Prior to my experience with the heart labyrinth this week, I think I’ve only walked a labyrinth one or two other times in my life. I may have attempted to walk one at Waycross Retreat center on a college retreat several years ago. However, I have a vague recollection of our youth minister giving us that look – the look that I have since mastered – which leads me to think we may not have been walking the labyrinth in the most contemplative way.
While here on Ghost Ranch, I’ve enjoyed walking the heart labyrinth – circle in and circle out. I started thinking: Maybe I need to start doing this more. I’m getting pretty good at this. My mind stays clear, I’m focused. Wow – I’m good at labyrinths! Good at labyrinths? What does that even mean? I don’t know, but if there was a way to be good at it, I’m sure I’d figure it out. I knew there was another labyrinth on the other side of the campus, so I thought I’d whip that one out on my way to hike. In and out, no problem.
When I arrived at the other labyrinth I considered just turning back and continuing on my hike. I could tell from the outset that this wasn’t my precious little heart labyrinth. This one had backs and forths and ins and outs. I’m good at these, just step on in and get it done. I’m not sure ‘get it done’ is what the original labyrinth makers had it mind.
I stepped in and tried to find a breath prayer. Nothing came to mind. I went through a few lyrics but they were too long and I couldn’t get it in sync with my breath. I tried to think of holy things – releasing my guilt, praying for others – anything that would get me more focused. Instead I was moaning and groaning: This is ridiculous. How in the world can walking back and forth and in and out be spiritual?! My mind had gone into fifth gear by this point – there was no slowing it down.
I finally decided that it was okay not to finish it. You know, get to the middle, look at the rocks, say a prayer or something and then just step over the paths and head on out. No one was there, no one would know. This was my plan until I reached the center – it didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I felt like I was going to be zigzagging all morning, but I wasn’t. So…as much as I didn’t want to, I figured there must be some reason people enjoy these things. Maybe it was the walk out where the good stuff happened! I turned around and followed my path back out.
Soon I found myself looking ahead trying to determine when I’d reach the exit. I just had to go around one more turn and… groan… I miscalculated, that wasn’t the end. One more zig, one more zag and I was free! At the end it’s suggested that you stand at the entrance/exit and offer thanks for the experience. I turned, faced the labyrinth and said goodbye. Enough of that!
Now that I had wasted all that time it was on to the real stuff. I looked at my phone – 15 minutes. That only lasted 15 minutes. It felt so much longer than that. I thought I was going to be there all day trying to reach the center – 15 minutes to get in and out. Way to be patient, Anne.
My mind was non-stop. Any attempt at focus or mindfulness was futile. And yet, if someone had walked up, all they would have seen was a woman slowly, intentionally walking the labyrinth. The person may have thought, “I wish I could do that – be so peaceful and mindful while walking a spiritual path.” I know I’ve thought that before – when I see someone sitting quietly meditating or patiently holding a yoga pose. I wonder to myself why I can’t find that place of serenity.
This less than peaceful, far from mindful walk taught me once again that things aren’t always what they seem. You may come across me reading my Bible and not realize that I have no idea what the last few verses were because I started thinking about my to-do list for the day. You may come across me journaling and not realize that I’m making a list of complaints – that’s a spiritual practice right? My attempts at prayer are short and fleeting. Sitting in silence trying to hear God’s voice is excruciating – I usually only last 5 minutes and that’s if I set a timer to make me stay there and get up after 2 minutes – okay, 1.
There are people that think they’ve got it figured out – they know the formula to spirituality and God and whatever else they think we all need. Good for them. However, that’s not me. I’m taking more intentional time each morning to read and pray and journal. Some days it all flows and the right words appear and I feel so connected. Other days I rush through so that I can stop sitting and move to the next thing. I don’t have a formula or prescription for understanding God or the world or what the point is to all of this. But, every now and then I get glimpses of something more beautiful than I’d imagined. Prayers for friends that become realities, verses that jump off the page and remind me I’m not alone, quiet moments that lead me to ideas I thought were lost. Every little attempt at looking deeper or closer. Every person with which you share a new experience. Every gaze at a mountain or small flower. Every smell that reminds you of home. These, these are paths to the Spirit. And although I may not be the best at walking the labyrinth, it did teach me something else – my experience of the Spirit, of spirituality, isn’t more or less than, it’s enough.