"Furthermore we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us -- the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world." - Joseph Campbell
Not only is that my favorite Joseph Cambell quote from his book "Hero With a Thousand Faces" and not only is it the quote Mastin Kipp put into today's Daily Love, but it also references one of my favorite things ever: the labrynth. When I went to Kripalu last fall for Geneen Roth's "Women, Food and God" workshop, during our free time in between sessions we were given the opportunity to do various activities that Kripalu offers its guests. When I saw "labrynth walk" on the schedule, I laughed out loud and imagined David Bowie leading me by the hand in some lame-o forest trail. I decided to do it anyway since I was eager to get outside for some fresh air.
What ensued was probably one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The labrynth was on the top of the hill of Kripalu's rolling green landscapes inWestern Massachussetts and overlooked a beautiful lake. The guide explained to us that labrynths are man-made, elaborate, circular paths that date back to Ancient Greece. According to Wikipedia, it is a "single, non-branching path, which leads [in]to [and out of] the center." From far away a labrynth actually looks similar to the structure of the human brain.
Our directions were simple, we were told to remove our shoes and socks, wait about 5 minutes once the person in front of us started walking, and were reminded to walk slowly and with an intention. The entire time that I was walking towards the center of the labrynth I was thinking, "this is so stupid," "why am I even doing this?" "why am I here?" "I should be doing something else"." On top of these thoughts I was also obsessing over an issue close my heart. My brain was whipping itself up into a frenzy of disturbing thoughts, making me feel anxious, worried, angry at myself and annoyed. Each step I took felt like magnetic lead weights were hanging on the sole's of my feet. But something happened as I walked more and more and got closer to the center. I began to feel my energy shifting, the iron-clad grip of my negative thoughts started to loosen. I recognized after a while that the same obsessive thoughts were playing in my head like a broken record. Something in me, something deeper than thoughts, recognized that this negative song was playing in my head like an old tape stuck in the boombox with the button jammed on "repeat." I guess subconsciously something in me didn't want to listen that negative song anymore and as I neared the center of the labrynth, I didn't have the energy to listen to something so draining. I wanted to sit and feel the breeze, smell the air and breathe.
At the center of the labrynth there was a small area for prayer where a buddha statue sat, decorated in colorful flags. Around it were slips of paper and various meaningful objects people had placed at the buddha's feet. There were a handful of people seated around the buddha statue in a circle. One woman was doing yoga poses, another was kneeled with her head in her hands, another man was in lotus pose with his eyes closed, and a few others were getting up to leave to make the trek back out of the labrynth. I sat at the base of the statue, facing the lake and scanning my eyes across the little offerings of flowers, leaves, trinkets, ribbons and slips of paper.
The center of the labrynth had such a peaceful and meaningful energy about it. Sitting there I remember feeling a breeze blow gently by, rustling the colored flags and leaves on the trees around us. Without understanding why or for what reason, hot tears started streaming down my face. An old prayer that I had read once in highschool came to my mind.
"Relieve me, Lord, from the bondage of myself."
I sat there for a while just breathing and being present with the emotions stirring within me and with the emotions of those around me. I began to pray for the people sitting beside me, for the women in the workshop, for every living being who was suffering in the bondage of their own thoughts. I felt an enormous well of compassion open up inside of me that swallowed me - and everyone and everything around me - whole.
When I felt ready, I got up and walked slowly out of labrynth, unwinding out of it the way I had wound myself into it. Walking into the center was like spiraling inward into my own personal hell-den of thoughts. I was winding myself up with negative thoughts, the way a tyrannical 2 year old winds up a toy jack-in-the-box. When I got into the center, I had reached my limit of winding in and the jack JUMPED out of the box with no warning. I know this is an odd metaphor but I guess the "jack" in this case would be God. God popped out of the center. God popped out of the center of me! And it was beautiful and surprising and oddly.... peaceful. Walking out of and unwinding from the center of the labrynth was the opposite of walking into it and winding in. Instead of obsessing and ruminating and running in circles in my own mind, I felt calmed and present, accepted and accepting, assured and awakened. My brain stopped running the show and I surrendered to something greater. There was a slow and steady sense of peace that streamed through my whole body like warm, flowing liquid gold.
Similar to the literal labrynth I just described is the labrynth that I think Joseph Campbell may be describing in the quote that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The "labrynth" can also be a metaphor of our life's journey - sometimes scary and unknown, sometimes seemingly boring and meaningless, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. But as Joseph said we need not be afraid because the heroes of all time have gone before us, we are not the first ones to walk the path and we are certainly not the last. The path is the path we all walk, we walk it by ourselves and at the same time we are with the entire world because each of us is equal. We are different and the same. We are no better or worse than anyone else. And our paths and journeys and experiences with others will always surprise us in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. When we think we have someone figuired out, we will realize that we have no clue what that person is truly like or what is going on with them. When we think we will have an experience that will be awful and excruciating, we may find that we are given a strength we didn't know we had. And when we think we'll be bored to death, we may find that exploring the boredom may lead us to an exciting breakthrough we have never felt before and may never feel again.
The only thing we can expect from life is that it will constantly and consistently amaze us. (Get it, a-maze us? Cause a labrynth is like a maze ;)