Before a recent workshop I led, the sponsor of that workshop took me to a beautiful outdoor garden created by and on the grounds of a major cancer treatment center. The garden was rich in flowers and their stunningly sweet aromas, shady trees, misting water features, sculptures, walking paths and most of all intense, almost deafening quietness.
The garden also included a Labyrinth, an ancient maze-like circular walking path, the design of which has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Evidence of its use and existence is, and has been found, in many different cultures, used as a contemplative/meditative experience. One story is that it was used as a substitute by the early Christians who could not make the actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Crusades because of the dangerous political and warring conditions.
I had walked labyrinths before, so that part wasn’t new, but this time, for some reason my experience was quite profound. On this particular day, I was able to see the Labyrinth as a metaphor for this experience called life. Waves of thoughts, wonderings and awareness’s washed over me as I quietly walked that path. These are some of my observations.
To maneuver the labyrinth, I noticed I had to walk slowly (but not too slowly) and deliberately, but not too focused. If I tried to rush it; if I went too slowly; if I looked too far ahead; if I spent too much time looking back; if I got distracted by something outside of me or inside my head; if I didn’t pay attention to what was happening right in front of me; I quite easily lost my balance, wobbled and would stumble.
I was reminded that life has its own pacing and I get myself into trouble when I don’t obey the minimum and maximum speed limits, look too far ahead or back, don’t pay attention, and allow myself to get distracted.
The actual “path” of the labyrinth appears random and confusing; maze like. But as I walked it step by step, I noticed it was perfectly exquisitely defined, designed and constructed. At times the path seemed repetitive, as if I had just walked over the very same stones, but when I really paid attention, I found that each step on the path was slightly different, leading to a slightly different place.
The same with life. Though I may not be able to see it, life is perfectly exquisitely defined, designed and constructed. And though two situations might seem exactly the same to me at any particular moment in time, they never are. And since that is true, the new situation needs to be responded to for what it is, as if for the first time, as opposed to my reacting to it, without thinking, out of habit, and hurting myself or others. There is always a new lesson or two to be learned.
I noticed that if I spread my arms as I was walking, the walk was much easier, I found balance.
I took this awareness as a reminder that though I might feel like I am alone, when I reach out, others can and will support me, making life so much easier.
At the same time, the labyrinth’s pathway is pretty narrow. Room for just one. It’s a solitary journey. We must walk it alone. When I looked up and saw others coming towards me it appeared they were on the same path, but as they got closer, it became clear that they were on their own path, sometimes passing side by side for a moment and other times their path turning them away as the approached.
I was reminded that we are all on the same journey, at different places, and walking it alone. Any moments of connection are to be celebrated.
Finally, I noticed that the entrance and exit point of the Labyrinth are in exactly the same place.
Though life begins and ends in the same place, metaphorically speaking, it seems that we don’t recognize, honor and accept both of those experiences in quite the same way. What am I talking about? We enter life with no teeth, not very good sight, can’t walk, or talk, can’t understand what people are saying to us, can’t control our own body functions, don’t know where we came from or where we are going, have to have someone feed us and protect us – you get the picture. For the most part even with our imperfections, we are unconditionally accepted and loved. For many of us the very same conditions (no teeth, not very good sight, can’t walk, or talk, can’t understand what people are saying to us, can’t control our own body functions, don’t know where we came from or where we are going, have to have someone feed us and protect us) will hold to be true as we exit life. I have seldom, if ever demonstrated or witnessed others demonstrating the same level of acceptance, enthusiasm, celebration, and unconditional love of the exit stage of the journey as they do with the entrance. Instead of wanting to be around the exit stage, (as we are with newborns, especially those who we are related to), my experience is that we tend to stay away from those experiencing the last stages of their lives. Doesn’t it make a little bit of sense that there might be at least as much to celebrate at the end of life as there is at the beginning? I was left wondering why it doesn’t happen very often.
The journey of the Labyrinth takes us to its center. To the heart of it all. We celebrate our accomplishment, and are often invited to leave a part of ourselves there. As in life, we can’t stay there forever. As we make our way back and return to where we started, we celebrate the journey. Oh, that the same could be the norm for the end of our life’s journey.