I first learned how to walk a labyrinth many years ago, as a part of a meditative spiritual practice in the hilltops of southern California. I learned to bow as I entered, and then to walk the maze in meditation while holding in my heart space anything that I wanted to give up. In this walking meditation, weight is released with every step. At the center when the journey is completed, it is time to wait. At the center of the labyrinth, the winding journey outward begins to retrace the steps, and to receive whatever surfaces. When the pathway returns to the entrance, I learned to bow once more, in gratitude. This simple practice has helped me many times over the years, but it has never been so profound as in the simple courtyard of the Luz Divina, our pousada (living quarters) on my pilgrimage to Brazil.
I found myself in a life transition in Brazil and at first, I was most conscious of my own health issues. This is where I began my labyrinthine meditation, as I brought each illness up to my consciousness. I held a desire and willingness to release these hidden struggles. After waiting in silence at the center, I slowly made my way back and my surprise grew. With each step, it became clear to me that my illnesses were really an invitation for self-care. I think that some are physically released from an illness in this process that can augment medical treatment, but I began to sense transformation for for myself as I retraced my steps. I saw that my illnesses were part of my identity and I let them go. I felt a growing resolve to care for my physical body.
Through her guided meditations during our Brazil pilgrimage, our guide, Sarah Entrup (http://sarahentrup.com/wp/) also shifted how I thought about self-care,. If we imagine our ‘self’ to mean ‘our physical body” (as I think most people do), it is difficult to get above what we are experiencing. When we are in pain, we exclaim, “I hurt!” If we believe that our identity is only our physical body, then we are unconscious of the non-physical parts of ourselves. We are unconscious of our own heart. I have actually lived this way for much of my life. This kind of self-image explains the fear that surrounds death and illness. If our body dies, we no longer exist, right?
In meditation, we were invited to picture our ‘self’ as something that was apart from our body. We are really spirits, and we only inhabit our bodies as a residence. From this point of view, it is possible to look down on our physical body, and notice pain without identifying with the sensation. Instead of “I am in pain”, we exclaim, “My body is in pain”. This is an ability that is acquired over years of meditative practice. I imagined what it would be like if I could eventually perceive my own reality this way. I certainly might also have a different appreciation for my physical body. Self-care has never been my strong suit. What if I thought of my physical body as a beloved child that requires nurturing and supervision? This reality rested with me, as I worked on self-care in the labyrinth.
My next task in the labyrinth was to allow consciousness to surface about how I feel when I am at work. I wanted to say ‘hello’ to anything that got in my way. As I walked inward into the labyrinth for my next meditation, I opened my heart to release fear and anger. In all honesty, I am human and I love the ego boost that comes with achievement. This is honestly something that creates stress at work, because it is my ego that creates a sense of fear, or even anger. As I neared the center, I let go of achievement. I released the need for affirmation, and waited in silence. When I made my way outward from the center of the labyrinth, another surprise awaited me. When all of this was released, I could see more clearly what my heart loved about my work. With ego out of the way, love and joy emerged. I had a distinct sense of the delight that was still available for me. I bowed once again to the labyrinth, in a sense of completion.
A few days passed, and I was ready to work in the labyrinth once more. This time, it was in my heart to work on my relationship with Suzi. I have been conscious of the emotional triggers that prompt me to snap in our relationship. Sometimes I even silently swear to myself in anger, or in despair. I bowed outside the circle, and then began my walking meditation. As I walked, my triggers surfaced, one by one. I saw how her care-taking triggered anger for me. Sometimes when Suzi intervenes to help me, especially with matters regarding my health, I find myself snapping back at her. As I held this observation with openness, something new appeared. I snap because I feel a little humiliated and vulnerable when my physical limitations come up. When she offers to help me, I feel diminished.
The second emotional trigger that surfaced was around the precise detail through which Suzi views my activities. As I held my response to her desire for neatness and orderliness, I recognized that what really triggered me was my unmet hunger for assurance. When Suzi notices a detail that has been left undone, I feel a pang. I come to our relationship with a longing for some kind of affirmation.
The third and final emotional trigger in our relationship has always been around our physical contact. Like a dog who can never get enough affection, I long to physically cuddle and to be close to her, while sometimes she prefers solitude. If this happens, I feel rejection, anger or despair. I continued to slowly take steps toward the center.
As I held my emotional triggers up for release, another insight came to me. My longing for physical holding comes up for many adopted adults. I have never mastered how to offer myself a sense of safety and nurturing inside my own personal space. This is why I crave touch and reassurance. I have struggled with a sense of abandonment, ever since I was a child. I slowly took each step closer to the center of the maze, and then waited in silence to receive help. I released my hunger for affirmation.
I began to retrace my steps outward. Suddenly, it came to me how Suzi’s well-intentioned rescuing exposed an element of my own self-neglect. I was inflamed because she was right! At this moment, I was offered a gift. My triggering around her care-taking would disappear, if I would only engage in my own self-care.
With each step outward, more gifts surfaced. I felt a desire to affirm and nurture myself. I kept walking, and as I neared the end of the labyrinth, it became clear to me that it was actually possible to provide my self with affirmation, in meditation. In the quiet space of my own heart, it is possible to gift my self a sense of safety and love. If I start from a place where I already feel safe and loved, then my physical contact with Suzi might shift from neediness to generosity. I shifted inside. I bowed with gratitude.
Labyrinthine meditations originate from the tradition of Chartres and have been honored as a form of spiritual work for thousands of years. The little labyrinth in our pousada was a symbol of pilgrimage that brought me to Abadiania in the first place. To the labyrinth, I brought what I was ready to release. I had no idea of what I would return with.