By Lissa Rankin, MD
Founder of Owning Pink.com
I’ve always wanted to walk a labyrinth – you know those spiraled paths that lead nowhere and everywhere.
I was in luck. Kripalu, where I was teaching a workshop recently, had one that was reputed to be particularly magical. And I got enmeshed in walking the labyrinth as the sun set for over an hour.
The First Time
To enter the labyrinth, you walk through a gate and then follow the blossom-lined path, where tall grasses brush your bare legs this time of year. You curve right and then start to spiral around – and then the path changes and suddenly you’re going the other direction.
You walk quite a while and find yourself parallel to where you just were, a ways back. Your legs start to feel tired, and you find yourself a bit frustrated because you’re really not getting anywhere. At least that’s how it feels.
Just when you think you’re approaching the center of the labyrinth – PSYCH! You were wrong. It’s time to double back and go the opposite direction, away from where you thought you were going. You feel like you’re backtracking. You wonder if you’re lost. You consider turning around. You hunt for someone who might give you directions.
Then you remember that there’s really only one way in and one way out of a labyrinth, and you simply must trust the path.
On you walk, longer than you expected. You thought you’d be there by now. But you’re not. You can see that someone else who is walking the labyrinth has reached the center. You wonder how she got there. You try to find her footprints. You can’t seem to trace them. You feel a little lost again.
But you cling to your faith and you keep walking, turning blind corners, following the well-worn trail. As you go, you start noticing the variety of the flowers. You notice how the sky is turning pink. You hear the birds singing.
Suddenly, you get lost in the journey. You stare in wonder at the butterfly on your way. You stop and smell the earthy scent of the loamy dirt beneath your feet. You look behind you at where you’ve been to make sure you didn’t miss something.
You start humming to yourself and barely notice that the other person is now gone, somehow escaped form the labyrinth altogether.
Then the path ends. You are there. In the center of the labyrinth lies an altar. People have placed notes and stones and sacred trinkets at the base of a pole that marks the center. You kneel at the altar, grateful for having arrived.
Then you realize you haven’t arrived. You have only just begun. The only way back out is the way you came in. You retrace your steps. You can see where people have skipped the walk back, where they have jumped the hedge to hopscotch straight from the altar to the gate where you entered. You wonder why someone would want to rush it. You notice the path, twisting and turning.
At one point, you get tired. It’s been a long walk. You can see the temptation, why someone might want to skip certain parts, get to the good part and get out. But you come back to the presence of walking at the labyrinth at Kripalu and remember there is nothing but this very moment and nothing else really matters.
You keep walking.
The bees buzz. The birds chirp. The sky is deepening into a fiery salmon color, the light is dimming. You can’t see the path quite as well anymore. Shadows are gone and darkness is taking over. It still seems a long way out.
But you trust the path. You have to trust the path.
You wind. You curve. You look over your shoulder, questioning yourself, and then you laugh at how silly you’re being. You put one foot in front of the other, thank God for this moment, turn right, turn left – and then…there it is. The gate through which you entered.
You hesitate to go through it, back into the rest of the world. But you do, feeling a sense of accomplishment, although you have actually accomplished both nothing and everything.
The Second Time
So you do it again. You can’t help yourself. This time it is dark. Only the moon lights the way.
This time, you can’t see the flowers quite so well. There is nobody else here. You wander, slowly, you’re not in such a rush this time. You’ll get there when you get there.
You’re not really thinking by the time you finish the second time. You feel deeply connected. You trust. You’re relaxed. You’ve come to trust the journey. You’ve done it before, but even so, you’re surprised at every turn. Yet, somehow – having gotten lost and then been found, you’re not afraid this time.
You realize that it’s really not the destination you’re after, but the journey.
What I Learned From Walking The Labyrinth at Kripalu
Walking the labyrinth was a potent reminder to me that we often feel like we’re walking in circles, getting nowhere. We feel like we’re doubling back, returning to where we were long ago, feeling like we’re wasting our time, failing to progress, getting lost.
But even if you get there, the journey keeps going. The goal is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. So why not embrace the journey and release attachment to the destination?
Ah yes. I needed to learn that at this point in my life.
What about you?
Have you walked a labyrinth? Are you attached to the destination? What do you think?
Happily walking in circles,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.