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The Labyrinth of Life

Welcome to all the new subscribers to this blog! Thank you so much for joining me here. As many of you know, for more than 17 years OneLife Institute hosted quarterly Spirit, Sound & Silence retreats. One of our central activities was the labyrinth walk. This reflection lifts up some of the wisdom teachings of the labyrinth...

The good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. ~ Lao Tsu

You don’t have to know where you’re going to know you are headed in the right direction.

~ Rev. Deborah L. Johnson

The labyrinth is an ancient symbolic pattern found in various forms in many cultures and spiritual traditions around the world, dating back as far as 2500 BCE. It is a powerful meditative practice rich with metaphor, an archetypal map describing the cycles of the spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth is a single path without tricks or dead ends. The way in is the way out, and one must trust the process in order to complete it. Its looping pattern at times creates the illusion of doubling back or moving away from the goal, but every seemingly redundant or wrongly directed turn is an essential part of the distance between "here" and "there."

The first stage of the labyrinth journey is purgation or release — shedding the chatter of competing thoughts and emotions, letting go of outworn beliefs and habits that no longer serve. This is the path inward to the center of the labyrinth. Upon reaching the center comes illumination through a period of meditation, prayer, and receptivity. The journey out is union, integration with the Divine as one is empowered to find and accomplish the work of the soul’s calling. It is worth noticing that union comes not in the stillness at the center, but in the journey outward — in the walk of life itself.

Some people move through the labyrinth quickly, purposefully. They do not linger at the center. Others infuse each step with reverence and precision — at times stopping, listening; at times walking with eyes closed. Some even dance the labyrinth. Each person is participating in a common experience — literally walking along the same markings on the ground — yet the perception of the experience is unique for each one. At times we may appear to be walking together with someone side-by-side, but then our paths unexpectedly separate. Or we may meet the same person many times as we cross and cross again, but we are traveling in opposite directions. Somebody who seems to be physically far away may actually be closer to us in time than the person in physical proximity. And whatever the distance in time or space, we remain connected by the pattern that holds us all together.

And this is Life. The path often leads in what looks like the wrong direction, but as my friend Sis. Destiny Muhammad (the harpist for our retreats) observed, "Sometimes the longest way 'round is the shortest way home." For isn’t it always on the journey that the transformation occurs? That the travelers are tested and strengthened. That relationships are forged. That we become the people we are called to be. From Holy Scriptures to the Wizard of Oz, the gifts we seek are within us all the time, but it is the journey itself that brings them forth through our encounters with necessity. I once heard Maya Angelou describe the intense pressure needed to form a diamond. She noted that with less pressure one might have crystal, less than that coal, and still less, fossilized leaves or simply dirt. It is all the same stuff, only the tempering process has differed.

In these difficult days of change, many of us are experiencing intense pressures. Perhaps feeling like we are walking a maze from which we cannot escape. But I truly believe that rather than a maze, Life is like the labyrinth. Nothing is wasted — every twist and turn and loop is part of our initiation from dirt to diamonds. And though we are each on our own unique journey, there is a larger pattern of wholeness that guides our steps and connects us all. Our task is to engage with mindfulness and sacred intent, alert to what is revealed along the way. We can draw on the wisdom and courage of those who have come before, even as we help prepare the ground for those who will follow.


Photo by Cristwell Muhammad - Destiny Muhammad seated with her harp at the center of the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. For more:

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