Tuesday, March 19, 2013

walking the fine line

i found some unexpected extra time one morning last week after efficiently running errands while the children were in activities.  i did not have a book with me, nor did i particularly feel like doing the work i brought with me.  it was a beautiful morning, sunny and cool, so i went walking. note: i did not take pictures that day, but when i felt compelled to write this post, i went back to capture the images below.

there is a labyrinth in davis modeled after the one in chartres cathedral in france.  i've walked this one at st. martin's episcopal church a couple of times before, but i paid a different kind of attention to specific details.

it was wet, having been freshly sprayed down by a caretaker, so i wanted to be particularly careful in my walking so that i did not slip (i tend to stumble easily).  the path is relatively narrow, allowing for single file only, so you have to watch where you walk to stay within the path (not that there is a penalty or anything if you don't, but it's a nice little addition to the mindfulness exercise as a whole).  i found the puddles' reflective quality to be welcome highlights along my journey.

the lines are curved, often in a tight switchback, so i amused myself with planning my strides so that i could turn on one foot with some semblance of gracefulness.  i was not always successful, sometimes getting wobbly, affecting my pace, but i simply noted it and moved on.  this was not a time for self-criticism, after all.

when i practice sitting meditation, my breath is the primary focus, but in walking that morning i found that the sound of my heels clicking on the ground provided a slow, solid, steady rhythm.  i liked being able to hear it, the ticking of a living metronome, a harmonious middle ground between the insistent pursuit of desire and the ponderous dragging of reluctance i often hear in the footsteps of others around me.

walking this labyrinth is not the same as taking a stroll in the garden.  instead of looking around, i needed to keep my eyes downward, always in front, semi-aware of the paths around me but entirely uncertain of which way i would be going next until i was upon a turn.  i haven't walked it enough to recognize or memorize the pattern yet, and i think the essence of my experience would change once i did.  i tend to be a person who avoids change, who fears uncertainty, who clamps down on any aspect of a situation i think i can in a fruitless effort to control something.  but this labyrinth releases me from those feelings.  i know and believe with all my being that i will get to the center, and i will come back out, because it was designed that way. and i find that comforting.

this is at the heart of why a labyrinth and a maze are different, though the words are often mistakenly interchanged.  a maze is multi-cursive, created as a problem to solve, a challenge to test you every step of the way.  it has alternate routes, "dead ends" to lead you astray of the goal, which is to get through.  part of the appeal of creating and running though elaborate corn mazes in autumn is to test wits and navigational skill.  (or patience and tolerance for confusion, which is why my children and i prefer the smaller hay bale mazes that you can pop your head over the side to check on your progress.)  a labyrinth, however, is unicursive, and though it may indeed be mysterious in appearance, one will always emerge at the same point of entry without the need to concentrate on finding one's way there.  there are no decisions to be made.  just keep walking.

i held my hands behind my back as i walked in, gently intertwining my fingers.  it allowed me to lean forward slightly, opening up my ribcage, baring myself honestly to whatever thoughts might cross my mind.  meditation is an intense, introspective, insightful practice, but i work to enter it with openness and curiosity, interested in what i will discover about myself without judgement or criticism.  i must admit, i get a thrill when i reach a moment of clarity, when a realization reaches a deeper level of comprehension, when something in my subconscious breaks through and dances in the forefront of my mind saying, "here i am!  look at me!  i've been waiting for you to notice me!  attend me now!"  i don't know if my face registers a smile at that moment, but i feel my body tense and relax simultaneously in acknowledgement of such an experience.

so deep was my focus that i barely noticed i was at the center of the labyrinth until i took the last few steps in.  it seemed odd to me at the time that i was reluctant to leave the center, but as i lifted my eyes and saw what was all around me, i sensed a protection.  this labyrinth is two-dimensional, a design inlaid into the ground, undetectable if one was living in flatland, but i have the benefit of the perspective of height so that i could observe the gestalt and its clear distinctions between path and in-between spaces.  the flowered inner sanctum held me and my fragile, quiet thoughts for as long as i asked it to.

i breathed and breathed and prepared my mind and body for the winding path outward.  i was not simply retracing my steps, even though i was once again on the path that brought me inside.  i could not, because i was different than - fundamentally changed from - the person who entered.  i wanted to cherish the thoughts that came to me, nourish and tend to them, imprint them upon my mind so that they would stay with me on my path and beyond the outskirts of the labyrinth.  i symbolically held my hands gently cupped in front of me, carrying my newfound treasures of realization gently and respectfully.

my efforts were successful in more ways than i can adequately describe.

1 comment:

  1. Everything flows.

    Walking a labyrinth with the trusting mindfulness you describe is a form of mantra, something capable of inducing transformation. For you it is also a ritual.

    In high school I attended a great lecture on the role of silence in the liturgy. Words say; silence permits; both have roles in revealing truths.

    Thank you for sharing your ritual of silently using the labyrinth as a mantra. I love my ritual of nearly silently using your blog as a window into the mind and heart of a woman I met a quarter century ago.