“Life is the journey of coming home to ourselves.”
― Lisa Cypers Kamen
A journey is that thing that takes you from one place to another.
It doesn’t have to be an exotic destination either. A journey is a journey, whether it’s around the world or across the room. But even if your legs don’t work – even if your hands are too frail to turn the pages of a book, the imagination is an infinite time machine. Our mind can take us on everlasting journeys – far, far away, or as close as we can stand.
From the edge of reason to the center of your being.
If you let it.
Yesterday I went, of all places, to a catholic retreat center in the middle of a city. I was hosting a friend who is a devout catholic and asked if I would go with her. While she attended a beautiful outdoor mass I explored the grounds. The sun was pushing its light through the trees and it felt as if all of nature was alive and illuminated. I took an elevator one hundred and fifty feet above the ground level to the edge of a cliff, filled with beautiful shrines and walking paths, water features and bird song.
I found a labyrinth.
Modeled after the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, it’s purpose is meditative. You follow the path at your own pace, all the way to the center. There, the purpose is prayer, reflection, and – when you’re ready, a return journey.
So I did.
I walked the path very slowly, trying to open my heart to the things I might need to notice. To understand. To internalize. I allowed the path to show me which part of it I was now on, how far I’d come, and rather than worrying about how far I had left to go, I let myself understand a few things about who I’ve become on this journey toward myself. Who I might still be if I let it all happen as planned.
You see, I’m big on stopping. Turning. Overthinking. Resistance. Paralysis. In other words, thwarting the plan.
I felt my cell phone buzz in my pocket and I realized I couldn’t stop myself from looking at it. My friend would be looking for me soon. What if she was wandering the woods searching for me? My kids were all spread apart traveling in different cities. What if one of them needed me? The battle was short and not so bravely fought.
It wasn’t important. At least, not important enough to stop me on my journey.
Deflated, I began again, thankful that no one had seen me cave to the social pressure of the smart phone attached to my hip. But I had seen me. And the hundreds of trees standing guard in these sacred woods had seen me. And that had been enough.
I pressed on.
I wondered if walking all the way to the center was symbolic of this, my 50th year, half-way through a century – a lifetime (should I live to see 100) and if taking the same path out represented life’s inevitability. Every step after the center felt heavier as I contemplated this. I started taking each step with more care, realizing their significance, cherishing them.
I slowed down.
Unable to continue contemplating my eventual demise and return to the entrance of time, I turned my thoughts toward my inner life – this journey I’ve been on the last few years. A journey of heartbreak. Of joy. Hope. Self-discovery. My son told me a few months ago that I was no longer going toward the mountain, I was going through it.
I allowed myself to feel the weight of that thought. The steps have been harder, heavier lately. Slower. But walking back out gave me hope. This was not an unfamiliar path, I was just traveling it in the opposite direction. The scenery was the same, but different. Lessons learned on the way in needn’t be repeated.
I wasn’t alone in my pursuit of center.
Others came and went as I plodded my way through the labyrinth. A lot of people just sat on benches and looked at these stones set into strange looking circular patterns. Some walked the path but quickly, presumably just to check it off the list. Most that got that far, reached the center and then walked away, not bothering to try to find their way out. I don’t know what made me do it both ways. Maybe it was the rock on the way in that instructed travelers to set an intention. Maybe because I was curious to see if, as in other spiritual situations I have opened my heart to, something significant might happen. Something unexpected.
This was a quiet victory.
Much like the rest of the forest, there was peace and stillness in this exercise. A sense of the sacred. I sat quietly and journaled for a while, trying to mine the experience for all the hidden gems that might remain. Growth, after all, happens in the dark. Under ground. Pulled from the deep places and watered from above.
My friend eventually came and found me and we journeyed on. Not everything comes and goes with a bang and a pop. Some things settle into your bones and take up residence. Seeds are planted that will bloom on a day that is yet to be determined. And some things…
Some things we keep to ourselves.