Monday, July 24, 2006

Labyrinths, Mazes and Life’s Path

I am a walker of labyrinths; each month I go to a nearby cathedral and -- to the sound of soft music and with the flicker of candles -- I slowly pace the winding pattern inlaid in the wood floor. I came to this about eight years ago, when a friend mentioned a new way to bring in the New Year, with meditation rather than fireworks and drinking. Once I had walked, I realized this was a wonderful process for me, since I can not sit in meditation.

For those unacquainted with labyrinths, the earliest simple one is pre-historic; the earliest complex (12-fold) labyrinth is in the floor of Chartres cathedral near Paris. Click here to read about that.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path, no dead ends… and yet you can not really plot your course because it winds so cleverly that even though it looks symmetrical, you are not just walking switchbacks. As you follow the path, you are suddenly very close to the center, and just as suddenly, you have veered away and are walking near the edge. Sometimes the path reverses quickly, and sometimes there is a long unswerving section… because of the complexity, you can’t really see very far ahead, and if you focus on the long distance, you can lose track of where you are and end up going the opposite direction (by stepping onto the wrong section)… very much like Life, as many people have pointed out.

I am not a fatalist, but I do believe that I have a life path that is unique to me, and that there is something in me that knows my path. As I look back, I see so many choices that I had made intuitively, that seemed “off course”, were actually leading me closer to becoming my unique self. Thus, walking the Labyrinth reminds me that my conscious mind can not see very far forward. My job is to walk the path I see in front of me, and to trust in the wisdom of the Universe. Often, this is hard for me. The monthly meditation shows me how I can be close to the center of an issue, then suddenly feel like I’m back closer to the beginning, or visa versa -- I can be far from center, then without realizing, I‘m almost there. That is part of the process. It also reminds me again and again that this is not a straight path, that spiraling around a core self, a core issue, is much closer to Life’s process than the highways and other straight lines we build. It also is a metaphor for the process of moving away from the world to go deep into my core self, and then, once the center is reached, the process continues with a return to the outside.

Another reason for walking is a ritual of peace… many walkers believe that sending good energy into the world helps mitigate the negativity that abounds. The New Year’s walk especially is an attempt to begin the new cycle with positive, loving, peaceful energy. I know I can feel it when I walk monthly; the others are focused and mindful, and that helps me to focus and bring my attention and will into alignment with a wish for peace. Along with whatever other issue I bring to the meditation, I ask for peace.

It has been scientifically postulated that we humans understand visual symbols on a deeper level than words, because that is the earliest part of our brains. I think that walking a labyrinth reaches a deep part of the walker’s mind with an image of the process that words alone can’t convey. If you have not ever walked a labyrinth, or if it has been a while, click on these links to find a labyrinth walk near you.

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