When one stands at the edge of a labyrinth, there is a moment of questioning...do I enter? Is this a good time? Do I really have time to walk the whole thing? What should my intention be? Such is the journey inward to our selves. So often we stand on the edge of awareness, considering the journey within, a little fearful, a little apprehensive.
My most recent labyrinth walk was at St. Mary's in Sewanee, TN. I vowed to enter with the intention of mindfulness, to walk slowly, focus on my breath and allow thoughts, emotions, and ideas to bubble up and pass on by. The journey did not fall short of insights and inspiration and it is phenomenal the parallels between a journey to the center of a labyrinth and the journey to our own heart/soul center.
I began walking at a very slow pace, one foot in front of the other, intentional breath after breath. At times my mind wandered and my pace would increase. I would have to slow myself back down. There were times I thought I was so close to the center, only for the path to wind all the way back to the outer edge. From some points, I could only see only a few feet in front of me, depending on the direction I was facing at the time. Moments along the outer edge gave me the vantage point of seeing the entire journey, yet no ability to speed the journey up, or remember it all once I started walking again. This reminded me of how we read books, listen to gurus, and collect ideas only to be stumped when we embark in an actual personal journey. We are surprised that we aren't an expert or that we have to try really hard to stay focused and intentional. Seeing the path from an observation point does not necessarily make it easier to travel. Sometimes one foot in front of the other is all we've got, following our inner guidance and trusting our intuition the way I had to trust the path of the labyrinth.
With the labyrinth, there is only one path to the center. It is not a straight path or even a predictable path. But there is only one way to get there. Something profound I experienced along my walk was what happens when you mentally and physically pause in the labyrinth, lost in a distraction, and then return. When this happened to me I was at a turning point, a spiraling edge. I had started thinking about time and wondering if I should move faster. When I refocused on the path, I could not remember which way I was going! Isn't that true in life? When we start to doubt our intuition, we get all confused and start questioning our direction and decisions. I nodded in gratitude for the insight and allowed my intuition to lead the way.
There was a point in which I could see the center out of the corner of my eye; it was less than a foot away and I was still following the winding path. I had the thought, "I am almost there!" only to discover the next several steps took me all the way to the outer edge where I spent a good amount of time walking no where near the center any longer. The journey home to ourselves can be like that... sometimes we think we are so close, only to discover there is so much left to experience or learn, realize or accept. What a mistake it would have been for me to just jump on over into the center, forgoing the rest of the path, thinking I was nearly through. How often do we do that? How often do we allow "almost there" to be close enough and then move onto other things, other obligations and demands?
The most significant realization I had was once I made it to the center. Nothing happened. I had arrived yet there were no messages from beyond or words of wisdom from the muses. Nope. It was quiet. I was just standing there and that was it. All of the insight had been found along the journey inward. Once again, a great metaphor for life. How many times I have "arrived" at a goal or achievement to experience a feeling of hollowness, like something is missing. There's wisdom in that old saying about it's not the destination but the journey...What I decided standing there in the center was that perhaps it was the place for gratitude. I stood there, looked up at the sky and smiled. I took a deep grateful breath and whispered thank you.
The labyrinth is often mistaken for a maze but it is not. With only one way in and one way out, no tricks or dead-ends, the labyrinth is not a puzzle or a riddle. The journey home to ourselves may feel like a maze too, but it is no more a maze than the labyrinth. The reasons our lives can feel like a maze is because we veer from our one path...the path of inner wisdom and intuition. We complicate our lives with outer voices and influences, worries and fears. When we live in connection to our wisest truest self, the path appears and there is only one. How easy it is to have blurry vision though, to allow doubts and questions to blur the lines and make it look like we have all these viable choices. That's when we start running into dead ends!
In Labyrinth tradition, there are three stages of the walk. I invite you to consider them along with me as we entertain those as stages for our own inner journeys:
1. Release. This is letting go of the details of life; shedding thoughts and emotions. It is the quieting of the mind.
2. Illumination. This can happen at any time during the walk, but it is often near the center. It's a safe space, a retreat spot, a place for meditation or reflection and as I discovered, gratitude.
3. Union. At some point a connection emerges...to oneself, a higher power, a healing force, divinity. It is different for everyone. I like to think this is an example of what Buddha was referring to when he said, "You cannot travel the path until you have become the path."
The journey inward (whether that is done through quiet moments in the morning, time in nature, a daily meditation practice, spiritual rituals or personal retreats) often mirrors the same stages of walking the labyrinth. We release what is holding us back, what is blurring our vision. We shed and purge. We forgive ourselves and open our hearts and minds. We find our safe space, the nourishing room within that allows for self discovery and inner work. Then we are reunited with our wise self, our joyful spirit, our authentic voice.
Take the Journey Home...
Stillness and solitude can both be an ally in the journey home. Keep an eye on our upcoming retreats and gatherings for some discussions and meetups on stillness and retreating. If you can't make them but would like to explore the topic more or discover ways to start your inner journey, I am always open to meeting with you one-on-one where it is most comfortable for you.