I toiled last summer to design and outline a seven-circuit labyrinth in the “back 40” at the cottage. Then the lawn guys carved out the path.
Greg collected and placed rocks to define where it leads. Last, I covered the path with mulch to keep the weeds at bay.
In September just before we left, we planted bunches of three daffodils each around it — 28 bunches in all, as it turned out, a nice coincidence with their being 28 days in the lunar month. Unlike the labyrinth at Chartres, the seven-circuit type doesn’t have actual lunations to mark the lunar calendar, but the little clumps of daffodils were a reminder of the moon and all it signifies.
It was neat and tidy when we left last fall. In fact, practically all labyrinths I have encountered are just that—neat, tidy, and dare I say, almost perfect. Here is the one at the convent of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Richmond Hill:
|Source of photo: http://www.ssjd.ca/labyrinth.html|
It is similar to mine because it its outlined in stones. So you can imagine how I felt when we returned this spring and found this:
My first thought was: oh no, it is so overgrown! In fact, it was so invaded by dandelions I thought I should call it a dandelinth. The daffodils were slightly past their prime, their yellow completely outshone by the dandelions’.
My dismay was assuaged by the fact that the path was still visible, and I enjoyed walking around it while looking at the various stones. They were all the same (red sandstone) yet unique (in shape and size).
I thought about this difference in sameness for a while and also about rocks: calm, solid, perpetual, unchanging.
Of course, I immediately began to weed as I walked. Then I reflected that I was treating the labyrinth as a thing to be worked on rather than as a means for inner quiet, meditation, and even mystical experience. None of the other labyrinths I had enjoyed required my on-going care and keeping. They were usually made of cement and other materials which prevented the infringement of weeds. On them, I could just quiet my ego and follow the path on an inner pilgrimage. This one pleaded for my objective attention and hence, the engagement of my ego.
So at first I thought what a pity it was that I did not have the “right” attitude towards it. Would I ever feel I was not working on it as merely an artefact and just let myself experience what walking its path offered my inner Self, my soul?
So then I decided I would pull weed weeds from the path only on the way in. Being bent over and humbly weeding would suit the penitential nature of the way to the centre, at least according to one way of looking at the walk in. Each weed could be a flaw in myself or a trouble in my world or a trouble in the world at large, which needed to be pulled for personal and worldly improvement nay, even perfection.
Then on the way out, I would refrain from working on it and have a true Sabbath — a time of opening my soul to whatever God/the holy spirit/the divine within/the mystery of nature wanted to put there. It would be redemptive.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. In or out, I could not resist pulling up the twitch grass, dandelions and other weedy things.
Then I had something of an epiphany. It is all right to be a Martha working all the time: Unlike the biblical Martha, I was enjoying it. It had a rhythm. Yet, I did not feel impelled to totally weed everything, nor did I weed with any pattern or intent: A swath of twitch grass which I had been happy to ignore going in would attract my attention coming out.
So, not only was the labyrinth not perfect, neither apparently was my plan to do things right.
I reflected on the word perfect. It has come to mean flawless, but if you go back to the Latin root, it means “through” from per and “made” from feci, the past tense of facere, “to make or do.”
So in its literal sense, “perfect” means to work through or make through. It is a process or experience, not a product or a goal. It is in actual hands-on doing (for me, at any rate), that I feel attuned with the creative and behind that, the Creator, and that I feel an attachment, even love, for this inanimate weedy object, my labyrinth.
Now I feel more attached to it than if it were flawless. As I go round the path, obscured by the greenery along the border, I am taken by surprise by the twists and curves. I have to pay attention to how I am walking to avoid tripping. The way is not clear to my immediate vision even though I know the way is there, and all I have to do is to follow it. Nevertheless, I have to weed it out to keep the way passable. How like life this is. The way is there, but not always easily seen.
The tall weeds and grasses at the side form a tunnel which in my four-year-old imagination, I am exploring and clearing. It is play, not work.
Finally, it’s not about having a belief (weeds are like flaws and must be pulled out) but about having the experience (I care for the labyrinth and it provides me a path). I dislike apportioning a moral value to the poor twitch grass. It’s not the fault of the weeds that I pull them up; it is just what I have to do to keep a clear path. And I have learned not to be annoyed by them.
In a sense, I am not walking on the labyrinth, I am the labyrinth and all that it signifies about going in those contained circles to an inevitable centre. The interruptions by the weeds in my way are moments for pausing, stooping, pulling, and standing up again: sort of doing physically what we are to do spiritually in our journey.
A day or so after having these thoughts, I read a quotation from Rumi in something Richard Rohr wrote in his daily meditation:
I want to...instead of being
irritated by the interruption and daily
resentments, feel those as kindnesses.
Admittedly, it’s easier said than done, but after I leave the labyrinth and return to my daily life, I hope this pattern of response to life becomes more embedded in me.