Recently I discovered a labyrinth in a little park adjacent to the hospital where someone close to me passed away in July of this year.
Although I felt drawn to the labyrinth, I didn’t want to walk it initially. A man was sitting on a bench nearby looking on, and to me walking a labyrinth is something I prefer to do in private. So I just took some snapshots with my phone of a nearby statue of Jesus, an entrance arch, and the pretty fall leaves all around, taking care not to cross the borders of the labyrinth.
There is something peculiar about labyrinth borders. They have a distinct presence that seems to warn us, “approach the center slowly and carefully, and never take a shortcut”.
Contrary to my expectation, the man on the bench got up and left. My eyes wandered around the circumference of the labyrinth until I found its entry point. From there I traced the tangle of its winding path with my eyes as far as I could without getting confused. All was still and peaceful. I was alone. The conditions were right. So I decided to walk the labyrinth after all.
My slow, methodical walk soon opened up my mind to a heightened state of awareness and inner reflection. Time seemed to stand still, and the distant noise of the automobile traffic faded away. I noticed that as soon as I thought my path inched closer to the center, it led me away from it again.
In a labyrinth there is no linear way to the center. There are shorter and longer stretches of spiraling in one direction, but then there are always sharp turns. These turns will lead the walker in a new direction, even an opposite direction, which can be especially frustrating if one was already close to the center and is now led away from it again. But it is in the nature of the labyrinth that with patience and perseverance one will eventually end up in its center. Knowing this gives the walker hope and renewed motivation.
As I trotted along my path, I discovered various ‘treasures’: Golden, orange, and red leaves with little spines that resembled the shapes of the trees from which they fell. Leaf imprints set in the stepping stones at some turns of which I wondered if they got there by design or accidentally. Interesting patterns formed by brick, stone, and patches of grass. And there was one unexpected, solitary mushroom making itself at home in a little open space between the labyrinth’s brick borders.
The thought came to me that if I picked up all of the removable ‘treasures’, there wouldn’t be any left for the next walker. So I decided to take only some and leave some for others. But there was an ample supply of fall leaves and I had gathered so many that I could barely hold them anymore without dropping some. It became a distraction and a burden on my walk. I was reminded that accumulating and trying to manage too many ‘treasures’ or material things in life can also be a distraction and a burden. It can cloud us from our original purpose and make us heavy and clumsy.
Occasionally, I glanced at the parts of the path winding to my left and to my right and thought to myself that if someone else were walking there, this junction in the labyrinth would have brought us close together. But then if one or both of us walked on, our paths would take us further apart again. However, there could be other junctions were we might be close again. If we walked the labyrinth together with a loved one or friend at the same pace, we would share the same path. Either way, all labyrinth walkers share the same objective, which is to journey to the labyrinth’s center.
Finally, I found out there is nothing magical about the labyrinth’s center. It is just an empty space in the middle of the path’s winding. It is the end of the walk in and the beginning of the walk out. All the beautiful, insightful reflections of the walk temporarily cease here. The labyrinth’s center is a void in which one can rest for a while. The walk or journey to the center is the most interesting part. It’s both stimulating and frustrating. The center is neither.
In the center of a labyrinth there is also no staying and resting permanently. One will have to walk back out of it to get back to one’s normal activities. On walking out of the labyrinth my awareness of the distant automobile noise returned and so did my mental scanning of errands and chores which I still had to take care of that day.
I now understand why the labyrinth’s borders ‘warn’ us not to cross them to take a direct route to its center: We would miss out on the opportunity to escape the noise and look inside as well as having the experiences, insights, and wisdoms that come to us only if we walk the long and winding path.