Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walking the Labyrinth

My church recently rebuilt the worship space to accommodate the growing parish. One of my favorite things about the new building is the floor. Inside the church, the floor is all ceramic tile. In the very center of the sanctuary is a large labyrinth (45 feet across) made of blue tile in-laid with the rest of the ceramic tile flooring. Apparently, it's one of the largest public/permanent/indoor labyrinth in the country. They move all the chairs and open the labyrinth for walking in prayer/meditation once a month. I'd never been, but given the health problems I've recently been diagnosed with, my priest urged me to come and give it a try. I figured it would be another opportunity to get out of the house and interact with other actual human beings (as opposed to my two kitty cats and one puppy).

I'll admit, I was a little skeptical at first. I wasn't even really all that sure that I was supposed to do. What? Do I walk the maze-like design into the center, stand there for a bit looking reverent, and then walk back out? But sometimes you just have to trust the universe and dive right in. So I took off my shoes (I love the organic feeling of being barefoot--and because I was wearing heels that clicked loudly in the silent church) and stood at the entrance. I closed my eyes, tried to still my breath and quiet my mind, and I started to walk...

My natural gait when I'm walking from place to place is pretty brisk, even when walking across the brickyard on campus in 3 inch stilettos with my laptop and textbooks in a heavy tote bag. I don't know why I do that. I'll catch myself feeling ridiculously out of breath when I'm talking on my cell phone and walking across campus. I have to consciously think about slowing down so I have enough breath to speak. Maybe it's because I'm running late so much of the time.

But for the labyrinth, I wanted to spend enough time walking to really get the full experience. So as I made my way to the first turn in the tile design, I set my mind to matching the pace of my steps with the rhythm of my slow breathing. After a few turns, I noticed that it was difficult for me to keep my balance as I walked because I was walking so slowly. But rather than increase my pace, I tried to focus more of my awareness on the movement of my body. The shift of my weight from one foot to the other as I rolled through the length of my foot and reached my toes forward to the next step. Soon I found myself completely enveloped in the simple process of walking, something that I do everyday without thinking. I could feel the muscles in the arch of my foot and the stretch of the bottom of my toes as I lifted my weight off the ball of my foot. I run marathons and I'd never paid this much attention to the sensation and biomechanics of walking.

At this point, I began to repeat a mantra of healing, wellness, and wholeness in my mind. I kept it simple to keep my thoughts from wandering. Even still, I noticed my awareness drifting to other places. My mind went back to when I was on the dance team in college and I was reminded of how much I had grown as a woman since then (it was not a positive experience). I found it interesting that this would come to me as I made a metaphorical journey through the winding labyrinth. I spent some time reflecting on how much I had changed and learned about myself and my life path.

When I finally reached the center, I spent a long time standing with my eyes closed simply breathing in the energy I had built up. I said a brief prayer, and when I had finished and started to make my way back through the labyrinth, I let my natural gait carry me. I felt light and highly energized, my mood felt brighter, and my heart felt a little less lonely for my deployed husband. I continued my mantra from before, but this time I actually spoke it aloud (since everyone else had concluded their walks and they were sitting in the parish hall drinking coffee). I felt a real power behind the words I was speaking. It felt good.

I didn't really come to appreciate what I had experienced until the next day. Since my diagnosis I've resumed some journaling I started during my husband's first deployment. I needed an outlet to help me work out my feelings over what was going on. For the past few weeks, I'd been writing repetitions of positive affirmations that contained negatives (ie, "I do NOT have problems with blank" or "I will NOT have difficulty doing blank"). The messages were positive, but the wording sounded more like denial than anything else. After walking the labyrinth, and without deciding to do so consciously, I began to write positive affirmations that were actually positive (ie, "I am healthy and whole"). The difference is profound, and I hope that the effect on my healing process will be profound as well.

I don't know what it was that I really experienced that night. And I have a feeling that it may take many more walks before I begin to appreciate it fully. But I will certainly be making this a regular part of my self-healing process. If you can find a labyrinth near you, I recommend it highly. The Labyrinth Society has a list of many labyrinths across the globe.

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