Left, right, left, right. I plod the unicursal path of switchbacks and circles trying desperately to focus on one question “where do I go, now”? My strides are intent as I press the unleveled foam mulch below me. My ankles wobble to balance my step, I haven’t much trust in my footing. That is the purpose of this contemplative maze – and its singular path to the center, to carry in a concern or burden, a devotion or question of your self, the universe, or for God, and leave with an answer and renewed hope.
Over 25 years before, at a sacred dance conference, I was coached though my very first labyrinth– a beautiful marble inset on the steps of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Amidst dozens of tourists, curious pigeons and the honk of traffic, I managed to have a prolific religious experience, complete with seated prayer in the labyrinth’s center and a weightless return out, as if all burdens had been lifted from my heart. I don’t remember exactly what I was asking for that day, but because of the goings-on in my life at the time, my eating disorder, relational struggles, my guilt, I’m sure it had something to do with forgiveness.
Since then, I’ve completed many a personal maze, even laminated ones for index fingers, with at least some meditative success. And, I’ve choreographed a sacred dance piece on labyrinth-patterned carpet in a methodist church that wanted a Lenten worship piece about sin and salvation. It was a structured improvization, creative free choice, allowing the dancers to commit to the moment, and experience communal inspiration. We lined the path with candles, chose a collective concern and then crawled or trudged the first half of the journey. In the center we took turns falling or lifting each other up, and then spun and leaped out way out. I am very aware of the powerful metaphor this Ancient Greek symbol, like the maze once created to contain the Minotaur beast, holds in the life of faith seekers. The desire to confront your fear and slay the ties that bind you with the courage of Theseus, the passion of Christ.
But today, despite all of my efforts, the buzz of Japanese beetles, the repetitive clack of a woodpecker and various aches and pains take center stage in this search for clarity in my life. I had great expectations as I began this journey. It was to be a time to think, to feel, to choose what I will do with my life now that my husband and I are closing the dance studio we have owned for over two decades. Perhaps my distraction comes from the financial stress of previous weeks, or the accident that broke my pelvis, sacrum and shoulder five months before and the sluggish healing process that has left me wondering if I will ever dance or teach again. It could be the concern over my daughter with special needs turning 21 and what her life will look like outside of school, just as her younger brother heads off to college. Perhaps it is the wandering of my mind, nearing its half century mark–a symptom I recognize in my aging mother. Or the laziness of my faith life, my recent lack of prayer, worship and commune with my God that has left me feeling less than whole.
Instead of offering up my question, confronting my demons, which was my reason for being here, I find myself obsessing about the prickly heat of the sun on my neck, the annoying bang of birch branches blowing in the wind, the slight smell of manure in a nearby fertilized field. I find little patience for the present journey that taunts me, taking me close to, then far away from a bench in the center that is my goal. I feel heavy, wasted and exhausted. After more dizzying turns, with one last curve, I enter the pinnacle of the maze and plop onto the cool marble slab, under the shade of a newly planted tree. I exhale.
I look back out over the twists and turns I just traveled and am suddenly aware of it’s beauty. The stones that line the path are of different colors, shapes and sizes –some seem to glow in the sunlight. The complexity of the common medieval design seems uniquely awe inspiring, as if I am looking through the eyes of one of the very first Christians to pilgrimage a labyrinth, on their knees. I find myself wondering how long it took to lay the foundation and place each stone precisely, and how the designers decided the exact size of the maze, the texture of its turf and perfect placement in this field on the hill. I wonder who chose the tree next to me, and if they knew it would turn such a lovely shade of amaranth in Autumn.
I lay down on the bench, my face to the clouds, and watch the leaves dance. God’s creation, truly breathtaking. I give Him a little shout out of thanks. My arms stretch open, freeing up my sore arm and the pain that has wound me so tight.
“Help me.” I say.
“Let go.” I hear, in the rustling leaves.
A rush of peace, like the tickle of tiny feathers, sweeps over me. For the first time in months I feel safe; no worry, no agenda, no question.
I close my eyes and rest.
And then a word comes. Meander. Such a curious and playful muse. It tells me this is not the time for big decisions in the midst of inevitable change. I must let go of my need to know the outcome and relax in the self metamorphosis to come.
It is for the path, not the goal, I must go.
I stay there long enough for the shade to shift a bit and then lift myself up. The time it takes to exit the labyrinth seems nearly half that of coming in. My feet are more secure, and I take each corner with ease. There’s a bounce to each step, rebounding the mulch. I take care to appreciate the stones this time and the spaces between, the warmth of the sun on my face. I carry gratitude with me for ancient warriors and compassionate pilgrims, their battles and sacrifices, and even the beasts they feared. I have newly clad armour and shiny sword to take with me from this maze in my new meandering quest.
(Written: October, 2015)