About a decade ago, frazzled from working at home with an infant and toddler, I decided to take a day for myself. I could have gone for a massage or hit the mall, but instead, I did something that at the time was entirely uncharacteristic: I went to a retreat center for a labyrinth walk.
It was an odd choice for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’m a city girl and normally feel the greatest comfort when swaddled in activity. But it wasn’t so much that I was needed a break from the noise in my life (though I could have done without the crying and whining). What I was trying to escape was the noise in my head—that voice that’s constantly hollering about the things that need doing and how badly you’re doing them.
I spent a while in the chapel in prayer and meditation, which made me antsier than I was when I arrived. As I said, I’m not big on quiet. Then I walked into the room where the labyrinth was set. It was a portable labyrinth, printed on vinyl and stretched across an empty conference room floor. Nothing about the atmosphere felt particularly spiritual, especially not the molded plastic chairs and florescent lights. That is, until I stepped onto the mat.
The first thing I did was to look at the center, jumping far, far ahead—pretty typical of me, to be honest. Then it hit me: I hadn’t even walked into the maze and already an insight. There was a long path ahead, and I was focused only on the end.
It occurred to me that I might want to walk slowly, something that doesn’t come naturally as a native New Yorker. And so I did. I even looked up every so often. What did I see? Well, for one thing, the view was always different depending on where you stood. Sometimes you could see where you were going. Other times you were looking at where you’d been. There were points when I was so close to the center I could touch it, and then the path led me as far away as when I started. A few times I was so near, I was tempted to leap over the printed lines and get the whole thing over with in case there was still time for the mall. But generally I’m a pretty good scout, so I stayed on the trail.
There were sharp turns and straightaways, any number of optical illusions. Nothing was what it seemed, but everything was as it should be—certainly, as it was planned. I was so excited to reach the center. Maybe I could squeeze in a manicure! I was about to consider some celebratory polish colors when I was brushed by another insight: The center was not the end at all. It was another beginning. And so I started back. Except nothing looked the same. Everything had been transformed. By what? By experience? By knowledge? By insight? All of it.
I’m grateful for what I learned that day about enjoying life’s passage and just being wherever you are. I also see now the opportunity I have as a writer to build labyrinths with stories. Sometimes we need to take those metaphorical journeys to understand the meaning of our own. I would say it’s healthy. And necessary.