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Conversations with the Soul:
The Living Labyrinth
It was early July when the flyer caught my eye; “The Sacred Labyrinth: spirituality in Motion.” Advertising the one-credit class, taught by Eunice Schroeder D. Min., at Marylhurst University, the flyer hung from a wall in the August Moon, a community cultivation center in Vancouver, WA. As a graduate of Marylhurst, I knew the price of tuition was one thing I couldn’t afford at the time, and yet I copied the information on to a piece of paper and dropped it in my bag. For the next three weeks I thought about the class, as that piece of paper seemed to draw my attention.
Just inside of my front door at home is a basket, which holds the incoming mail waiting to be sorted and opened. With the mail piling up, one piece, an un-solicited card, got tired of waiting and landed on the floor. After walking past it several times I finally picked it up. Before I could put it back in the basket, the words “Marylhurst University” caught my attention. That un-solicited card was a tuition voucher for one credit toward any class!
The entire chain of events suddenly came into focus as I realized how things were obviously being orchestrated on my behalf. Being drawn to such a class is not unusual, but writing the information for a class I can’t afford is. Having that same piece of paper surface repeatedly in my bag, then later on my desk at home is somewhat of a miracle in itself. More often then I care to admit, the undertow of other paper work swallows notes placed on my desk.
With gift in hand, I promptly took the voucher to the phone and with the excitement of a giddy child at Christmas, I called the registrar’s office at Marylhurst University. I introduced myself to the gentleman who answered, told him why I was calling, and before I knew it I asked him if the voucher was real. He assured me that it was valid and could be used toward any class at Marylhurst. Within minutes, I was registered for class.
With one week to prepare, I bought a copy of the recommended reading, “Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool” by Dr. Lauren Artress. About a year ago I walked a labyrinth for the first time. I was told that walking the labyrinth was a spiritual experience, but at the time didn’t understand how walking a narrow, winding path sometimes crowded with people could be spiritual.
Still not knowing why I was given this class, I started to read. Finding that Dr. Artress is a pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco I assumed that I was about to read a book filled with the usual dogma of organized religion, which I had turned away from years ago. However, by page three I found myself underlining the nuggets of truth, inspiration, and wisdom found throughout the book. I couldn’t wait to walk the labyrinth again…for the first time, as others have been doing for centuries.
Since appearing at least 4000 years ago, versions of the now classical, seven-circuit labyrinth have been found in remote sites around the globe. Examples can be found in India, Peru, the Southwestern United States, Greece, Spain, and North Africa, to name but a few. Laid out in fields, atop mountains, and embedded within church floors, the labyrinth has been a sort of compass, guiding humanity back to our spiritual center. Labyrinths and the simple spiral designs on which they are based, have been replicated on coins, pottery, and cave walls as far back as the megalithic societies of the British Isles over 5000 years ago. Although many theories exist, the true purpose of the labyrinth, and when and where it originated remains a mystery.
Today, labyrinths can even be found on playgrounds, near hospitals and in prisons. Organizations, such as the Labyrinth Project in San Francisco, CA, and the international Labyrinth Society, are dedicated to educating people about labyrinths, weaving together many, often disparate, spiritual disciplines and traditions.
It didn’t take long to learn why I was given such a wonderful gift at this time in my life. As I read how the labyrinth helps one “seek self-knowledge, relieves burdens from the past, and heal relationships,” I became hopeful. After my divorce in 1990 the search for a new life began. Moving forward while often looking back only works when the path is smooth, but the path is rarely smooth. I know it’s best to forgive as I move forward, yet I hold on to some of the memories that still hurt.
“Healing on the labyrinth comes in the form of renewed strength and perspective that is needed when illness has made us vulnerable,” she wrote. Holding on to parts of the past has not only slowed my emotional healing, but the physical as well. I live with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and periods of depression. A few years ago it was suggested that my depression was in fact, grief. I have been told to cry…let it out. Still, I have not cried. Again, Artress touched my heart with her words, “Crying for yourself can heal deep wounds.” And she shared a Sufi verse, “When the heart weeps for what it ‘s lost, the soul rejoices for what it’s found.”
workshops, writing and talking with my teachers, (both physical and
non-physical) I have been learning; filling a tool kit, (so-to-speak).
My studies have included the Ascended Masters, Native American Shamanism,
Egyptian, Angels, Nature Spirits, trees, stones, past life and more.
For years I have asked what my spiritual work will be. Where is my place
in the world? How will I know? Then I read, “They come for insight into
how their unique skills can serve the world.” I realized that I have
been given another tool for my kit. Walking the labyrinth will help
me find my way.
This summer I started working with tree limbs making walking sticks, staffs, prayer sticks and other ceremonial items. Often I would sit for hours removing the bark to discover the beautiful wood hidden inside. Raw, unprocessed wood carries healing energies like crystals and other stones. After working with limbs from several different trees, I was given a pile of branches of Rose of Sharon, a deciduous bush with rose-like blossoms. Removing the bark revealed wood that is stunningly white. In addition to its beauty, each piece felt bigger, fuller than its physical size. Rose of Sharon carries a feeling of wholeness. When describing this wood to a friend, I told her it felt “holy,” a word I normally wouldn’t use to describe anything. But it is true; Rose of Sharon carries the energy of wholeness and holiness.
The center of the eleven-circuit labyrinth is often referred to as the “rosette.” The rose is often a symbol of Mother Mary. According to Artress, during the High Middle Ages, “The Cistercians, through Saint Bernard of Clairvaux…instituted the practice of the intercessionary prayers to her (Mary) frequently referring to her as the Rose of Sharon.” Using the word “holy” to describe the Rose of Sharon wood was quite appropriate after all.
Driving to the campus the day of class, I was filled with anticipation to be reunited with a place that helped fill a void in my life nearly ten years before. Once there I wondered why I had stayed away for so long. Marylhurst University carries an energy of warmth and comfort; the mother’s arms that uplift a weary child. For that day, I was home again.
Following introductions, a tap on a small singing bowl cleared the room and announced a time for meditation. The ring of the bowl had lifted the veil between dimensions, and for a brief moment I heard whisperings from an ancient time. With the whisperings came a vision off to my left of a group of women clothed in veils. I knew then that the Unseen were there to guide and to walk with us.
We walked two labyrinths that day, a seven circuit in the morning and an eleven circuit in the afternoon. In preparation for our first walk, our instructor Eunice briefed us on the recommended manner of entering the labyrinth and asked us to journal our experience afterwards. A prayer rug was placed over the entrance with burning candles on each side. Then she stood, holding the space and honoring each of us with a welcoming nod when it was our turn to enter.
As Eunice spoke, I noticed fear raising up from somewhere deep inside. I tried to ignore the fear and focus on the instructions but the more I did, the louder it became. That is when I realized how important and powerful this day was to me. I was going to release something near and dear to my ego: my unworthiness to receive. The little voice inside started shouting at me: This is going to change everything. Are you sure you want this? What will life be without it?
The only way
to stop fear is to move through it. And I did. I was the first to step
onto the prayer rug, and with a crystal in one hand and a piece of Rose
of Sharon wood in the other, I entered my journey.
Walking, I focused on balance as I had left my cane at my chair thinking it may distract others walking with me. Within seconds I started to get warm and the closer to the center I moved, the warmer I became. Feeling loved by the gift that brought me there, I mentally spoke my gratitude. Following the path laid before me, I entered the center of the labyrinth. Concerned that I would be in the way of others, however, I didn’t want to stay long. There it was, in my face, the very thing I came to release, my unworthiness to receive.
After a brief meditation, I left the center feeling more relaxed and carefree. The walk out of the labyrinth seemed to take longer then the walk in. Soon that little voice of fear started chattering. “This is taking some time. Did I step on the wrong path? I don’t remember. Is this where I am supposed to be?” Lasting only a few moments, the fearful thoughts stopped when my higher self told me to “relax and keep walking.”
Once I left the labyrinth I thought of how true to life those fearful thoughts were. I often question my place and progress in the world. I know I am where I need to be at every moment. There really isn’t a “wrong path” as all paths eventually lead us back to our center of power. I know that and I believe that too. I will remember the sage advice received while walking the labyrinth, “relax and keep walking.” No matter what I am faced with, I need to stay in my power and with the Grace of God, keep my focus on the moment at hand. Writing these words, I was reminded of Eckhart Tolle’s book, “The Power of Now.” Taking his book off my shelf, I opened it and placed my finger on the page and read, “To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad…”
second labyrinth was a much different experience. During the lunch break
I decided to chant the phrase, “I am worthy to receive” as I walked
it. Again Eunice held the energy in the room and exchanged greetings
of “Namaste,” and a prayerful nod with each of us as we entered to walk.
Waiting for my turn, I realized the fear I felt before walking the first
labyrinth was replaced by readiness and comfort. The walk itself was
smooth and I felt energized and stronger as if I were being held up.
Had I been alone I could have glided, danced and flown around the labyrinth.
was right, “Solvitur ambulando…It is solved by walking…”
- Sandra Nelson