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…
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.