Walking the Labyrinth
Grace Cathedral, San
by Laura S.
Date: June 4, 2003; Time: 8:30 to 9:15 PM
It was just after sundown. The wind was blowing as the sky darkened. City lights twinkled against the enveloping fog. I asked a Chinese lady sitting on the nearby bench where did the Labyrinth begin. She replied in broken English that she is Chinese -- no speak English. I thanked her and turned back to the labyrinth.
When I looked at the labyrinth carefully, I realized
that I knew where to begin. I did not need to ask anyone. Arranging my purse and camera to balance the weight I carried, I prepared to begin my labyrinthine journey. Before I began, I counted 112 -1/2 circles. The half was in the center: half belonged to the beginning journey, half belonged to the end cycle of the labyrinth.
I bowed toward the center, then knelt down at the
opening of the circle. "Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me," I quietly chanted. Then I bent down to kiss the ground.
Carefully, as if eggshells paved the path, I stepped into the circle. I tried to clear my mind, but could not help thinking about the labyrinth websites my friend sent me. One site described the eleven loops of the labyrinth and what they meant. The Labyrinth is cut into four sections, inner and outer loops, which represent the four stages of life.
The first loops were light, quick turns coming faster than I expected. Wide enough for a full-sized foot larger than my own, yet I almost lost my balance off the path. It reminded me of the uncertainty of childhood, our first, tentative steps upon life's path.
Once I was well along, my steps more secure and less wobbly, I thought about being a teenager and how time went along faster than in early youth. Lost in memories of feelings -- not of specific events -- I began to walk rhythmically. In a trance, I stared at my feet as they walked along. Surprised, I saw that I had entered the center circle. Half my labyrinth walk was completed before I knew it.
As in the labyrinth, half of our life-journey is over before we realize what journey we have taken. I looked up for the first time since I began. A hotel with its name in huge neon lights across the roof was straight in front of me. I turned my head slightly to the right, where there was a park across the street. My eyes rested at the sight of water spewing from a lighted fountain. Water shot up in the air and fell in graceful curves back into the fountain. I smiled.
I had reached the center and found the water of life.
Water within the circle of the Labyrinth. In the center, there is no goal. I was the goal at the center -- I was the center itself.
We embark upon the life-quest, only to find ourselves.
What I found was no "great truth" -- I never lost
myself, though it felt as if I had "found" myself at
the center. I had never forgotten, before this labyrinthine journey, that I was the quest; I had only lost my center. There is no goal in life but to know our own self. Everything else is but a part of the curve around the labyrinth of life we walk.
I knelt down at the very center and kissed the ground,
just as I had done in the beginning, but this time, facing in the opposite direction. The symbol of the water of life was within my heart and in my mind as I quietly chanted four times: "Goddess bless me."
I arose and turned around to sit in full lotus
position, facing the fountain. My throat began to vibrate spontaneously with the sacred sound: Aaaauuumm. I repeated it four times, taking a deep breath before each sound. With my hands in a fingers-closed mudra, I blessed myself with the crossing of
arms and hands, like the Buddha. When I finished the sacred intonation, the cathedral bells tolled 9pm, beginning the second I breathed my last "Om."
Waves of chills went through my body. I was in harmony
with time, with the sounds around me, with vibration all around. I was in the center, and I found I was in harmony with all.
Eyes opened once again, I looked up at the facade
of the lighted cathedral as the bells tolled to the last one. I was transported, yet I was ever present. I felt as if I was at no place, in no time, yet at all places in time. I was omnipresent. I was the center at the center.
Before I left the center to continue my journey, I
counted the rows of the circle that coiled along to the right. I knew there were eleven, but counted to visualize their position with what number order they were. I did the same to the left, seeing where I had been and where I was to go. Altogether, there
are twenty-two coils of the labyrinth, one merging into the other at each turn.
Grace's Labyrinth is an example of the circle labyrinth of eleven rows, divided into four sections of both inner and outer paths. The outer paths were the beginning, leading into the center. The inner paths follow after the center is reached. Both the left and right side of the circle mirrored the other side, so all the paths were duplicated around the circle.
The Labyrinth is also divided into small, tight paths
on both sides. These were connected to larger paths: they followed after the small paths that lead to the center, and lay before the small paths that led out of the labyrinth. That meant that when I left the center, my path led directly to my right and onto the larger, outer paths that, turn by turn, fed into smaller
rows on the way out of the labyrinth.
Going out, the larger paths on the right, equal in
length and size to t hose on the left, seemed to go quicker than those on the other side. I thought of the different stages of maturity, for which labyrinths are said to be a symbol. I am long past adolescence and am now half way through life at age 51. As in the labyrinth , I know the paths better. I can travel with a surer step, more sure-footed and without constantly
watching -- yet I do not take my eyes off the path as I did on the other side of the labyrinth. Even so, I have more confidence as I walk in steady, measured s teps on this side of the journey. Now, I know I will not lose my balance or fall off the path before me. Now, I understand the pattern and am not concerned with how I travel on the path.
The tight, short paths leading out brought me to the
end quickl y, or at least, more quickly than I expected. Perhaps I walked faster though I did not intend to walk differently than in the beginning. I found I was disappointed that my labyrinth
journey was over already. Remembering what I read about
labyrinths, I realized how true the analogy is: as the way of the labyrinth is, so is life; it will be finished before we know it. In later life, the years come faster, we walk it with more confidence even if we do not know where we are going, and we reach the end before we realize our life is over.
Hesitant to step out of the labyrinth immediately, I paused. One last time, I knelt and bent to kiss the ground. I again quietly chanted, "Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me, Goddess guide me." As in the beginning, so at the end: I asked the Divine Element who guides and protects me to guide my path away from the labyrinth walk as I went back into the last half of my life's labyrinth.
With a somber step, I realized that I had walked the labyrinth alone. I had picked a time and day when there were no others to cross my path. Alone, I entered the labyrinth; alone, I exited.
My future, then, is solitude.
So, too, it is with our lives: we are alone, even when we share our lives with others. We are, ultimately, a oneness unto ourselves, walking alone upon the labyrinth of life.