Why We Chose an Unalome as Our Symbol


Recently, we commissioned a new logo for the Kalavan Retreat Center. It includes a motif of mountains representing Mt. Ararat and Armenia's recognizable landscape and also a funny little squiggly doodle with a flower at the top. 

So, what's up with the doodle?

The Kalavan Retreat Center Logo by Naira Aghayan
The Kalavan Retreat Center Logo by Naira Aghayan

It's called an unalome. It's a spiritual symbol originating in Buddhist iconography. To them, it represented the path to enlightenment and the journey of life. I adopted the unalome for the Kalavan Retreat Center, even though we are decidedly secular and non-religious, because it captures what we are all about here: expediting the path to finding yourself.

The spiral at the base of the unalome represents the beginning of the journey to self-discovery. It's twisting, turning, exciting, and challenging. You constantly pivot off new experiences in directions you couldn't have predicted. It can be incredibly disorienting. This might be the time in your life when you most feel lost, like everything you believed about yourself and the world up to this point was a lie, so how can you know what's real? 

That's how I felt when I first started traveling without a plan around the world as a young man. At that time, my top priority was just seeing as much of what was out there as I could. It was about erratic movement. Rest, reflection, and codification of the lessons of that experience only came later.

The journey to finding yourself, whatever means you employ, is necessarily chaotic at the start. Its motion is defined by ups and downs, back-and-forths, and constant change until we grow confident to stand for what is most important to us.

This is also the stage of self-discovery where we are most likely to give up early and accept someone else's story about who we are supposed to be instead of committing to the rest of the path of figuring it out for ourselves. Once the novelty stops being exciting and you are forced to consider the consequences of continuing in your own way, the fear and anxiety that comes with the responsibility of being free might overtake you.

As the spiral of the unalome straightens, it reflects how we begin to find some clarity and direction in life through the mistakes we make in our exploration. We oscillate less wildly back and forth around a more clear and defined path that is aimed at the truth of who we are at our foundation. Our mistakes become less destructive, and we make them less often.

The dots at the end of the unalome signify the end of the path or finally accepting the truth of who you are. We stay there, boring deeper and deeper into it until our physical bodies give out, and we die. Our reward is that we get to live the way we were meant to instead of according to a design the world would have chosen for us. And as a result, we change the world around us through our unique, authentic influence. That's represented in a lovely way by the blossoming of the lotus flower that's included in some versions, including ours.

When thinking of a way to symbolically represent what we are all about here, there was really no other symbol that would fit the bill in a universally accessible way (except for the American flag currently hanging from my balcony, but I'll get to that in another blog post). I didn't want to limit our signature to something strictly confined by Armenian cultural history and which would only be meaningful to a particular group of people. You don't have to be Buddhist or of any spiritual persuasion to see what the unalome depicts for all of us.

We call ourselves a retreat center because we seek to retreat from the ordinary world around us long enough to focus on developing into the kind of people we want to be. It's a chance to step away from the early, chaotic path of trying to find yourself on your own and do it in a safe, supportive environment with the guidance of people who have done it before you and care about the outcome. As we build up this ecovillage and intentional community in Armenia (the first of its kind here), we hope the symbol of the unalome will do a good job accurately communicating who we are and what we stand for so international visitors understand us the way we want to be understood and can choose to identify with us over our shared values.

Additional Unalome Variations
Additional Unalome Variations
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