06/22/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Many years ago, a friend, who was determined to show me that it was possible for me to meditate, brought me to a labyrinth. I’d been told I should include meditation in my life since I was a squirrely seventeen-year old, but for a long time, meditation was presented to me as something you wore a leotard and tights for, you sat on a pillow in the lotus position, and you shut off all thoughts. Getting into a lotus position was difficult enough, but turn off all thoughts? That doesn’t happen, not for me, and I don’t believe it happens for the majority of us. The function of our brains is to think. Even when we sleep, we think and produce dreams.

But this friend said, “Try a labyrinth.” At first, I confused a labyrinth with a maze, but they are completely different.  A maze is all about finding your way out of a tremendous physical puzzle, with choices and strategy. With a labyrinth, you can’t get lost. Even though the path winds, there is only one way to go.

But I was skeptical when I approached my first labyrinth. It was in a park, and it was lovingly maintained by a garden society, so that there was always something blooming. If nothing else, I figured, I’d get a nice walk out of it. I was willing to try.

And it was a nice walk. I made it to the middle, sat on the meditation bench for a few moments, then began to wind my way out. And it was on that winding out that I realized…my steps had slowed, my eyes drifted from one lovely bloom to the next, and I wasn’t thinking about my schedule, where I was going next, what needed to be done, what I was worried about, or anything at all. My body was loose and relaxed and I was just simply enjoying the moment.

With that, I was hooked.

There will be some that say that this wasn’t meditation, but I feel that there are many different definitions of meditation, and each individual person will find their own way. It was a time of stepping away for me. When thoughts did occur, they were soon behind me with the last looked-at flower and I was just moving along a path where I couldn’t get lost.

Since then, I’ve walked many labyrinths. I look for them when I travel, and they all provide unique experiences. I was even chased by a wild boar in one. Not much relaxation there! I’ve returned to the original labyrinth often, including this last weekend.

Arriving at Regner Park in West Bend, Wisconsin, I felt myself relax before I even set foot in the labyrinth. I was aware of a nagging fear about birds, particularly red-winged blackbirds. It was the height of their nesting season, and as the labyrinth is right next to a river and there are many trees, it is a perfect place for these birds to have their families. I’ve been attacked by red-wings several times, and their calls, especially their warning to stay away, can just freeze me. But I hadn’t walked the labyrinth in over a year, and so I shoved the fear away and soon stood at the “Believe” stone that marked the entrance.

Sometimes, a Moment is made up of solitude and quiet. It wasn’t totally quiet there, as there was traffic going by and a baseball game going on in the park’s diamond, and there were, of course, birds. But no one was talking to me, or at me, or around me, no one was making demands, no one was even close to me. For that Moment, just like the first experience I had with this labyrinth, I set aside worries and fears and to-do lists.

Until I got to the outer ring, which was near a tree, and as I moved toward it, I heard it. The warning call of a red-wing.

Now, the perfectionist in me said, “Stay the path. You walk a labyrinth because you don’t have to think about where you’re going. If you step off, you’re going to have to figure out how to gain those missed steps back.” The fearful person in me said simply, “RUN!” And the ornithophobia (fear of birds) in me froze. I suppose I was waiting to be pecked to death.

And then, my brain, or maybe my heart, kicked in. Carefully, I stepped two rows in. Then I walked far enough to clear the tree, before stepping two rows back and continuing on my way. After my time on the meditation bench (where I sat with my back to the tree), I wound my way back out and followed the same pattern when the tree, and the red-wing warning, approached.

I was not attacked. But I also didn’t run away. Whew.

For some, this may seem like a small Moment, but not all Moments are big. One of my favorite places in my hometown is the riverwalk along the Fox River. Two years ago, I was attacked several times on separate walks by red-winged blackbirds. They attack from behind, and these birds pecked my scalp and bit me behind my ears. Then another red-wing attacked me as I walked behind my home. This time, I fell as I ran, and the bird didn’t give up, but got into my hair and pecked my ears and even my hands when I covered my head. I became the Hitchcock movie, The Birds.

The end result: I haven’t walked the riverwalk in two years. I also haven’t walked around my home in that time. And when I drive my convertible, and I’m stopped by a light and there is the sound of a red-wing, it takes everything in me to keep from running the light.

And now, for those minutes that I stood frozen in the labyrinth at Regner Park, it looked like my love of labyrinths might be carried away by the red-winged blackbird too.

But I found a way.

Small Moment. Huge sigh of relief.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

And by the way, over my years of walking labyrinths, I’ve developed a class, The Labyrinth & The Creative Spirit. I use it to teach writers and visual artists the five steps of the creative process, and then we put those steps to work on a labyrinth, followed by an afternoon of giving life to the ideas the labyrinth brings forth. I will be teaching this class again on July 22nd, from 10 – 3, at Kinstone in Fountain City, WI. You can see info on the class here:  https://www.kinstonecircle.com/events/labyrinth-creative-spirit/

Welcome to the labyrinth at Regner Park in West Bend, Wisconsin.
The Believe stone that marks the entrance.
The labyrinth.
The meditation bench.
Photo from last year’s The Labyrinth & The Creative Spirit class at Kinstone. I’m on the far left. I do walk the labyrinth with my students.

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