anybody wonders what the tattoo means… it means that i promise that i’ll do anything and everything that i want to do. I promise fear won’t stop me. I promise that no matter how hard some obstacle is to jump, i will jump it. and i’m reminded that this is how i live when i look at my hands. Thanks for the post. You’ve inspired me.

    • Kayla cole Says:

      I was seriously thinking about this as a tattoo also. I heard about the nautilus on the smithsonian “undersea edens” and immediately thought it would make an outstanding symbol for a tattoo. Little did I know it meant so much. That makes it much more epic!

  6. Natasha Says:

    Wow!! Those of you who got the tattoo, I’d LOVE to see a pic!! I just googled “symbol for everything” b/c I also want to get that symbol on my left wrist. You see, I always tell my daughter “You are my everything!”, and I want those words to always be with me. So if anyone can share a picture of their Spiral tattoo, I’m very interested in seeing it!

  7. Brianna Says:

    haha well this is also weird for me.. i was looking up “a symbol for everything” because i wanted it tattooed on my right wrist.. i have a more spiritual tattoo on my left which i want to add to, and then i want my right wrist to deal with biological/scientific/down to earth meanings. another weird coincidence 🙂

  8. Mina Says:

    Malick’s movie thé tree of Life is full of symbols.
    Ans you CAN see thé nautilus symbole in thé movie from thé création of thé world , in thé church, in buildings.

  9. \DON' GET MI RONG/ Says:

    I think a lotus flower works too!!!

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