I had never walked a real labyrinth before. The closest I had come was one that friends had made in their field. It was a "real" labyrinth, to be sure. And a lovely experience. But one could never quite see the center through the tall grasses, nor could we see where we were or where we were going. So when I learned that New Harmony, Indiana, had a labyrinth modeled after the one in Chartres, I knew I had to go.
And I knew I had to go alone. I wanted to walk with no distractions, not worry whether I was slowing anyone down and be able to contemplate whatever came to mind during that time. So, on an early Saturday morning, I walked the few blocks down the street to have the experience.
Labyrinths have been used for more than four thousand years in many cultural traditions. The New Harmony "Cathedral Labyrinth and Sacred Garden" was completed "as the new millennium began with the hope that many will walk the ancient path well into the 21st century."
The accompanying brochure explains that as one walks the path, they purposefully enter a space where there is order and reason. There are no deceptions on the path or tricks or dead ends. One follows it in faith, having the opportunity to look within while moving toward the center, then retracing the way to the beginning.
To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. How hard is it to follow a path to the center and walk out again? What could possibly come to mind. But I'm game, and -- with shoes off, as suggested -- I set out, somewhat mindful of the suggestions for the walk that the brochure suggested -- essentially bringing one's self to a personal center or intent. One of the suggestions was to "think of the labyrinth as a methapor for your life with its many turns and winding nature."
But initially, all I could think of was how the granite felt under my feet, how it changed temperature from cool in the shade to warm in the spots kissed by the sun. I was incredibly aware of my senses -- the morning stillness, broken only by the birds trilling their early morning songs and the sound of the Orpheus Fountain at the edge of the labyrinth.
As I moved through, I was struck by the patterns, the sense of closing in on the rose center but then being pulled back into the perimeter. I was in awe of those who created this symmetrical pattern -- a puzzle without a trick.
But then I began to realize that this was not unlike life. We have a goal -- the center of the labyrinth, if you will. Perhaps that is happiness or peace of mind, perhaps something more tangible. We move forward toward the goal -- and yet for whatever reason, circumstances take us away from it, back to the perimeter, back to a maze that appears far from the desired end.
Consider the right professional path, for example -- studying to learn, applying for jobs, getting one, but -- perhaps the wrong one or having the wrong boss, perhaps you advance -- or are laid off. You may switch career paths to begin again. And if you are very lucky, you find the right thing.
It could apply to relationships as well. Actually, to just about anything in life. Getting closer, the challenge of being pulled back, coming forward again. Reaching the center.
But, it is only if you keep on the path, ever mindful to what is in your heart, what is around you and what centers you that you ultimately reach not only the center of the labyrinth but the center of your soul, of what gives you the greatest joy.
I've lived that walk every day. Many times I thought I was close to the rose center of my life and then things might happen to pull me off track, cause me to grieve, to rethink past choices, to evaluate. And ultimately, lead me toward a new center, the one of deepest happiness. That's where I am now. It is the greatest gift I've ever known.
Did I need a walk on the labyrinth to realize that? I don't think so. But it certainly helped clarify it. The experience was so profound and deep, it's been difficult to speak about and to share. And yet, now I can.
I don't know if the wedding couple Allison (Rick's niece) and Brennan walked this labyrinth during their wedding weekend. I suspect they had plenty of other things on their mind. But I hope they walk it someday, maybe even someday soon, as a reminder that their life will go in circles sometimes, that they may be far from the center, even though only shortly before they thought they were almost there. But to keep on the path, for it does lead home.
That's my wedding wish for Allison, that her joy be great and her heart fulfilled, that as years go by, she has found the rose center of her own labyrinth.
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