Monday, March 27, 2017

Hidden in Plain Sight

"Walking a Labyrinth"
 -Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Over the past few years I have felt a growing attraction to the practice of walking in a “labyrinth” as a prayer and meditation tool. Nowadays labyrinths have become quite popular and are often employed as a spiritual practice in both Eastern and Western traditions. You can often find labyrinths on the floors of churches or temples and even in the public squares of towns and cities.

A labyrinth is actually a very ancient symbol for the spiritual journey, a symbol for the path into the core of one’s deepest center.  A labyrinth is designed as a series of circular and spiral paths that look something like a maze and when you walk into a labyrinth you sometimes feel as if you are walking in circles because there is no direct path to the center.  Sometimes it also feels as if you have come to a dead-end on the path, but there are no dead-ends because each ending always opens to a different path until ultimately you arrive at the center. Walking on a labyrinth provides a  wonderful, visceral experience of the direction of any “way” of wisdom.

While I find myself very attracted to walking a labyrinth, I haven’t done so in quite some time because I haven’t been able to find any labyrinths out here where we now live. But something happened a few days ago that changed all that.   

I was out hiking in the wilderness area just outside our house, walking along a very familiar and well-worn trail, when suddenly I noticed a tiny, little, almost-invisible path veering off the trail and so I decided to follow it to see where it may lead. To my great surprise it led me to a wonderfully constructed, very elaborate labyrinth designed out of rocks and stones in a wide open space on the desert floor just outside our house. I had passed by that area hundreds of times while hiking along the well-worn, familiar trail but I never before noticed the labyrinth. It was hidden in plain sight and in order to discover it I had to walk off-trail and follow a “road less traveled”  – what a wonderful and poignant spiritual lesson.

I am reminded of a little Zen-like saying I keep on my desk:

Everything you are looking for is already right here.
You are usually elsewhere.

This was the spiritual lesson I learned in my discovery of the labyrinth that I was looking for in my life out here. There was one in my own back yard but I didn’t expect it to be there and and my journey along the safe and all-too familiar path prevented me from seeing it.

As I see it, my labyrinth discovery is a lesson for any single one of us on any sort of spiritual  journey.  We all get up in the morning and expect the same old routine to repeat itself over and over again in day-after-ordinary-day as we walk along the beaten-path of our lives. Our minds are filled with our well-worn ideas and glib certainties about what we will find in the ordinary world in which we live; and yet, there is hidden treasure and extraordinary beauty just waiting to be discovered in the everyday places of life - at work at school in the market, at a restaurant, in Starbucks and in our own back yards. When we are willing to veer off the certitude of the beaten path, and with uncluttered minds and and open hearts pay attention to every present moment, it is amazing what wonderful surprises may come our way.

I have been back to the wilderness labyrinth several times now, in fact just yesterday my wife and I walked the labyrinth and as we did so we noted that we were the only one’s there.  We could see all sorts of people out walking on the designated trails but no one paid any attention to the hidden treasure of that labyrinth hiding in plain sight. Now that I know it’s there it’s way easier to find and my guess is that the labyrinth will now become an important tool in my spiritual practice.

I am reminded of a line from a Robert Frost poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Taking that less traveled path does indeed make all the difference, all the difference in the world.

6 comments:

  1. When I moved from Europe to work in San Francisco in 1992 I rented an apartment directly facing the gorgeous Rose Window of Grace Cathedral, which had an elaborate labyrinth which I often walked. https://www.gracecathedral.org/our-labyrinths/

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  2. Miles to go before I sleep, and I have promises to keep. So many roads to cross; without you Lord, I'm sure that I'll be lost. So, stay with me.

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  3. ...Your work here is genuinely appreciated,father Paul, and I know I speak for many many others as well. Thank you for using your valuable time to help us all better understand what we are seeking and striving for. Your liberal use of quotes in your essays are extremely helpful in driving home your point to your readers. ...you are seen and heard.

    (mike)

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  4. Make. I am grateful for your encouraging words

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