Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Walking the Labyrinth

I follow the path through stands of scrub oak, mostly bare~branched now on this blustery late~autumn day. I arrive at the clearing and walk to the labyrinth’s entrance.

This one is modeled on the labyrinths of ancient Crete, with a circular, womb~like shape enclosing a spiraling pathway to the center. Its design is laid directly upon the earth, constructed of natural materials found near my friend’s mountaintop home~~stones of various shapes and sizes, and an amazing array of bones from creatures long gone.

Labyrinths are ancient, having been reliably dated to 1200 BCE in southern Europe. They are also ubiquitous, with the spiraled pattern having appeared in cultures throughout the world. Christianity incorporated labyrinths into many Medieval churches, most famously the cathedral at Chartres. In addition to use in contemplative prayer, penitents would often walk the labyrinths on their knees in atonement or as symbolic of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

A recent resurgence of interest in labyrinths has seen their inclusion in churches and hospitals across the U.S. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth’s single path promotes inner stillness as it carries the participant deep into the circle’s center and out again. In this way, walking the labyrinth is evocative of a journey to and from one’s Source and can provide a profound spiritual experience.

This morning, I stand quietly at the labyrinth’s opening, clarifying my intent. Usually I have no particular aim, but today is different. I ask for guidance and serenity concerning impending surgery on my knee. As the event draws near, doubt has crept in.

I step into the labyrinth and am absorbed by its winding trail. My gaze touches the ground beneath my feet, and the stones and bones and wind~dried desert plants that line the path. As I walk in rhythm with my slowed breath, I notice a certain heaviness begin to lift. I stop, turn toward the biting wind, and envision it carrying away all that is no longer helpful in my psyche.

As my walking resumes, thoughts relevant to the upcoming surgery rise effortlessly in my mind, spaced minutes apart. It’s as if I discover, mirrored in the labyrinth’s twisting path, the route that led to my decision for surgery~~activities curtailed by discomfort, increasing pain, unsuccessful PT, research into my condition, confidence in my surgeon. I note these thoughts and others, and let them fall away.

As I draw close to the labyrinth’s midpoint, the curves become shorter, tighter. Thoughts cease.

When I reach the center, I turn around and stand motionless. The surrounding hillsides drop off in this direction, and my eye flows to the plain below and up to the magnificent twin peaks rising on the far side of the valley. I sit on the earth and know my doubts for what they are~~simple fear.

My decision was reasoned. It felt right, too. It feels right still. I will proceed willingly and with a renewed commitment to release my energy from the fear that too often binds it.

After a few minutes of inner quiet, I stand and retrace the steps that brought me here. My pace is notably quicker. Relieved of the burden of doubt, I am renewed and filled with gratitude. I realize, if it weren’t for the knee thing, I’d be dancing my way past stone and bone and wind~dried desert plants.

I realize, too, that I am dancing~~on the inside, the only place it really matters.

May you walk your own labyrinths~~those lying within, those your life crafts and, if you are fortunate, those laid upon the earth~~with awareness and trust.


Loanne Marie

PS. As of this posting, the surgery is complete, the first stage of my recuperation done, and I am about to return to work part~time.

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