A few weeks ago, A (not her real initial) and I walked the Memorial Labyrinth at Boston College. It was a beautiful (albeit breezy) day, with an older man sitting quietly on a bench reading a Kindle while clusters of students sprawled on the grass studying. It was a sun-soaked, idyllic day, and the labyrinth itself was a joy to walk: complex (as Chartres-style labyrinths always are) but smooth, with its tightly-winding stone path fringed with lush green grass.
It’s a labyrinth I’d like to walk again: on a warm day, I’d like to walk it barefoot, the smooth stones warm beneath my feet. Walking a labyrinth once is almost beside the point: labyrinths all but invite you to walk them again and again, the routine of retracing your steps each time adding to the meditative aspect. This is something I didn’t realize the first and second times I went labyrinth-walking; it’s a lesson I learned only after walking the same labyrinth repeatedly. They say you can’t step into the same river twice, but you can certainly circle the same winding circuit sequentially, time after time, the ritual of returning revealing how you have changed even while the path beneath you has not.
Walking a labyrinth is about losing count, letting go, and walking on. When I first entered the labyrinth at BC, I panicked, thinking I was somehow on the wrong path as it seemed to make a beeline toward the center point: too soon! Only after several steps did I realize the path went straight toward the goal but then deflected into a series of twists and turns, the winding-way I had anticipated. After several coils and re-coils, though, I found myself fretting in the opposite direction: shouldn’t I have made it to the middle already? I found myself needlessly worrying that I’d taken a wrong turn or missed the off-ramp toward my destination: is it possible to walk a labyrinth incorrectly, getting lost on a single circuitous path there and back?
It’s impossible to get lost in a labyrinth: the path wanders but never forks, so you’re guaranteed to get to the center if you just keep walking. But even knowing this, I found myself worrying along the way: was I walking too slow or too fast? Had I somehow missed a step or lost my direction? It’s impossible not to read life metaphors into all of this: how much of our life’s journey is spent fretting over our direction and destination? How much of our life do we spend worrying whether we’re doing it right, wrong, too slow, or too fast, as if someone is drumming the time we’re supposed to keep, but we can’t hear it?
Eventually, if a labyrinth’s winding way is long enough, your worries slide away and you reach a point where you’re just walking, paying heed to the path before you but otherwise not thinking about much of anything. If you walk long enough, you eventually lose count of where you’re going and how many twists and turns it takes to get you there. If you walk long enough, you realize the destination isn’t the circle at the labyrinth’s center but the segment of stone that lies directly beneath your feet. At that moment, you realize the true lesson of any labyrinth: that you’d already arrived before you ever set out.
I don’t know why I’m so eager to go labyrinth walking. It’s not like walking a labyrinth is different from walking elsewhere, other than you’re walking in circles, then retracing your steps: you’re literally going nowhere. But the intentionality of labyrinths makes the process seem significant: this particular place–this particular walk–is different from all others. It’s the conundrum of sacred places: God presumably dwells everywhere, but some places seem super-charged with divine presence. Normally, walking is a matter of getting somewhere, but labyrinth-walking (like other forms of meditation) is about Being Here and going nowhere other than ’round.
Click here for more photos of the Boston College memorial labyrinth: enjoy!