In Angeles Arrien’s book Shapes of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them, she identifies five universal shapes that carry the same meaning across time and culture. The five universal shapes are:
To take the Preferential Shapes Test, rank the five shapes in order of preference. Without thinking too much about it, rank from your most preferred (1) to your least preferred (5).
The following comes directly from Arrien’s book and may offer insights into your internal processes. I’ve also found it interesting to look with a different eye at advertising, art, logos, and business cards, architecture, furniture design and, well, everything!
The preference for particular shapes is an announcement of the values and processes active at any time for an individual, a group or a whole society…. The meaning ascribed to each of the five shapes symbolizes and demonstrates an individual’s worldview: the qualities, characteristics, belief structures, actions, and forms of expression used by one person or shared by the members of a society…. The Preferential Shapes Test allows a person to discover one’s own current worldview…. The sequence in which someone places the shapes when taking the test is most important in showing which of the five universal processes of change and growth is being experienced most intensely by that person at that time….
The meanings of the positions:
Position 1 – Where you think you are.
The shape placed here, in this most preferred position, signals the process that now has your attention; it describes the part of yourself of which you are most aware and with which you are most comfortable at this time…. BUT – and this is critical for proper interpretation of the test results – it is not the most accurate indicator of where you actually are right now. It only shows you where you think you are or where you would like to be.
Position 2 – Your strengths.
The shape you have chosen as your second preference exhibits an inherent strength predominant in you at this time, whether you know it or not. You demonstrate this strength to other people without effort. The shape in this position indicates areas of your nature that are currently fluid, strong, and resourceful. This shape reveals the innate talents you are using to assist the growth occurring in Position 3. Many people who have taken this test, report that recent positive feedback and compliments they have received from others correspond to the qualities of the shape found in Position 2.
Position 3 – Where you are.
Though this shape is third in your order of preference, it is the most significant: the shape you put in this position shows your true current growth process. This shape stands for the work that is really going on, right now, at the core of your being. Very often this process is unconscious or overlooked, yet you must be aware of it in order to fully manifest the potential it represents…. The shape in this position can be a source of unlimited creativity and healing when you support the process it signifies.
Position 4 – Your motivation.
Position 4 points to past challenges, tests, and circumstances that have motivated your current process of change. The fourth position of preference and the shape within it discovers the motivation that triggered your move into the core work to be done that is symbolized by the shape in Position 3. This shape furnishes clarifying information about the underlying incentive that has provoked you to do things differently now. Many people have reported that the shape found in this position also describes situations they have resolved or moved beyond.
Position 5 – Old, unfinished business.
This shape, your least preferred, identifies a process you have outgrown or one that you dislike, still resist, or are judging. It indicates old, perhaps unfinished, business. This fifth position is associated with unresolved issues you now wish to put aside. The shape placed here carries a process that you will reclaim and integrate at a later date. It is work to which you should attend in the present; instead, it show areas of boredom, patterns of denial, or disowned parts within yourself.
The Circle Symbolizes: Wholeness, Unity, Independence, Individuation (The Hero Myth)
In Position 1: If the circle is in Position 1, it indicates your desire to be independent and self-sufficient. This is the process that has your attention and that is a source of inspiration to you.
In Position 2: The circle in Position 2 means that the heroic journey currently is effortless for you, whether or not you are aware of that. Your heroic behavior points out to others that your strengths are self-reliance and resourcefulness.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the circle shows that the process of individuation is occur9ing at the core of your nature. When fully engaged, this process of achieving and experiencing independence will allow your natural creative and restorative abilities to flow into all areas of your life.
In Position 4: The Circle in Position 4 denotes that a past heroic journey motivated you to become responsible and self-reliant. The process of individuation was the past challenge that caused you to move to your present core work (defined by the shape you have placed in Position 3 — ).
In Position 5: When the Circle is in Position 5, you may be resisting or denying the process of individuation. The heroic journey currently does not have your attention and you have no interest in exploring it at this time.
The Spiral Symbolizes: Growth & Change, Evolution (Life-renewing stories & myths), Coming to the same point again & again but at a different level, New Perspectives
In Position 1: If the spiral is in Position 1, it shows that the process of growth is the one you believe to be the most important for you at this time. You want to develop flexibility, to handle situations differently from the way you have in the past, and to implement tangible changes in your life.
In Position 2: The spiral in Position 2 denotes that it is easy for you to handle change, whether you know this or not. Your actions let others see that your strengths are flexibility and the ability to do many things at once.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the spiral symbolized that you are profoundly engaged in the process of change. It is essential to honor the changes occurring within your nature. Change and variety are necessary in your life. When you are able to trust this process, great energy will be released into all areas of your life.
In Position 4: Locating the spiral in Position 4 lets you know that you were challenged in the past to make significant changes in your life. Meeting those challenges readied you for your current breakthrough work as shown by the shape in Position 3 – The .
In Position 5: When the spiral is found in Position 5, it means you are unlikely to show interest in the process of growth or change.
The Triangle Symbolizes: Goals, Dreams, Visions, Self-discovery, and Revelation
In Position 1: If the triangle is in Position 1, the process of envisioning seems most significant for you now. You desire to manifest certain goals and dreams within reachable time frames.
In Position 2: The triangle in Position 2 indicates that you carry the gift of vision naturally, though you may be unaware of that. Your behavior indicates to others that you are a visionary that you can create goals and attain them.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the triangle means that the process of envisioning is central to your current development. It is essential for you to honor the goals and dreams that are important to you. When you are completely involved in this process your efforts will assure that your full powers of inspiration and envisioning are easily accessible to you. Now is the time to actualize your goals and dreams.
In Position 4: The triangle in Position 4 shows that your own process of following dreams in the past motivated you to make meaningful changed in your life. Past visions and goals prepared and inspired you to move in the direction of your core work in the present, designated by the shape you have paced in Position 3 — .
In Position 5: When the triangle is found in Position 5, you may be resisting the process of honoring your dreams and establishing goals. The need to manifest your goals or to envision new possibilities is not a desired process for you now.
The Equidistant Cross Symbolizes: Relationship, Integration, Coupling, Synthesizing, Integrating, and Balancing (Twin or Couple Myths & Stories)
In Position 1: If the cross is in Position 1, it means that the process of relationship is what you believe to be most important in your life.
In Position 2: The cross in Position 2 means that the shared journey is currently an effortless process for you, though you may not know this. Your behavior makes it obvious to others that your strength is in people skills, that you develop relationships easily, and that achieving balance is natural to you.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the cross shows that the relationship process is occurring deep within your nature. When you participate fully in this process, your originality and regenerative powers will be fully available to you.
In Position 4: The cross in Position 4 makes clear that a past-shared journey inspired you to become more attentive to partnership and teamwork endeavors. The past challenge stimulated you to begin your core work in the present as designated by the shape in Position 3 — .
In Position 5: When the cross is found in Position 5, you may want to ignore or dismiss the importance of the process of relationship in your life.
The Square Symbolizes: Stability, Solidity, and Security
In Position 1: If the square is in Position 1, stability and authenticity have your attention and are sources of inspiration to you. You value the alignment of words and actions
In Position 2: The Square in Position 2 indicates that your inherent strengths are responsibility, authenticity, and the ability to be fully committed when you give your word. You may not be aware of this ability. Your actions tell others that you are reliable and you are known and valued for your integrity.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the square means that the process of stability is occurring at the core of your nature. It is vitally important for you to stabilize and implement your creative endeavors. You need things to be tangible and productive. Expressing your authenticity is essential for you at this time. When you participate in the process with all your attention, untapped creativity and well being will become available to you.
In Position 4: The square in Position 4 announces that past issues of responsibility and accountability led you to make substantial changes in your life. Past situations requiring consistency and stability prepared and motivated you to move in the direction of your present core work as shown by the shape in Position 3 – The .
In Position 5: When the square is in Position 5, you may be denying the process of stability and responsibility. The need to be consistent and congruent is not a primary focus for you, nor are you interested in exploring it now.
Tension always exists between the tendencies symbolized in Positions 1 & 5. This tension is sometimes experienced as a conflict…. The first and last positions define an internal struggle. Resolving the struggle means finding a middle ground. Look to Position 3, which often contains the key to personal integration and increased well-being.
One simple and powerful technique for becoming aware of and empowered by the processes working within you…is to draw or paint an ongoing series of mandalas.
Mandalas are geometric combinations that create a unified whole. Mandala is Sanskrit for “that of essence” (manda – essence, la – of).
Using the symbols that occupy your Positions 1, 3, and 5, experiment with different combinations of these three shapes….As Jung pointed out, symbols are linked with the deep structures of the human psyche. Integrating symbols externally sets up an inner experience that contributes to personal harmony and balance. That is why the mandala exercise, drawn with your primary symbols from Positions 1, 3 and 5, begins to create a symbolic structure that will support personal transformation of energy.