Monday, September 20, 2010


There aren’t many times in life that you get to sink entirely into the moment, putting one foot in front of the other without any idea where the next bend in the path will take you, and still remain certain that you’ll reach your goal.

There aren’t many times in life that getting lost feels so safe. Or, as a consequence of it feeling so safe, when it’s possible to learn from the experience of getting lost so easily and directly. Or more to the point: when your sense of being lost is revealed as only an illusion, because all you need do is follow the path.

If you’ve never walked a labyrinth, it’s probably time for you to find one. It will teach you all this and more. One of the best-known of these virtual pilgrimage routes is laid out on the floor of Chartres Cathedral. Its pattern reappears in copies all over the world–in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco; at Trinity Square in Toronto; in Boston; in Hong Kong. You can look for one close to you at

There’s one way in, and you have no decisions to make once you’ve embarked. The path will take you to the center. Walk it as quickly or as slowly as you need. At the center may lie the deepest goal of your life; a desire you long for that seems so distant you have no idea how to reach it; the answer to a prayer. Or your death. Or Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi, Bodh Gaya. Once you arrive, you can choose to linger; or you can walk right back out again, either way retracing the steps that brought you there.

You will enter and find yourself immediately almost at your goal. Then the path will take a hairpin turn, and suddenly you’ll tread the very periphery once more, closer to where you started than where you’re headed. You will have this experience again and again before you reach the place you’ve sought all along.

You may find yourself on the path alone, or follow a friend, or lead him in. You may walk with strangers who have also converged on this place. You will make your way forward just a few paces behind someone, only to find him, a few breaths later, arcing out of sight across a widening gyre, then approaching you once more, his shoulder almost grazing yours as you pass. Perhaps you’ll meet at the center. Or perhaps he’ll have left to start his return before you arrive.

You may gaze from the center back out to a scene of people passing by, engaged in their daily business, as through a subtle veil woven of your breath, your movement, your intentions. A child may run across the space in impatient fascination. Your experience today will not repeat the experience of your last walk; nor will you repeat it, at least not exactly, in the future. But wisdom will rise up from the earth through your feet as they carry your weight forward through time and space.

1 comment:

  1. Mike Goettee sent me this comment and I pass it on, since Blogger foiled his attempts to post it directly:

    The first labyrinth I walked was patterned after the Chartres design. What you say about nearing your goal at first and then finding yourself near the beginning again and again was the first strong lesson I learned. Your path may LOOK like it's not taking you where you want to go, but that may not be true. The second lesson I learned was that life may appear to be more like a maze with multiple routes and dead ends. But actually, it's a labyrinth with one, continuous path to your goal. And you can't really get lost.