Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Choices That Shape The Journey
What if life is not (as it sometimes feels it might be) like a maze- a confusing journey of dead ends, back-tracking and frightening minotaurs? What if it’s more like a labyrinth- a long and meandering path that has no traps or no hidden monsters, a journey that is destined to take us to the centre of it all?
Human beings are meaning-making creatures, and the language of soul is symbol. I know this, and yet I am always surprised when a well-placed metaphor works on my awareness, opens doors to new ways of seeing.
The metaphor of the maze and the labyrinth is one I recently read in an interview with Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman (in Spring 2009 edition of The Psychology of Violence journal,) Marion used it to explain the inner transformation that occurred when she received a diagnosis of cancer. Even after years of inner work, Marion realized that she had been treating her life as though it were a maze, the wounded part of her always on the alert for traps and minotaurs.
I’ve been playing with this metaphor every since, been noticing where I am behaving and thinking as if life is a maze- a problem or a puzzle to be solved. This approach creates a hyper-vigilance, anticipates a level of on-going threat, and is generally pretty exhausting. In contrast, I think of my experience of walking different labyrinths.
The first labyrinth I ever walked was at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I was there for my first book tour and woke before dawn- a result of the time change and my nervousness about upcoming events. I felt sure no one would show up at the bookstores and, if by some miracle a few folks were there, couldn’t see why they’d want ME to sign a book, even if I had written it.
I dithered for awhile in my hotel room, but as the sun came up, I decided to go for a walk. According to my hotel guidebook, the cathedral was just up the street. The church wasn't yet open, but I discovered an outdoor labyrinth tucked behind a hedge on the church grounds. I’d done walking meditations before, so started to walk mindfully watching the movement of breath and muscle and bone, the feel of the ground beneath my feet, following the labyrinth’s markings.
The thing I remember most was the automatic expectation that arose the first time the path took me close to the center of the labyrinth: I thought I was near completion. But, of course the path meandered back to the outer edge over and over, and gradually I gave up guessing when the end would come, when the centre would be found and just focused on taking one step at a time. When I did reach the centre, I was walking and breathing slowly, basking in the early morning sun, and smiling from ear to ear. As I stood in the centre, listening to the sounds of the city waking up, gratitude for being there filled me to the tips of my fingers and toes.
I’ve walked many labyrinths since that day. Each walk is different and yet, always leads to the centre, always slows me down and brings me fully into the present moment. Life is indeed like a labyrinth- each of us taking a path that cannot always be seen in its entirety but will surely take us to the centre if we simply keep walking and opening. The quality of the journey is dependent upon the awareness we bring to each step, each turn in the road and whether or not we have faith- have not fallen into the illusion of fear that continually anticipates a tricky maze.
Herein lies a choice: to see life as maze or labyrinth, to cultivate fear or faith. Choosing the image of a labyrinth deepens my faith in Life, in the unfolding that takes us to the centre of being.