Sunday, October 16, 2011

Labyrinth of the Mind

This is the form of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.  If you're not terribly familiar with these, you might think this is a maze.  It's totally not.  There is one way in (look at the bottom).  There are no choices to be made.  Just follow the path.  It leads you to the center, where there is a small open space.  Then you turn around and walk back through the labyrinth and out again.

What's the point, you might wonder.  If there are no "wrong turns" or "dead ends" isn't it boring?
Well, I suppose it could be so.  But ... it's really an amazing experience.

 FIRST: get thee to this link:
You can find labyrinths of many sizes, forms, materials, and locations. Go. Walk a labyrinth.

Now, back to me.  Because this is MY blog, that's why.
Several years ago, I was a fairly new mom to two kids, and unbeknownst to me, I was deep in post-partum depression.  A friend of a friend handed me a brochure about a women's retreat weekend.  Although it was held on the grounds of the Motherhouse of our local convent, it was not a faith-based weekend, although it was definitely spiritual in nature.  It was ... exquisite.  I, in my mid-30s, was the youngest woman there by a good 30 years.  I shall have to write about the entirety of the weekend someday, but suffice it to say that the meditations involved dancing, singing on the syllable of our choice ("Om," for instance), and lots of red wine and bawdy stories told while in our jammies. 

One afternoon, we broke up to do some individual time.  Some went to nap, some to walk in the gardens, some to pray in the church.  I went up to the outdoor labyrinth.  It was simply grass with the pattern laid in pavers on the ground, and the path was grass.  It was rather large -- at least -- well, I have no idea.  It's big. 

I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  Go fast?  Go in lock-step like you would in a wedding, going down an aisle?  I saw two old women (they were nuns, I found out later) sitting on a bench nearby, and asked them.  They said that you stand at the entrance for a moment, holding your prayer, request, concern, or just desire for peace in your mind.  You breathe mindfully and walk "as you will," they said.  So I breathed in, out.  I didn't know what to meditate on, so I just thought about all the good and peace and divine sparks out there in the universe.  As I breathed in, I took in what the universe was willing to give me (I thought to myself, "Heal me.").  As I breathed out, I tried to send out my divine spark to the rest of the world ("Heal you.").  Over and over and over again. 
I was unconsciously raising and lowering my hands (up for inhale, down and out for exhale) as I walked.  At first my thoughts were speeding -- worrying about how stupid I must look to those old ladies; worrying about if I was doing this right; thinking about my kids, my husband, my job -- and at some point, somewhere in the Labyrinth, there was calm. 

I got to the center, and as the old ladies had told me, I faced each of the four directions in turn, and meditated.  I looked to the West and thought of all the souls in that direction, and asked for their love, strength, kindness, for a bit of themselves.  I faced the East, and acknowledged all the divine sparks that were being carefully nurtured.  Facing North, I sent out my spirit to the divine sparks that were being trampled upon, dimmed, flickering.  When I at last turned to the South, I gave myself permission to admit that I hadn't been listening to myself in a long, long time.  My own spark was so far underground, so far below my level of awareness, that it didn't really matter if it was lit or guttering in the wind or a wildfire.  If I never looked for it or felt for it, its presence was useless.

On the return journey, I did the same thing.  Inhale: Heal me.  Exhale: Heal you.  Over and over.  My hands floated before me, connected by breath and spirit. 

I finally reached the opening to the rest of the world, and I turned around and bowed my head.  My heart whispered a "thank you" to the divine sparks in all of us that led me to that place, that day, that thought.

The old women were gone by the time I finished, but I heard later from another woman at the retreat that the nuns had said to her, "I just witnessed a lady do the most transformational Labyrinth-walk.  It made me serene to watch her."

Heal you.  Heal me.

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