- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
A few weeks ago, while taking my daily walk in the wilderness area outside our house, I stumbled upon a labyrinth that someone had constructed out of rocks and stones in a wide-open area on the desert floor. Now almost every day I make my way to that labyrinth, walking its designed path that serves as a guide for my quiet time and meditation.
Yesterday something happened that was both very funny and also quite emblematic for me. As I was out walking on the labyrinth, a young couple came “barreling” by me on a nearby path. They seemed to be on some sort of “mission,” eyes straight forward, obviously very eager to get to their destination at the end of the trail. Then all of a sudden they stopped for a few seconds and looked at me. Obviously they had no idea of what a labyrinth was as the young woman turned to her companion, pointed at me and said: “He seems to be somewhat disoriented. It looks like he is walking around in circles, I hope he’s ok.” But they never stopped long enough to ask if I really was Ok. They just “pushed forward” on their way to accomplish the goal of arriving at their destination.
I started to “laugh out loud” when this happened. I was a spiritual “pilgrim” intentionally following the ancient “circular” meditation path of a labyrinth but to that passing couple, it looked like I was some crazy old man walking in circles, my brain addled, disoriented in the hot desert sun. I also found this encounter to be very “emblematic” of the spiritual journey: the spiritual path rarely follows a clear, straight line from “Point A” to “Point B. When you walk the spiritual path it almost always feels as if you are walking around in circles, which is precisely why I find a “labyrinth” to be so helpful as a meditation guide.
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 often feel as if you are walking in circles that sometimes seem to lead nowhere because there is no direct path to the center. Sometimes it also feels as if you come to a dead end on the path but there are no dead-ends because each ending always leads to a different path until ultimately you arrive at the center. Walking on a labyrinth is also somewhat disorienting at times because you are never actually “sure” about the direction of where the path is leading, except that you trust that it will ultimately lead you to the “center” and so you just go with the flow.
Walking on a labyrinth provides a wonderful, visceral experience of the direction of any “way” of wisdom.
After I recovered from my bout of laughter over that young couple who thought I was a bit “off,” walking around in circles, I also realized that I was being a taught the deeper lesson that a spiritual path always involves a journey into mystery. It is a path into the unknown and uncontrollable and this is perhaps why this journey is very frightening for many people today who feel that they can only succeed by achieving the goals of their own agenda in life, always in control
I think of something priest and author, Anthony DeMello, once said:
As we walk a spiritual path it’s not that we fear the unknown,
what we really fear is the loss of the known.
Many people search for deeper truth and greater “meaning” in life by seeking the assurances of religious belief or logical proof; but as I see it, the path to wisdom, the path to “God,” is always like the labyrinth path. You can’t ever arrive at the “center” by following a clear-cut, straight line.
Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:
God is actually quite wild and dangerous,
but we have domesticated divine experience so much
that most religious people find themselves to be
fearful conformists instead of
adventurous seekers of Love and Mystery.
Yesterday, I wish that young couple would have taken a moment to inquire if I was OK and ask me what I was doing? I would have gladly told them I wasn’t at all wandering or lost; instead I was on an adventurous path into the heart of Love and Mystery.