Labyrinthine Lessons: The Half-Won Blessing, 5

Freedom is our half-won blessing. The first half is straightforward and negative (in a good way): no slavery, no masters or overlords, no chains. The second half is paradoxical. We arrive at liberation by accepting the constraints of discipline, by surrendering. By letting go and giving up, we gain. The first half involves being able to do what you want. But then you can become enslaved to your own impulsive wants. So the second half involves liberating the true self from the bondage of the desiring self.

The labyrinth is an exercise in freeing the true self by accepting the dictates of a prescribed path. When you walk a labyrinth, you wind around and around and end up at the center. Then take the path in reverse to go back out. Both journeys, the in and the out, are circuitous and terribly inefficient.

Notice the temptations, I said to the rehab group that I was leading on a morning's labyrinth exercise. It is easy to cheat, to step over the rows of rocks, to walk straight in. The labyrinth’s lesson is that path and destination are intertwined, they define each other. The destination isn’t the destination unless it reached by the needful path. Like Hebrews in the wilderness, you go around and around – often winding further from your destination rather than closer.

When you get to the center, I said, hang out there as long as you feel like it, then head back. Folks heading back and folks still heading in will encounter each other. This, too, is a lesson: we encounter people who are heading in an opposite direction from us, who we could bump heads with, who might seem to be heading in a wrong direction, but there is only one path. We go in and we go out, and if you are in a going-out phase and pass by someone in a going-in phase, rest assured your positions will soon be reversed. Practice the gentle grace of letting others by. And notice that, doing this, you may have to take one step off your path. Others can knock you off your path, but never very far, and it is always a simple matter to step back on.

I instructed them to hold their hands in front of their waist; to notice the rhythm of their breathing, and synchronize it with their steps. It helps the mind quiet, so the path can take over.

Then I stood by the entrance with my watch, and sent them in at five-second intervals. I went last, walking the labyrinth, as I have many times before, though never with a such a large group.

Afterwards we retreated to the sanctuary to debrief about the experience. Most of them had something to say.

I heard from them how they valued the experience, how they took to its lessons – though some acknowledged they had been skeptical and dubious. Some spoke of how, yes, their need to control had to be tamed, and how good that felt. They spoke of how the path was not always clear – the layer of leaves has gotten thick – but they let themselves trust the person in front of them, and how good it felt to trust and follow – to not be alone on this path.

One spoke of noticing how a few of their fellows had stepped over the rocks and taken shortcuts. He wrestled with judging them for that – but he said he knew that the judging voice was about him, not about them. I mentioned the little proverb, "whenever you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back you." They all knew that one already very well.

They were so wise. I was moved and touched to be among them. It was clear to me how much they have learned from the hard work they have done – because one walk through the labyrinth will not teach such lessons except to those who have done much to prepare themselves to think and see and understand that way.

We all have our addictions. And we’re sometimes judgmental of others, of ourselves. Before us is a path of freedom from those constraints. Take it. Go. You are not alone. There are others on the path waiting for you join them. Go. Don’t wait for the bread to rise.

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This is part 5 of 5 of "The Half-Won Blessing"
Previous: Part 4: Paths to Freedom
Beginning: Part 1: Bring Out the Festal Bread

1 comment:

  1. I feel as if I walked this path with you and your group this morning, Meredith. Nice job getting me there! Speaking for myself, I'm not so sure about how simple it is to get back on the path once I've been knocked off, though. A little nudge sideways and all these other fascinating byways suddenly appear!