Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's In A Button?

What’s in a button?

A button is an ordinary object, one you use every day and probably don't even notice. They are common. You’re probably wearing one right now and don’t even know it.  An ordinary object that you use all the time and don’t stop to think about.

And yet, from the first soft baby clothes that grandma sewed for you to the dressing gown of your twilight years, the button will be at hand to secure you, adorn you and tell the story of who you are and where you came from.  

Buttons are ancient.

The earliest known buttons were made in Egypt around 2000 B.C.  Crusaders brought them to Europe from the Middle East. In days of old, they were distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring, commissioned by kings and worn by great ladies to flaunt their positions and wealth.  But now buttons are hardly noticed, a result of ready-to-wear factory-style manufacturing.  A product of our times.  When was the last time you chose a garment for the buttons?  Or chose the buttons for a garment? They are entirely overlooked.

A button is round, simple, functional.  The more you look at one, the more beautiful it becomes.

The button is a perfect mandala, actually.  Like a mandala, it is round with a square inside and four gates.  Like a mandala, a button could be used, if one thought to look at it that way, as a portal.

In certain spiritual traditions, the Mandala is used to focus the attention of the seeker in order to establish a sacred space and help her to enter a meditative state in which to experience transcendent powers at work in the universe.

Sigmund Freud’s pupil Carl Jung painted mandalas as a “self-experiment” in order to come to terms with the contents of his unconscious mind.  The work sprang from his need, he said, to define the ways in which his outlook differed from that of his teacher.  He did not think of his paintings as art, only as a means to clarify certain material that had swamped him.  After completing his six-year experiment, Jung transcribed his experiences in a journal he called “The Red Book,” a richly illustrated folio bound in red leather.  

What Jung realized was that the fantastic figures he had encountered in his meditations could not be traced to any personal or biographical event.  Instead, he concluded, they were mythic, originating in an impersonal psychic realm that he called the "collective unconscious.” This discovery of an autonomous psychic realm populated by universal, inherited “shapes” of the human mind – or archetypes -- would form the basis of Jung’s psychology of the unconscious, the material for his lifetime’s work.

The button is just a metaphor.  It is a way of being in the world.  A way of approaching one's life, one's work.  Pay more attention to your clothes – but not in the way that others have decided for you.

For my picture, I snapped a picture of my mom’s green button (compare it to a Tibetan mandala painted in the 17th century).  Her collection of buttons was passed down to me, canisters of vibrant reds, greens, purples, blues, a whole bin of pearly whites.  A tin of blacks.  A tray of metal ones for uniforms.  It is an inheritance I am just beginning to understand and appreciate.

1 comment:

Linda said...

an interesting,unique perspective Diana... you should post this on various women's craft or sewing sites. I think it would resonate with a lot of women. i definitely have favorite button, buttons with memories. once replaced all the buttons on a simple wool sweater with sparkly crystal ones to dress it up for a wedding. buttons can be like jewels.

oh... and good writing too!