In an unusual choice of events, my husband and I decided to go to church on New Year’s Eve. We decided to walk the labyrinth at Saint Marks in Capitol Hill and it was wonderful. Labyrinths are not mazes, but a path. One path leading to the center and one path leading back out. They have been used for millennia as a tool for contemplation and prayer.
I’ve done labyrinths before and honestly; it was like what’s the big whoop? Previously, I’ve walked labyrinths by myself and they were outdoors. However, at Saint Marks, there was a crowd of people with a 20-minute wait. The pews were pushed to the side and in the middle of this beautiful church was a labyrinth painted on canvas. I watched as people entered the labyrinth and walk at their own pace, some people lingered in the center, some younger children walked it quite quickly, sometimes people would crowd a spot and then it would open up again.
When it was my turn to enter, I quickly removed my shoes and stepped onto the path. I had planned to time my steps with my breath but quickly realized that if I did that I would be hyperventilating. So I let that plan go and started walking but almost immediately was confronted with a bunch of people walking towards me on my path, so I immediately figured I made a mistake and turned around to follow them. Only to find out that that was not the right way for me. I might even say it was the wrong way for me as it led me back to my starting point. Ah ha, I just met old frenemy #1 “everyone else knows better than me, people know what’s best for me”.
Continuing on the path, now I’m feeling pretty good, trusting that I’m just going to go my way and if I get lost it’s my mistake blah, blah and soon I’m realizing that carrying myself a little straighter that at each turn I’m doing it with a little flair, like a little dance move and bam! Hello old frenemy #2 “Ego, false imagination”. GAWD.
Onward. Soon, I start looking forward to figure out where I am and how long it’s going to take, only to realize that when I do, I get a little confused about what path I’m on. There are a lot of people passing me, coming up behind me and the path is only delineated by a brown line and it’s easy to step onto another path so, I decide it’s best to stay present, focus on my feet and on my path and not try to figure out the future.
I arrive in the center and while I hadn’t planned on hanging out there I do. The choir is singing Silent Night and bodies are moving quietly around me. I gaze up at the beautiful cross, the soft lighting and soaring ceilings. My husband joins me and we hold hands as we meet in the center. He stays and I leave continuing on my path.
Heading back out, almost immediately I am greeted with old frenemy #3 “your doing something wrong.” Bombarded by thoughts like “your doing it wrong, it can’t be taking this long, you’re on the wrong path, you’ve made a mistake” accompanied me till I walked out.
I didn’t expect any of this. I thought I would go and offer up prayers for the New Year and let go of a year that has been challenging in so many personal and political ways. Yet again what I thought would happen and what did happen was different and what actually happened was what needed to happen. It was revealing to see my patterns of mind; the false habits that were I not aware of them might dictate my life. The false mind habits that are not me and do not define me. Saint Mark’s literature says that “walking that physical path through the winding circuits makes tangible our spiritual and psychological pilgrimage in three stages; the journey in, the arrival and the return...that the labyrinth is not an escape from life but a mirror, we see ourselves reflected as we walk.” Truth. Walking the labyrinth feels like it will become a tradition I’m already looking forward to next year.
Happy New Year friends. May light and love guide your way in times of darkness and light.