In 2013, I had the opportunity to build a labyrinth on Martha Beck’s North Star Ranch in Central California. With the help of some friends on her ranch, I laid out a pattern and my helpers and I laid stones we’d gathered from all over the ranch as well as the surrounding area. I love all my creations, but this one has always held a special place in my heart. Since I live on the other side of the country, I’ve only had a chance to walk it a time or two since it was created.
Last time I was there, Martha apologized for the condition of the labyrinth. She was worried that I’d be disappointed by the amount of leaves and twigs along the path, or upset that some of the rocks that had been kicked by horses. I reminded her that labyrinths, whether indoor or outdoor are pretty ephemeral; they change in nature with each walker’s steps (and energy), and even more so BY nature. Horses, squirrels, deer, fox, bears and many other creatures make their way through the arroyos of North Star Ranch. They all leave their mark, just like the ancient fossils found in the rocks that border the labyrinth’s path, changing it as they walk through it in their own way.
Martha recently decided it was time to sell the ranch and move on. She created this video to share a story about some of the magical experiences she and others had there. The first thing I noticed when seeing the labyrinth was the grass. I’d only been there in either summer or during a severe drought. It was amazing to see all those new, green blades growing in the center of the labyrinth and along its’ sides. Some people might be upset by the “mess” of it, but not me. The labyrinth’s just doing its’ job, quietly supporting life – spiritually and ecologically – just by its’ presence.
I wonder who will next live at the ranch, and who will walk the path we created. I’m sure the labyrinth they find there will look different than it looks today, and I’m glad for that. Stones erode, mulch fades, grass grows or dies, twigs fall…it’s all as it’s supposed to be. The labyrinth will live on in whatever form it’s meant to, for as long as it’s meant to. Kind of like us.
During a recent walk with my Charlotte Labyrinth Walks Meetup group, I noticed that one of the walkers did something unusual: he entered the labyrinth and walked straight into the center, where he remained for quite a while. He then walked out of the center, following the path outward. Shortly thereafter, he turned around and followed the path back into the center.
I usually start off the walks by telling people a bit about labyrinths and always remember to say that there’s no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. And yet I found myself looking at what “the guy who ignored the path” was doing, wondering why he chose to do it a different way, and what that was about.
When we gathered in a circle after the walk, I told him I’d noticed. He said he felt a very strong pull to start at the center, and then go out into the world, so to speak, and then back to the center. “Why wouldn’t I want to go to the center first,” he asked.
It’s never occurred to me to do that. I want to try it the next time I’m in a labyrinth. And, I’m going to take some time to think about where else in my life I’m blindly following some path because that’s the way I’ve always done it, or have been taught to do it, or because others are walking a certain way.
After all, isn’t it a good idea to get centered, to ground oneself in peace before heading out into the world? For some of us, it just makes more sense to turn a traditional path “backwards.” I’m grateful for his lesson.
Where in your life could walking in a new way provide some new perspective?
The labyrinth is a beautiful way to slow down. Following a single path as it winds toward the center and back out, the mind gets usually becomes quieter. Our pace often changes. Whatever happens, we’re changed a bit for having walked.
If you’ve never walked a labyrinth before, here are some resources to get you started:
- Read about them: Veriditas, an organization dedicated to inspiring personal and planetary change and renewal through the labyrinth experience, offers this info.
- Find a labyrinth: The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator offers a comprehensive listing of indoor and outdoor labyrinths.
- Walk with your fingers: Finger Labyrinth HD is available on iTunes for free. Let your fingers trace the path in the labyrinth on your screen!
I spend lots of time talking with people about what their best lives would look like. On the surface they’re searching for things like a new career, or a new home, or a new relationship. Some want to write a book or build a new company. Others want to volunteer for a worthy non-profit. Many want to travel the world.
What they’re really searching for is a feeling. They believe “When ______________ appears in my life, I will feel __________________.” Whether it’s a new love, a promotion, the car or dining room table you’ve lusted after for years, or pretty much everything else you want, there’s always a feeling you believe you’ll feel upon the attainment of that desire.
At the core of pretty much everything we want is peace, love, or connection. To me, that feels like coming home. A feeling of relief, of being able to exhale. Of letting my guard down and trusting that all is already well. It’s sort of like the “ahhh” you feel when you take off a tight pair of shoes or pants. I don’t know about you, but that moment’s pretty heavenly for me!
My friend and teacher, Martha Beck, and I recently welcomed a new group of coaching students to her training program. During our call, she said:
“Every prayer you’ve ever prayed,
every longing you’ve thrown out into the Universe
was heard and answered immediately,
and the answer was always ‘yes.’
BUT…the Universe never sends your mail
to any place but your real address.
Your real address is peace. It’s self-love. It’s calm.
In that moment when we can go home, we can collect all our mail.“
It’s our job to keep finding ways to return home and collect our mail. Some people pray. Others meditate. Still others find home in creating art. There are so many ways to connect and feel the abundance of our Universe. It’s just a matter of finding which ones work for you. The important thing is to try, and to notice what feels best.
For me, “home” is in the labyrinth, where I can walk slowly (or not), pray (or not), and create enough quiet sometimes that I’ll spot the mail that’s been waiting for me to find it. Home’s also in a certain red Adirondack chair, tucked under some trees, down on Wildflower Pond (which happens to be in my backyard). When my hands are in dirt, or when I’m standing quietly with a horse, I’m home, too.
Where’s home for you? Have you gotten any good mail lately?
Last week, I hosted a labyrinth walk in Austin, TX. Twenty-two people made their way along the winding path of my portable labyrinth. Some were walking slowly, some backwards, some dancing, some twirling. Some were crying, some were laughing. All were moved during their pilgrimage in JW Grand Salon 3-4 at the JW Marriott Austin.
A hotel ballroom and a canvas labyrinth ringed with battery-powered tea lights may seem an unlikely place for a pilgrimage, but I’ve learned over time that pilgrimages take place in the most unlikely of settings. Whether there’s walking involved or not, we set out on a path, leaving the unknown. We experience a “road of trials” (think: Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey) in the form of twists and turns. We arrive at a quieter place, at the heart of things. In the labyrinth, it’s often the center (but not always). We receive information – a feeling, a word, a knowing, an emotion, a decision – that we take with us as we make our way back to the place or community from whence we came. We’re the same, and yet not at all.
Pilgrimages are intentional. We set out to learn something, to find a rich experience that will inform our lives. They don’t always have to involve a long trek or even a walk, but they’re good for our souls. Where will you go on your next pilgrimage?