Sunday, May 26, 2013

Walking the Labyrinth

1.  A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult
to find one's way; a maze.
2.  An intricate and confusing arrangement.

Wiki-commons photo of desert labyrinth
In honor of May Day, J and I walked the labyrinth on Western Michigan University's campus.  J had done so a few weeks before, for a holistic's class, and it seemed like the perfect way to honor the turning of the season, from cold winter to warm, sunny summer.
WMU's labyrinth, hidden behind the Health and Human Service building.  Photo from its dedication, in 2011.

Who knew the labyrinth would teach us so much about ourselves and our relationship.

J and I have been friends for twenty years, and have lived together for the past eight years.  (She got divorced and moved to Michigan.)  One of the things we often talk about is enjoying the journey of life.  J is much better at staying focused on the journey than I am.  I'm a goal person.  I need to have a goal, a direction to head in.  I think of it as a way to organize my life, fully accepting (and expecting) that plans change and directions can be flawed.

J calls herself "Gumby," referencing flexibility, open to change.  Not worried about the end goal but more interested in every day steps, both forward and back.

When walking the labyrinth, I set off first.  J followed a few minutes later.  As I walked, I realized how fast I was moving.  Even though I didn't know where I was going, what lay ahead, what the twists and turns were going to bring.  As in life, I just plowed ahead, planning to react and figure it out as I moved forward.  If a challenge arose, I'd hit it head on.  Even when I stumbled taking a turn around the sharp corners, I kept moving.  Even when my knees hurt, and my right hip ached, from taking the sharp turns too fast, from trying to maintain my balance on a narrow path, I kept moving.

J walked into and through the labyrinth at a slower pace.  Her steps were measured.  Careful.  She was gentler with her body going around the corners, maintaining her balance.  Moving with caution, she didn't stumble.  She focused on each step she took.

As we each walked the labyrinth, there were times that we were on opposite sides of the layout.  There were times that we passed each other, usually looking up with a smile and slapping hands.  And, there were times when we walked side by side, on different parts of the path but still connected to the same process.

Flower labyrinth - Cornell University
We sat for a few minutes in the center of the circle.  Talked about how glad we were that winter was over.  Looked out at the daffodils and blooming trees outside the labyrinth.  Talked about school and our educations - happy the school year was over, nervous about the impending year.  Talked about the restrictions of money (which seems to follow me everywhere, right now.)  Talked about enjoying the journey, how we define this differently, activate this differently.  But together.  Always together.

Offering three pennies to the Goddess, we started our journey out of the labyrinth.  This time, J went first.  She moved much more quickly going out of the labyrinth than coming into it.  She walked with her head up, smiling.  She walked with confidence.

I followed, slowly.  My footsteps were measured.  I took my time.  I concentrated on leaving the doubts and fears that I didn't want to carry forward along the path of the labyrinth.  I paid attention to my body, taking care to stay steady, to move carefully.  I let myself breathe.  I went into the motion of walking, of moving.  I saw flashes of J as an older woman - long gray hair, stooped shoulders, a big smile on her face.  I connected with the earth and with the wind, with the flashes of dandelion yellow I saw outside the circle.

The incense stick that J had lit at the beginning of our journey sputtered out when I left the labyrinth.  J was waiting.  Both of us laughed and chattered as we walked back to the car, enjoying the spring evening.  Both of us felt energized.  Happy.  Energized.

As we drove home, we shared our individual experience of walking the labyrinth.  I told J about becoming aware of how quickly I went into the labyrinth and how slowly I moved out, recognizing that this is exactly the way I live.  I'll barrel on through, with only the destination in mind.  Once I've gotten where I'm going, then I can slow down and enjoy.  Figure things out.  J, on the other hand, shared that until she felt safe, she preferred to move with caution.  Once she knew where she was going, then she could move quicker, with confidence.

The labyrinth is an ancient symbol, an old tradition involving multiple cultures and belief systems.  In my walking of the labyrinth, it's become a metaphor for my life.  A way to recognize that the twists and turns are only temporary, as I move along the path that is my journey through life.  Sometimes, I'll have company on the journey.  Sometimes I'll feel very alone or unguided, anxious, even scared.  But with another step, or a turn, I can find my way.  Best of all, I can determine my own journey through the labyrinth, where I pause.  Reflect.  Take a breath.  Move forward.

Labyrinth - proof that life is an endless cycle, a circle of learning and loving, of expansion and contraction.  Mostly, possibility. 


  1. Labrynths are great tools used to teach us about ourselves. Like so many things these days the symbol of the labrynth has become trivialized. I really appreciate that you connected to something deeper. I've become very interested in mandalas. I see the labrynth and the mandala as interconnected. I just did my first beaded mandala, if you have time take a look.

    Also, wishing you a very happy birthday! I'm looking forward to learning more about you on your blog as this next year unfolds :-)

  2. What a lovely story - and what a wonderfully mindful interpretation of what you both experienced. Thanks for sharing it!