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The Labyrinth

June 19, 2009 by Cierra Dahlquist

labyrinth bloomCierra Dahlquist, YDC 2009 graduate and Urban Yogini, begins... Perhaps my mind is a maze, but life is more like a labyrinth. The difference between a labyrinth and a maze, of course, is that a maze has branches and dead-ends, but a labyrinth only has twists and turns. If you just keep walking, you will get to the centre. In other words, no matter how complicated the maze of my mind tries to make my life seem, those twists and turns are just veils hiding the unchangeable truth that reality is a reliable path.

Recently I had the opportunity to walk the Peace Miracle Labyrinth at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram Farm in Grass Valley, California. I went into the labyrinth pondering my future plans, wondering how to move towards goals without confusing process and outcome, and seeking to reconcile the concept of plans in general with the uncertainties of life and of time in general.

To enter, I took off my sandals so that I could walk barefoot. I wanted to be really aware of what was happening, for, as I have learned, awareness seems to be the key for me to ensure that I learn from my experiences. After a few minutes I began to notice the result of my decision: I was, as I had intended, very aware of what was happening. The sensations of the temperature and texture of the stones beneath my feet added to the immediacy of my experience, enhanced my ability to perceive the wonder of creation cradling me as I walked – yet the stones sometimes hurt. Isn’t this what it is to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge? We have been taught that (in the Bible) this was a fall from grace, but to me, the independent decision to seek understanding and to act according to our own god-gifted conscience is no fall at all. It is the beginning of the path. What we gain is the opportunity to be aware, fully aware, of our experience here on earth, to be able to learn from it… and at the same time to suffer pain. Suffering is part of the sacrifice we make in order to live on this planet. It is part of the payment we make in exchange for the learning we are blessed with during our time here. Simply by coming here, we have already become renunciates in a sense. We have renounced painlessness. Now the challenge is to accept our decision.

The paths inside the labyrinth are all “paved” with small white stones, and each part of the path is demarcated by borders of larger rocks. As I continued to walk, I noticed that I had to keep my eye on the path so that I wouldn’t accidentally step over one of these borders and find myself in another section, not knowing which way was forward. Yet I could still see and be inspired by the tall pillar at the centre of the labyrinth. Inspired! Spiral, respiration, spires of churches… aren’t these all connected? I kept my footing, looking up now and then to remind myself where I was going, but keeping my focus on where I am right now. Like life, the path is what takes me to the ultimate goal, to the centre. And it is also what keeps me from walking directly to the goal! It keeps me walking in spirals around, but not quite touching, the centre, even as it leads me there. Just like maya, it’s a cosmic foreplay, veiling the ultimate truth, yet at the same time, with every atom, proclaiming nothing other than that very same truth. And so I walk. The path is the arrival. Isn’t contentment on the path part of the goal? Isn’t the path itself the goal?

I walked by some blackberry bushes on the outer spiral arm of the labyrinth. Of course, blackberries are not in season yet, but the thought of the delicious ripe blackberries of the future briefly crossed my lips. I noticed how nonsensical it was to think of those particular fruits. Keep walking! It’s not good in life either to stop. If I have to stop moving forward in order to get something, then I know that my only motive is greed! For example, I had to come here, to California, to Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm, to finish something I’d started, but there is no need for me to stay longer. I’m finished doing what I came to do. In my life, too, I am finding that there’s an art to realizing which actions are really part of my path, and which are beside the point (like the blackberries). I am learning to ask myself, is this keeping me on the path? No? Let it go (even if it does dribble juice down my chin). Is it keeping me on the path? Yes? Follow it (even if it does dribble juice down my chin – no harm in that as long as the juice doesn’t take me for a detour).

labyrinth grassThere seemed to be a pace innate to my own feet as I walked the labyrinth. I was pretty slow. In fact, over the past year I have been getting the message over and over that slowing down in life is what I need to do. I let the others who were entering the labyrinth go in before me so I wouldn’t be holding them up, or moving at a pace unnatural to me. It didn’t seem to matter if I went more slowly than others as long as I remembered that my pace was my own. I wondered sometimes how close I was to the centre, and looked to others a few times to try and orient myself. But in all those twists and turns of the labyrinth, seeing the motions of others gave me no clue at all as to where I would be walking next. Every turn continued to be a surprise as I seemed to move towards and away from the centre. Yet there was no need to strategize about where to step next – at any pace, walking in any direction, forward was forward. I didn’t have to make anything happen. Just keep walking! It’s easy to practice this kind of faith when I know that I am in a labyrinth. In life, I sometimes forget this. I have to remind myself to keep my faith in faith.

As I finally reached the centre of the labyrinth, I encountered my most difficult steps. Other people were standing around the tall pillar, and I knew they were waiting for me to get there before walking back out again. I knew I was close, but I didn’t want to lose my awareness by starting to hurry. About twenty seconds before I arrived, the others actually did start to walk back out. I had to squeeze to the side to let them pass by me in the other direction. At first I was annoyed, but after I got to the centre myself it became a good lesson. When it was my turn to leave the centre, I found myself going in the “opposite” direction too. It reminded me that I’d best not resent people whose purposes seem to oppose my own – if I keep following my path, sooner or later I’ll be going in the same direction myself. Once we get to the centre, we are all going the same way. That’s good to remember.

The labyrinth did help me with my ponderings. As for my plans, I need to remember that my process is the outcome. And the uncertainties of life and time are just twists in a labyrinth that I can follow with faith to the centre. Awareness keeps me grounded where I am now; acceptance of pain underlines my commitment to learning from this life. Acknowledgement that the path takes different directions at different times allows me to accept my own pace and direction and those of others. Keeping my eye on my goal while remaining mindful of where I am now keeps me walking foward, renouncing strategic scheming in favour of faith. And contentment on the path keeps me from getting snagged in blackberry bushes.

No Comments »

  1. Great post Cierra! Namaste!

    Comment by Monica — June 19, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

  2. Loved your reflection on facing people moving in the opposite direction while you stayed on your path. I find my trip to be faced with that many times, so I can related to your pondering, where for me the situation where people in my world may moving in different directions than me, but we are all eager to achieve the same, finding happiness.
    I hope you will share how your trip in the labyrinth can tell a story from your daily life using the beautiful awareness you have of details?
    Hugs and I look forward to seeing you in the Ashram in a few weeks


    Comment by Bjarke — June 24, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

  3. thanks lady,

    it was nice to read your words. I know i resinate with your learnings so it was great to feel close to hearing you at the ashram speak in our reflection circles again. I hope you are well and light filled surely.

    much light, Paula

    Comment by paula richardson — August 16, 2009 @ 10:07 am

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