October 28, 2008

into the labyrinth

sunrise_hike.jpg
Sunrise, Sibley, Oakland, CA, Canon SD1000

I read a great story in Oprah magazine this month called "Charmed Circles" about Sally Quinn and the impact the labyrinth has had on her life. She writes a really moving piece about the amazing insights she has had by walking labyrinths. (November issue of O) As I contemplated her story in bed that night, I wondered if a labyrinth might bring me some clarity too, if the things that weighed heavy on my heart could find any relief. I remembered the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and wondered if I should make a trip there soon.

The next morning I checked my email and got an intriguing invitation. For my friend's birthday, her greatest wish was to have all of her friends join her in a sunrise hike to a labyrinth at Sibley Volcanic Reserve in Oakland. A sunrise hike to a labyrinth in a volcano? How could I pass this up? especially with the magical timing of it all. Clearly the universe wanted me there.

We set out in the dark that morning and marvelled at how warm the air was. We were soon peeling off the hats coats we had worn. The hike was supposed to be easy, so I was surprised when we began going down very steep, slippery inclines. We walked for quite a long time until we realized that we had taken a wrong turn. It was time to retrace our steps and hike back up.

I noticed my relationship to being lost. I noticed that I didn't mind so much if I wasn't the person leading, if it wasn't my fault we were lost, I was really okay with it. I was even the voice of, "The labyrinth has already begun! This is part of our journey!" I noticed that if a loved one had been leading the hike and took the wrong turn, I might have felt angry or annoyed, huffy about taking the long and unnecessary hike back up the hill. Curious that if it wasn't my wrong turn or someone close to me, I was incredibly forgiving. Noticing noticing...

shadows.jpg

We held hands in a small circle before we set out to walk the labyrinth. I offered up the ritual of meditating on something that you wanted clarity on in your life, and to walk the labyrinth with that in mind. When you arrive at the center, I promised, there will be a message to you from the universe. Just listen for it.

We walked slowly and quietly, a sweet procession of friends, parents, and even three dogs that had come on our little pilgrimage. When we got to the center we had to squeeze in close, gathered in a tiny circle around a little pit encircled with rocks. There were candles in there, cards, charms and bells, and a pile of cigarettes broken in half. (Someone had clearly come to quit smoking) And then my message came to me. It wasn't what I expected, but my mind was clear save for this one thought: We are all struggling with something.

As I let that soak in, I stared at the broken cigarettes, at the candles burned, at the circle of folks around me. We are all struggling with something.We all came with a question, with something weighing heavy on our hearts; we all came with all of our lostness and not knowing. This is what it means to be human, I thought. To struggle.

I was overcome with compassion in that moment, for everyone really, but more uniquely for myself. There was something so ordinary about my suffering, so human, so unremarkable, that I felt lighter. I felt an okayness that I hadn't known before. It really is okay to be right where I am. It really is okay to struggle, to not know and to be lost.

Perhaps we are all wandering today, in this labyrinth of the internet, heavy with questions and hopes and hurts. I hope this community is a kind of standing in the center for you, of seeing how connected we all are in our questions and our struggles, how there are broken cigarettes here and candles burning and prayers and questions. I hope you find compassion here, and comfort in how wonderfully ordinary we are, and how unremarkable our suffering. Not to dilute our experiences, but to feel lighter knowing that to be alive is to be exactly in this place.

Posted on October 28, 2008 08:12 AM
Comments

I'm breathless. So unprepared for this beautiful experience. This is my first visit to your blog (certainly not the last).
This post blew me away.
I saw the picture first, and was taken in by the stunning beauty of it. Then I started reading, and - wow - the journey from your quiet - down to earth - everyday experience, to great spiritual clarity. Very moving, and so beautifully written. Word by word, I felt the steps of your realisation.
Your conclusion is beautiful, and the words you have chosen to describe it, likewise.
Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Christine at November 5, 2008 01:10 AM

great words andrea...so true, so very true. i find the moe i come to grips with that...the more i want to love on people...if only i could extend that to those closest to me, sometimes they are the hardest! ;)

Posted by: Krista at November 4, 2008 06:28 PM

beautiful post as usual. i swear i end up in tears for 90% (or more) of your posts. the good kind of tears. thank you!

Posted by: shash at November 2, 2008 04:32 PM

I needed this today. To feel that where I am, and what I am struggling with is ok. To understand that not everyone feels how I feel, but I am alive. I am on my journey. I am going through my labyrinth of life and everything is ok.

Thank you.

Posted by: Jennifer at November 1, 2008 05:02 AM

I too find that walking meditation is extremely potent and often revelatory. There is an outdoor public labyrinth at the southern end of my urban Baltimore neighborhood on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, and I feel very lucky that I can go there at a moment's notice.
Sometimes I use the soham/hamsa mantra - "who am I? I am that."
I try not to put too much pressure on the experience since sometimes it's very powerful and sometimes sufficiently clarifying, but whatever the outcome, I am always surprised by something I experience on the way.
Thanks for your post -- for every post.

Posted by: Heather at October 30, 2008 10:03 PM

I needed to read this today. Thank you.

Posted by: Nicole at October 30, 2008 02:20 PM

Fabulous post. Wonderful, grounding, affirming, heart-warming insight. Thank you :-)

Posted by: Lisa at October 30, 2008 12:15 PM

I read the same article and had the same desire to find a labrynth. Unfortunately, I live to far removed from anything so remarkable. But reading your essay today hit a chord. I am struggling right now, and my college-freshman son is in the midst of his own struggle. Thanks for reminding me that to be human is to wrestle and tumble along as we figure it all out.

I'm a seeker who is stuck right now. Your post was a beacon today. Thanks.

Posted by: Glad Doggett at October 30, 2008 08:22 AM

Thank you for this post Andrea. I feel lighter just thinking about this idea of ordinaryness. I think we all want to be truly different and special and amazing at everything we sent out to do, but sometimes amazing is accepting who we are now and recognizing where we want to go. The joy is in the journey and we need to find the peace in getting there.

Again. Thank you.

Deborah

Posted by: Deborah at October 30, 2008 05:15 AM

your insights, and the way you communicate them, amaze me. This is such a beautiful post. Ironically, I've been feeling more at peace with the struggles of life lately, too. It helps to stop judging circumstances as if pain is always "bad" and something to be resisted.
Thank you for this.

Posted by: maile at October 29, 2008 12:46 PM

WOW...luscious timing and thank you for taking the time to share it the way you did...am in process of creating my own version of the labyrinth in my desert home and this is so so encouraging a reminder to ,'yes, go for it'--even tho others may not understand is no reason to squelch a dream. For those for whom it's 'right', walking the labyrinth offers transformative experiences and insights. woooohooo & walk on

Posted by: leslie g at October 29, 2008 11:51 AM

i have been enjoying your blog for a few years now - have often felt the urge to comment, but never have. today your post couldn't have been more appropriate as Life has seemed rather heavy as of late. thank you thank you thank you for you for putting into words the simple beautiful truth.

Posted by: heather at October 29, 2008 11:45 AM

Dear Andrea,

At an important juncture in my life, I felt compelled to read three novels very close together - Mrs. Dalloway (V. Woolf), A Winter's Tale (Steinbeck) and Larry's Party (Carol Shields). It was an amazing intersection of words and meaning for me, and the image that I hold with me from that time is that of the labyrinth. In Larry's Party, the main character becomes a labyrinth architect. It's noted at some point in the book that in the building of a labyrinth, the path often seems to go away from the center (the goal)but in reality you are still travelling closer with every step. In the center of the labyrinth the architect would always place something special - a small tree, fountain, or rock, for example. I often think of these aspects of a labyrinth when what I desire seems far off (i.e. being a published children's author/illustrator), and it comforts me that the steps that I take can still be in the direction of my dreams/goals even if the path seems to wind away for a bit (i.e. taking care of two young children doesn't give me much time for writing/illustration). Thanks for the reminder - I needed it today!

Thanks also for sharing this post. I know I will read it multiple times!

Posted by: Carole at October 29, 2008 08:59 AM

I read the same article! I've done a labyrinth a few times (with similarly cool results), as I'm Catholic and have retreated at places with them, and also occasionally attend a prayer fair at the churh. I loved your post, and at the end, found myself humming a hymn we sing sometimes: "Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy. Just to be, just to live, is a blessing. Is holy." Thank you for such a lovely reminder!

Posted by: Imanitsud at October 29, 2008 08:27 AM

Isn't it funny how sometimes the message is so blatant that you just can't avoid what is meant to be?
Wonderful journey.

Posted by: Tara Arismendy at October 29, 2008 08:02 AM

Thank You for this.. This was exactly what I needed to read this morning.

Posted by: Kerilyn at October 29, 2008 07:52 AM

Beautiful.

Posted by: melody at October 29, 2008 06:47 AM

Andrea - wonderful post...it was something I've been needing to hear. Thank you!

Posted by: Crystal at October 29, 2008 06:10 AM

Andrea. This is gorgeous. And true. And real. And right. What a generous offering to all of us. Thank you for your honest reflection and graceful optimism. What a gift!

Posted by: Maya Stein at October 28, 2008 09:24 PM

Andrea. This is gorgeous. And true. And real. And right. What a generous offering to all of us. Thank you.

Posted by: Maya Stein at October 28, 2008 09:23 PM

So inspired by your labyrinth post today, Andrea!
I've had an affinity for the labyrinth for a long time, after discovering the one at Grace on a lost and directionless New Year's morning. What came to me that morning, like your own message, was this: We are never not on the path. No matter how lost and far away we might feel from the center, as long as we keep moving forward, we will get there. And once there, we take what we learn back with us into the world.... just as you do with your writing.
namaste, xoag

Posted by: anne at October 28, 2008 09:07 PM

You so touch me! Every time I come here I am blown away at how personal and heartfelt your writing is to me. I feel like you touch a place deep in my heart that nobody else even knows exists. Thank you for writing, for creating, for sharing, for being.

Posted by: Nicole at October 28, 2008 08:22 PM

Thank you.

Posted by: Caitfinn at October 28, 2008 07:37 PM

A friend of mine recently shared with me that most people are leaving some steps out of the "law of attraction" equation. Most look at it as purely "ask and you will receive," but he suggests there are actually four steps... 1) ask or plant the seed, 2) resist (or I might say "struggle") to build the strength needed for the next step, 3) form - with the strength gained through the struggle, our wish can take form, and 4) receive or discover what you truly desire. Struggle is just as vital to the process as asking/receiving; honoring the struggle is what allows us to dig deep and find those special qualities that carry us through to our dreams. Thank you for this post - it helped me to crystalize the message my friend shared with me.

Posted by: kelley at October 28, 2008 07:31 PM

I am a devoted reader of your blog, each and every day...I love your posts. This one really hit home with me today. Lately I have been struggling with several issues, but mainly how do I be a mother of twins and an artist? I want to both, but the mommy role always takes first place and I end up putting the artist aside, again, for just one more day.

It is good to know that I am not alone in my struggles, that everyone IS struggling with something [addiction, finances, next steps, love...]. I think I need to find a labyrinth to find so I can sleep again at night; but the closet thing I have found in my area is a corn maze!

Posted by: Teresa at October 28, 2008 07:25 PM

Hoy syncronistic to find your post the exact day when I'm pondering not knowing what I want and feeling a bit lost. Thank you for sharing your experience and your pictures. Beautiful really.

Posted by: Jen at October 28, 2008 06:43 PM

What a beautiful post. Sometimes I do think I'm the only one.

Posted by: Missy at October 28, 2008 06:37 PM

perfect. thanks for this. just what i needed to hear tonight. :)

Posted by: nicole at October 28, 2008 06:09 PM

Andrea. You encourage me. 'We're all struggling with something' is so true. It's comforting, in a way. And also not. It's a phrase that right now, to me, seems to inspire a sense of community, almost. Yet also loneliness. I don't know. I am going to think hard about the feeling this post has brought up. Thank you Andrea.

Posted by: katie at October 28, 2008 05:57 PM

Andrea. You encourage me. 'We're all struggling with something' is so true. It's comforting, in a way. And also not. It's a phrase that right now, to me, seems to inspire a sense of community, almost. Yet also loneliness. I don't know. I am going to think hard about the feeling this post has brought up. Thank you Andrea.

Posted by: katie at October 28, 2008 05:56 PM

Andrea. You encourage me. 'We're all struggling with something' is so true. It's comforting, in a way. And also not. It's a phrase that right now, to me, seems to inspire a sense of community, almost. Yet also loneliness. I don't know. I am going to think hard about the feeling this post has brought up. Thank you Andrea.

Posted by: katie at October 28, 2008 05:56 PM

These words make me feel at peace. Thank you.

Posted by: Steph at October 28, 2008 05:34 PM

Gorgeous post, Andrea. Your heart always expresses such important poetic things.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this for those it might apply to. There's a very nice labyrinth in a wholesome vibe place (with great organic lunches). Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens in the middle of Los Angeles has one of the most beautiful Labyrinths made of hand-carved and fitted stone at the full size and pattern of the ancient one found under the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Here's a picture (http://www.peacelabyrinth.org/labyrinth.php)

There are spectacular meditation gardens there as well to relax in.

My husband Paul has been lucky enough to work at this place everyday for over 30 years!! If you go say hello!

Posted by: Shelley Noble at October 28, 2008 04:16 PM

That's lovely. I was inspired to look for a labyrinth in my town, turns out there's one just down the road. :)

Posted by: Carla at October 28, 2008 03:36 PM

This post felt like a warm safety blanket. Whenever I see the word labyrinth, I can't help but think of magic. Perhaps it has something to do with the movie Labyrinth, which I watched over and over as a child. Farting swamps, David Bowie, crystal balls, invisible doors, a worm with words of wisdom (things aren't always what they seem, it says, so you can't take anything for granted), helping hands, talking door knobs (which door to choose? Knock and the door will open). So rich with metaphors, now that I think about it. How apt :) Sorry, I totally went off on a tangent there.

Posted by: Jeanine at October 28, 2008 03:21 PM

a beautiful and wise reminder. thank you.

Posted by: amy at October 28, 2008 03:20 PM

Beautiful. I walked on the beach this morning (we snuck away early Monday for a day of respite) and loved, as I always do, the feeling that the ocean brings, that we are all connected, and that we are all a small part of the big thing 'o life. It makes everything a little easier, even that wandering feeling, even that "we must produce" mentality that crept back as soon as I went back to work today. Thanks for sharing your lovely center.

Posted by: happylittleatom at October 28, 2008 03:20 PM

You are such a dear...
and it is comforting to know we are all in this together, each and everyone of us. Holding, guiding, pushing, pulling, and sharing in the journey.

Posted by: lisa at October 28, 2008 03:15 PM

Wise, beautiful post Andrea :) Thanks for sharing it.

Posted by: another outspoken female at October 28, 2008 02:58 PM

Being a generally positive person, I usually look at things in a positive light. While that is not necessarily bad, it could be blinding and 'unhuman'-like. There is some liberating truth and comfort in surrendering to phases of struggle and acknowledging and appreciating those struggles for what they really are. Thank you for this post. :)

Posted by: jo anne at October 28, 2008 02:48 PM

big sigh of relief at this universal revelation . . . i know it's out there--- everybody has their challenges--- but it sure is nice to click over to a familiar, inspiring blog and see that message brought back in front of my eyes. thank you!

Posted by: danielle at October 28, 2008 02:21 PM

big sigh of relief at this universal revelation . . . i know it's out there--- everybody has their challenges--- but it sure is nice to click over to a familiar, inspiring blog and see that message brought back in front of my eyes. thank you!

Posted by: danielle at October 28, 2008 02:17 PM

That was sooo beautiful! Thank you

Posted by: B at October 28, 2008 01:59 PM

your words always wrap me up snug with compassion and comfort...thank you for this sweet andrea, thank you...me

Posted by: jessica at October 28, 2008 01:50 PM

What a wonderfully enlightening experience you describe here, Andrea. Just this morning, I was thinking about something along those very lines. We are all dealing with something. I love the quote that says, "Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle." A habit break and another to take up. A question to answer and another to ask. So much. And we are all in this together. Seeking, wondering, lost, leading, following, dreaming, wanting so much, needing so much, and hoping against hope that together we will find the center. That together we will discover ways to be connected with other seekers, and together to find the means to struggle well, with power and dignity, with courage and determination.

One of the smartest, most compassionate people I know is a Jesuit priest friend from Spain. He is fluent in several languages, and once he told me that his favorite word in English is "struggle." For him, for me, for you, and undoubtedly for many others, it captures something powerful, soul-filled, and absolutely indispensable on this, our life journey.

Thanks again for this post.

Posted by: GailNHB at October 28, 2008 01:12 PM

thank you. it is sometimes so hard for me to sit with my struggle and not acknowledge it for what it is.

Posted by: marcy at October 28, 2008 01:05 PM

This is the EXACT reason why I am happy that you write. You know what my soul needs to hear. Thank you!!! I am struggling for sure. We all are.

Posted by: AndreaD at October 28, 2008 01:00 PM

The timing of these words is perfect. I just unloaded to a dear friend that I'm feeling a little stuck or perhaps a little out of control because for the first time in years, I do not have a clear vision of where I am headed.

Then I come here and I'm reminded of us as a collective whole and all of our everyday struggles. Thank you. This is just what I needed.

Posted by: sharon at October 28, 2008 12:57 PM

The timing of these words is perfect. I just unloaded to a dear friend that I'm feeling a little stuck or perhaps a little out of control because for the first time in years, I do not have a clear vision of where I am headed.

Then I come here and I'm reminded of us as a collective whole and all of our everyday struggles. Thank you. This is just what I needed.

Posted by: sharon at October 28, 2008 12:56 PM

Thank you for those words. I'm struggling right now, too, and it's so good to be reminded that we are not alone. Beautiful post, Andrea.
hugs, Cathy

Posted by: cathy at October 28, 2008 12:42 PM

'we are all struggling with something'. yes, some big, some small, but all. when i come here it only reaffirms the connection between, among, and for us all. thanks for the message, it helps lighten the struggle a bit.

Posted by: mamie at October 28, 2008 12:15 PM

strug·gle

1 : to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition
2 : to proceed with difficulty or with great effort

I love looking up words to understand exactly my experience. I have struggled so much with being a teenage mother, being an adult child of alcoholics, helping my teenage son to overcome his ADHD & addiction to drugs, and an ongoing battle with a chronic illness. Sometimes I think well, this thing I'm struggling with now, isn't really that bad :) it could be worse :( So I keep being thankful for what I do have. Sometimes it's okay to just 'be' in the struggle and learn what it has to teach us :) I've learned my best superhero powers ;) from struggles; humility, strength, compassion, perseverance, wisdom, acceptance, love, passion, purpose (still working on this) unperfectionism ;) Perhaps struggle means your 'becoming' better at something. Well, I guess I'm really going to be great, ha, ha!!

"the queen of struggles"

Posted by: Angie at October 28, 2008 12:03 PM

strug·gle

1 : to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition
2 : to proceed with difficulty or with great effort

I love looking up words to understand exactly my experience. I have struggled so much with being a teenage mother, being an adult child of alcoholics, helping my teenage son to overcome his ADHD & addiction to drugs, and an ongoing battle with a chronic illness. Sometimes I think well, this thing I'm struggling with now, isn't really that bad :) it could be worse :( So I keep being thankful for what I do have. Sometimes it's okay to just 'be' in the struggle and learn what it has to teach us :) I've learned my best superhero powers ;) from struggles; humility, strength, compassion, perseverance, wisdom, acceptance, love, passion, purpose (still working on this) unperfectionism ;) Perhaps struggle means your 'becoming' better at something. Well, I guess I'm really going to be great, ha, ha!!

"the queen of struggles"

Posted by: Angie at October 28, 2008 12:03 PM

strug·gle

1 : to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition
2 : to proceed with difficulty or with great effort

I love looking up words to understand exactly my experience. I have struggled so much with being a teenage mother, being an adult child of alcoholics, helping my teenage son to overcome his ADHD & addiction to drugs, and an ongoing battle with a chronic illness. Sometimes I think well, this thing I'm struggling with now, isn't really that bad :) it could be worse :( So I keep being thankful for what I do have. Sometimes it's okay to just 'be' in the struggle and learn what it has to teach us :) I've learned my best superhero powers ;) from struggles; humility, strength, compassion, perseverance, wisdom, acceptance, love, passion, purpose (still working on this) unperfectionism ;) Perhaps struggle means your 'becoming' better at something. Well, I guess I'm really going to be great, ha, ha!!

"the queen of struggles"

Posted by: Angie at October 28, 2008 12:03 PM

"to feel lighter knowing that to be alive is to be exactly in this place..."

Perfectly said. Especially because it can be applied to any moment, anywhere in life. Thank you for reminding me. - KS

Posted by: Katherine at October 28, 2008 12:01 PM

"to feel lighter knowing that to be alive is to be exactly in this place..."

Perfectly said. Especially because it can be applied to any moment, anywhere in life. Thank you for reminding me. - KS

Posted by: Katherine at October 28, 2008 12:00 PM

Oh, Andrea...this is so lovely and wise. Thank you for sharing such a marvelous journey. I'm going to have to make a trip to the labyrinth - I had no idea it was there! xoxo, Lilia

Posted by: Lilia at October 28, 2008 11:46 AM

Andrea, this is lovely. It is so encouraging to read these clear, inspired words. I, too, have found significance in life through labyrinths. A while ago I had the opportunity to walk one and I have written a little bit about what I learned through that experience: http://www.maggie-ann.com/journal/2008/8/28/walking-the-labyrinth.html . I'm sure though, there are still many layers to work through.
Blessings!

Posted by: maggie ann. at October 28, 2008 11:42 AM

Thank you. Amazing words written by an amazing woman.

Posted by: Piper at October 28, 2008 11:34 AM

If you're every travelling thru Anderson Valley in northern CA I highly recommend visiting Alex Champion's property up in the hills in Philo. He does labyrinth earthworks that are just astounding. You need to email him ahead of time to ask if you can come since this is at his home, but they're very nice welcoming people. Getting there is an adventure in itself.

My sweetie and I walked the circle at Grace Cathedral on our first date....talk about intimate. Now it's a special ritual for us whenever we travel to find a nearby labyrinth we can walk. It's such a deep bonding experience to share with others, or to even just share with yourself.

Posted by: Kung Foodie Kat at October 28, 2008 11:29 AM

This is a beautifully written post, Andrea. Lovely lovely. I've wanted to walk a labyrinth for a few years now, but haven't found one nearby. But I'm throwing that request out to the Universe again and will see where it leads me. Blessings to you, dear one.

Posted by: Jenna/The Word Cellar at October 28, 2008 11:24 AM

Fantastic post. You are so right. Everyone is struggling. We are all human, yet feel so alone at times. I really needed to read this right now. Thank you for sharing this.

Posted by: Leta at October 28, 2008 11:15 AM

I am lost, and I don't know which path I should choose in life. I beat myself up all the time for not figuring it out. Thanks for helping me remember that it's OK to just be standing here confused. Thank you so much.

Posted by: spoiledonlychild at October 28, 2008 11:02 AM

Beautiful. So much to think about.

Posted by: Brenda at October 28, 2008 10:58 AM

Yes, yes and yes. Walking with you.
"It really is okay to be right where I am. It really is okay to struggle, to not know and to be lost. "

Posted by: Sue at eLuckypacket at October 28, 2008 10:39 AM

What a beautiful post, beautiful timing, and a beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing!

Posted by: Kyra at October 28, 2008 10:07 AM

Sweet Andrea,

I've walked the Grace Cathedral labryinth and it is exactly that pure Grace. We are all struggling with something...broken cigarettes, broken hearts, broken promises, sun breaking through the clouds...may be it is in the breaking something new is born...may be it is in the struggle a birth of something else arrives that we hadn't anticipated but we savor for its presence. Acknowledging another's journey lightens the load of one's own walk...mine included.

Love, Trish
patriciadolan@comcast.net

Posted by: Trish at October 28, 2008 09:57 AM

Beautiful post Andrea. You're right. We are all struggling with something. Right now, my heart is heavy with the fear that my husband and I might lose our home and everything he has worked his entire career for. I am praying for rescue, but really I am praying that it will all turn out okay in the end. Somehow, deep down, I know it will, even though I'm terrified. It always has. Thank you for acknowledging the struggle for all of us.

Posted by: monica at October 28, 2008 09:49 AM