Who knew walking a labyrinth would give me so much to think about...
Some friends and I had taken a break from city life and spent a weekend surrounding ourselves with good views, good laughs and good wine.
One afternoon we went for an autumnal stroll and came across a labyrinth. There was no one else around, and we were in no hurry to be anywhere so we decided to take some time and walk the labyrinth.
Based on my experience of puzzle books as a kid, I had always thought that there were multiple starting points and paths within a labyrinth – some leading to dead ends – and the aim of the game was to successfully get to the centre without having to go back on yourself.
So I couldn’t quite understand the point of there only being one possible route. It was hardly going to be a race, a competition, or a puzzle to solve – where was the fun in that?
Until that point, I hadn’t been aware that a labyrinth, in the traditional sense, isn’t a puzzle at all. It’s basically a walking meditation – a sacred symbol that can be found in many spiritual traditions.
So I thought to myself okay then, let’s attempt to put what I’ve been reading about over the last few months into practice and really try and be in the present moment while I walk this path.
I tried to clear my mind and be silent – which for those of you who know me, know that I generally like to give a running commentary on everything (sometimes even in song), but hey ‘stillness speaks’, so I tried my best.
Without sounding too doolally, I literally think I was having some sort of an epiphany. I so badly wanted to take my phone out of my pocket and start writing everything down, but I didn’t want to diminish the experience. Here’s the gist of what I realised while walking the labyrinth.
Everybody’s journey is different
We all started walking the labyrinth from the same point but at different times and moved at different paces.
At certain points, it looked as though I was coming too close to the person in front of me – as if they were going to block my way – but they somehow never did.
We all kept going at our own pace and it was fine. Even when I glanced over at my friends from a distance, it looked as though they were going to collide, but they never did either.
Just because we were all striving for the same thing, didn’t mean that we were going to get in each other’s way, or that only one of us was going to be successful. There was place for everyone.
And in fact, I noticed that when I was focusing solely on my own path, I wasn’t worried about needing to catch up with my friends who were ahead of me. I was just focusing on what I needed to be doing to get to where I wanted to be and that made me enjoy the experience even more!
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Before I entered, I could quite clearly see where the centre was. But once I had entered the labyrinth, I lost sight of it. The path had looked quite straightforward at first but I was now meandering around feeling as though I was walking further away from where I wanted to be.
But I soon realised that I didn’t actually need to see the final destination from where I was – I just needed to see one step ahead. Left foot, then right foot. I could see that, one step at a time, the path was clear and that was enough. I didn’t need to fill my head with the worry of what might be further along, because as far as my next step was concerned, my path was clear.
Sometimes, when I did try to look further ahead, it felt like there was going to be a dead-end, but when I got to that point, all I had to do was change my angle to continue. It was almost like I kept expecting there to be a dead-end because having such an easy run was too good to be true.
But why does anything have to be ‘too good to be true’? Why do we often feel like we don’t deserve to have the things that feel this way?
Instead of saying ‘oh it must be too good to be true’, why don’t we just accept it and say ‘thank you’?
It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey
A few minutes in, I started to get a tad impatient. When was I going to get to the damn centre? It seemed so close at first but this route now felt as though it was never-ending. But in order to embrace the experience of this ancient practice, I needed to snap out of it.
I knew that the path would eventually take me to the centre; I just had to give in to it. While I was too busy focusing on the endgame, I wasn’t taking in the journey: the dragonflies that flew by, the sound of the leaves rustling, the smell of the lavender bushes I walked by.
And when I did focus on each moment, on each step I was taking, I stopped feeling impatient because it felt like I had already arrived – at the present moment. I wasn’t concerned with where I was going but instead, where I currently was at.
We often become obsessed with chasing the future, but if you think about it, how can you catch up to the future if we are only ever in the present? Once the ‘future’ gets to us, it is actually in the present; so technically you could even say that chasing the future is pointless. As my favourite Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says: ‘the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.’
Just because my journey is different doesn’t mean I’m lost
By the time we all reached the centre, some people were hot and sweaty, some were cold, some needed the toilet (it wasn’t me for a change) and some were out of breath.
Some of us had skipped the whole way, some walked, some were silent and some were laughing.
We had all just walked the same path; we had all reached where we wanted to get to, yet everybody’s journey to the centre was completely different. We took different amounts of time to achieve our goal and chose different methods to do so, and that was okay. There was still enough space for us all in the middle when we arrived.
And that made me think, yes we had the same goal of reaching the centre, but actually, we all had individual goals within that goal. One of us wanted to have some time to contemplate a decision, one wanted to see how fast they could get to the middle, one wanted to encounter a spiritual experience and one just wanted to say they walked a labyrinth.
Though it may often look as though we are aiming for the same goal as someone else, the reasons behind it and our perception of the goal may be completely different.
So really there is no need to compare yourself to others because, just like in sport, a goal may be a goal, but the way in which they are scored is what makes them unique.
PS. I hope you appreciate how long it’s been taking me to spell labyrinth correctly throughout this entire post!