Pedestrian thoughts


Two pumpkins

Thanksgiving Day is one of the few times you can say that downtown Boston has ample free parking. On a typical weekend, it’s easier to take the T than to drive into the city from the suburbs, but today J and I chose to drive down Beacon Street from Newton into the Back Bay, where we knew we’d easily find a (free) metered parking space.

Albania soccer scarf

On Thanksgiving, downtown residents tend to head elsewhere for the holiday, so it’s a rare opportunity to wander the usual sites without having to face throngs of traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. On the Commonwealth Mall, only a few locals were walking dogs; at the Public Garden, only a few tourists posed on the bridge for pictures. On Boston Common, one woman encouraged a squirrel to climb onto her lap while her friend snapped pictures; nearby, a mother photographed her daughter feeding a writhing throng of pigeons, including two that landed directly on her hand.

Central Burying Ground

“This is the emptiest you’ll ever see Newbury Street,” I remarked as J and I crossed an almost-empty street, only a handful of people strolling down the typically packed sidewalks. Only at the Central Burying Ground, a historic cemetery at one corner of Boston Common, did the deserted vibe seem natural, not atypical. Whereas I’m used to Boston being bustling, things are always quiet at the Central Burying Ground, regardless of whether it’s Thanksgiving or any other day.

This is my Day Twenty-Seven contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Changing leaves

Today between classes at Framingham State, I took a quick walk around campus, venturing no further than a block from my office, where I now sit typing these words. Normally, taking a walk around the block is no big deal: normally, my midday walks are limited by time rather than distance, with at least one alarm to let me know when I need to stop wandering and resume working. But today is the first day since I’ve been sick that I’ve had enough extra energy to take even a short stroll, so walking around the block feels like a momentous occasion.

Changing leaves

This time last week, I was so exhausted from constant coughing, I had to stop and rest whenever I climbed a flight of stairs. This time last week, I ran out of breath on my way from my doctor’s parking lot to the reception desk: a distance of only a hundred yards. This time last week, walking wasn’t a relaxing, mind-clearing pastime: it was a strenuous, seemingly impossible activity that triggered coughing fits and crippling waves of exhaustion. This time last week, walking was an ordeal to be endured only when absolutely necessary.

Changing leaves

Today I had the strength to take a walk, and although it was a very short one, it feels good to be among pedestrians again. Your world grows very small when you’re unable to move under your own power. Instead of admiring the scenery, you focus myopically on distances, shortcuts, and the number of tiring steps between Here and There. When you’re too sick to walk, your body becomes an impediment: something to be dragged along rather than the source of self-sufficient power. Every day, I feel my body strengthen. On Monday, I was so desperate for a nap between classes, I laid my head on the café table where I hold impromptu office hours, not caring who saw me snoozing and drooling on my folded hands. Yesterday, I taught three classes without napping in between, and today, I took a walk.

This is my Day Thirteen contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Aqueduct trail

Not far from our house, a pair of paths comes close to crossing, their two courses running along a pair of underground aqueducts that once brought water from the outlying suburbs of Boston into the thirsty city. During the proverbial dog days, the aqueduct trail nearest our house offers a welcome spot of shade, and year round, it provides a green corridor for the wild creatures who find shelter in the suburbs: the turkeys who stride through backyards, the hawks who perch over parking lots, and the raccoons that doze in the forks of fat pine boughs, visible only to the folks who look up and into the trees.

Red-tailed hawk

I used to walk Reggie religiously on the segment of trail nearest our house, using it to circle our block: a quiet place for an elderly dog to sniff and pee. I still walk this trail several times a week, either with J or with our beagle, Melony: it’s a shady shortcut to other places, or a green detour around the block. I’m sure we have neighbors who have never set foot on this trail, which wends through backyards and occasionally skirts quiet driveways, the trail seemingly ending at a stranger’s house. But the path predates any of these backyards, driveways, or houses: the path continues on, further than I’ve ever walked on it, ending at a reservoir several miles from our house, a lingering sign of urban thirst.

Red-tailed hawk

Whenever I walk along the aqueducts, I encounter people I seldom see elsewhere in our neighborhood: dog-walkers, joggers, mothers walking their backpack-laden children to school, and pairs of women pumping their arms as they walk-and-talk their daily workout. One morning while I was walking Reggie, who was old and arthritic at the time, we passed an elderly woman wearing a neck brace sitting on a log, as if her caretaker had planted her there to rest a while. “You’re so patient with him,” the woman said, nodding toward Reggie: one old soul recognizing another. “What other choice do I have,” I thought but didn’t say, returning her silent nod instead.

Red-tailed hawk

We live in an age where most of us don’t know where our water comes from. We turn the tap and water magically appears, or we buy water in plastic bottles at the store, our empties choking the ocean for all eternity. In our neighborhood, household water coolers are popular, so we see a steady stream of trucks delivering large jugs of spring water for home consumption. Water from one state is trucked into another to perpetuate an illusion of purity: if you can’t see where your water comes from, you don’t have to worry about where it’s been.

Molting

I seldom think about the old aqueduct while I’m walking the path that marks its course, but sometimes I do stop in my tracks, imagining the pipes that still lie buried like a bony spine beneath my feet. My walks trace an abandoned way of water, but does the water itself remember how it once flowed?

Several years ago, a catastrophic leak in the present-day water supply for the greater Boston area forced local officials to draw water from the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which was formerly fed water from Framingham sent along one of these old aqueducts. I’ve walked past the reservoir in Framingham, I’ve walked along the old aqueducts here in Newton, and I’ve walked around the reservoir in Chestnut Hill, my feet tracing the ways that water once wended to quench the thirst and douse the fires of Boston. Now that the western suburbs suck water from even more westerly communities, we drink the water in our own backyard only in an emergency.

Red-tailed hawk

In the natural world, water carves its own channels, finding the lowest course and following centuries-old paths. In the natural world, water has a memory so long and strong, Native Americans made promises intended to last as long as the grass grows and river flows. The way of water is steady and resilient, effortlessly returning to its accustomed flow. We humans are the ones who forget the way of water: we humans are the ones who don’t know where to quench our thirst or how to wend our way home.

Although I did indeed walk on the aqueduct trail today, I didn’t take any photos. The picture at the top of today’s post comes from last October, and the other photos are from July, 2011.

Halcyon Lake

I didn’t take any pictures at Mount Auburn Cemetery yesterday, when Seon Joon and I walked there. But I’d taken pictures when A (not her real initial) and I walked at Mount Auburn this time last year, and I’d taken pictures when Leslee and I walked at Mount Auburn the year before that. I’m in the habit, it seems, of meeting friends for cemetery strolls in July, when it’s hot and the shade beckons.

Woman and child

I’m not alone in this regard. Yesterday at Mount Auburn, Seon Joon and I saw a steady stream of visitors exploring the cemetery on foot and in slow-coasting cars, and as we enjoyed conversation and a brisk breeze atop Washington Tower, we were joined by a quiet queue of other visitors enjoying panoramic views of Cambridge, Watertown, and a hazy Boston skyline.

I’ve written before about my history at Mount Auburn, a place I started visiting when I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center in the mid-1990s. That means I’ve been going to Mount Auburn to walk, birdwatch, sketch, and simply unwind for nearly twenty years. Seon Joon had never been to Mount Auburn, so now that she’s moved to Cambridge, I felt an odd obligation to introduce her to one of my favorite places. I know from experience that if you’re going to weather the urban intensity of Central and Harvard Squares, you need to know where to find quiet pockets of green serenity.

Beloved daughter Maria

Mount Auburn, like any cemetery, is intended as a final resting place for the dearly departed…but for nearly twenty years, it’s served me as an interim resting place, a green oasis where I’ve returned, repeatedly. Seon Joon used the image of a compass point to describe Mount Auburn: here is a known place in a sea of unfamiliar places, somewhere to plant a figurative map-pin as she navigates a new city. I like to think of Mount Auburn as being a kind of secular Mecca: a compass-point that wields a magnetic pull, the faces of its faithful turning and re-turning to this spot that beckons like a green beacon.

Vigilant - May 5 / Day 125

Yesterday J and I made our more-or-less yearly pilgrimage to Revere Beach, where we followed our established tradition of taking the T to Wonderland, eating seafood in the shady pavilion across the street from Kelly’s Roast Beef, then walking the beach back to the bathhouse, where we catch the T for home. We take this same trip strolling this same stretch of shore every year or so, usually in the off-season, when the beach is empty save for other walkers. Revere Beach has become a place J and I go to stroll rather than swim, counting ourselves among the long-sleeve beachcombers rather than the swimsuit-clad sunbathers.

Cold wading

Yesterday was a bright but brisk day, so there were few waders and even fewer sunbathers at Revere Beach. Instead, there were dog-walkers, seashell-seekers, kite-flyers, cyclists, parents puttering around with kids, guys kicking soccer balls, and guys playing volleyball. It was a shorts-and-sweatshirt kind of day—perfect for walking—and the ubiquitous seagulls seemed resigned to the fact that few folks were picnicking, so they had to forage food from the surf rather than begging handouts from humans. Without the distraction of beach blankets, beach umbrellas, beach balls, and an endless ocean of beach bodies, J and I enjoyed the relative solitude of a low-tide shoreline strewn with seaweed and seashells.

Takeoff

If J and I were tourists visiting from afar, we might have been disappointed by a beach day that was too cold for wading, much less swimming. But since Revere Beach is an easy T-ride away, we don’t have to hope for perfect beach weather to go stroll the shore. Any day, it turns out, is a good day to walk the beach, at least if you remember to bring a sweatshirt. Any day, it turns out, is a good day to take a good long walk on the sun-kissed edge of sea and sky.

Click here for more photos from yesterday’s stroll at Revere Beach. Enjoy!

Cold flamingos - Feb 17 / Day 48

Yesterday, J and I walked to Boston College for an afternoon men’s hockey game. BC is about three miles from our house, so walking there and back is a healthy hike in good weather…and yesterday, we were weathering the aftermath of our latest snowstorm, which meant walking through ankle-deep, un-shoveled snow for most of the way.

Gave up

A lot of New Englanders are getting sick of snow at this point of the winter, as illustrated by this castoff shovel J and I saw along the way. (Maybe we should have taken it to clear our own path.) I’ve found from experience, though, that the weather is easier to deal with, paradoxically, if you get out in it. Once you’re moving, the cold isn’t as intolerable as you had imagined from inside, and the snow isn’t as slippery as you’d thought.

Toppled stop sign

The walk home after the game was a bit easier than the trek there: walking home, we travel mostly downhill, and we’d made a mental note of how to avoid the most treacherous drifts and snow-banks. Walking home, we were largely retracing our steps, treading a still-snowy path that had nevertheless been trampled by other intrepid pedestrians. It was dark on our walk home, so we had to stride blindly into our own footsteps rather than primly picking a meticulous path. On the walk home, we quickly settled into a smooth, almost fluid gait that felt like cross-country skiing, minus the skis: just one foot following the other, two mates in single file.

Civil War soldier outside Edgell Library

On Wednesday afternoon I took a walk from Framingham State to the town common and back: a direction I hadn’t walked before. I took the pedestrian footbridge over Route 9, which I’d seen from my car but had never actually taken, then I walked down to the common, where I happened upon two things Google Maps hadn’t told me about.

Edgell Library with Civil War soldier

I’ve been relying upon Google Maps to chart my midday walking routes on days I teach in Framingham because I’m still unfamiliar with the lay of the land. Apart from a trip to the Garden in the Woods years ago, I’d never really been to Framingham (other than to pass through it) before I was hired to teach at Framingham State this past summer. For the first month of the fall semester, when my sprained foot made it uncomfortable for me to explore on foot, I knew only how to drive from my house to campus and then how to walk from my parking spot to my classrooms and office. Since walking around is how I typically get to know a place, during the first month of the semester I felt particularly transient and ungrounded, unable to do anything other than show up, teach my classes, and go home: a kind of “time-clock mentality” that felt completely at odds with how I usually settle into a new place.

Edgell Library

If you aren’t familiar with a particular town, maps are a great way to “let your fingers do the walking,” as the old advertisement for the Yellow Pages used to say. Once you’ve determined the precise point that marks “you are here,” you can scan in any direction to see what looks interesting enough to explore on foot. Scanning Google Maps is how I figured out how to walk from my office to the Winter Street side of Framingham Reservoir No. 1, and it’s how I figured out how to walk from my office to the Salem End side of the same body of water. When I scan Google Maps before setting out on my midday walk, I’m basically looking for two things. First, I’m looking for patches of green or blue, since those typically mark parks and waterways; second, I’m looking for a simple, easy-to-remember route to and from something that looks like I can walk to it, explore a bit, then walk back in less than an hour.

Autumn on the common

I’m gradually realizing that although Google Maps will show you the route there and back again, it won’t tell you all you need to know as a pedestrian. One of the things I’ve had mixed luck with in my Framingham rambles, for example, is sidewalk accessibility. Several of the roads I’ve already explored have sidewalks in some places but not in others, which means either crossing from one side of the road to the other, depending on which side has either a sidewalk or berm, or walking along the edge of the road, hoping passing drivers both see you and give you space. Walking along a roadside can be charming if there’s a leafy, wildflower-strewn edge between the road and wilderness, or it feel like a nerve-wracking game of chicken with passing vehicles. So far in my Framingham adventures, I’ve experienced a bit of both.

Framingham town common

The other thing Google Maps won’t tell you is what exactly how far it is between Here and There or the exact things you might see along the way. I’m not very good at gauging walking distances on a map, especially on maps where you can zoom your view in or out, so there have been days when I thought I’d have to walk a fair distance to reach something that was much closer than I’d expected. (This is particularly true of Framingham State’s campus, which is smaller than it appears on the campus map.) Walk Jog Run is a good tool to use for calculating distances traveled on foot, and Google’s “street view” feature can give you an idea of what you might see along any given route, but on most days I don’t take the time preview my walk on either site; I just set out to see what I can see.

On Wednesday, there were two surprises on my way to and from Framingham common. First, I had no idea that the Framingham History Center, which abuts the town common, is housed in an impressive stone building where even the Greek pillars are cobbled together with stone.

Cobbled

Although I didn’t have time to go inside the FHC, I made a mental note to return on a more leisurely day, and I enjoyed briefly watching a flock of cedar waxwings working a row of berry-studded crab-apple trees in the parking lot behind the building: the kind of serendipitous find Google Maps could have never prepared me for.

Two waxwings

Second, I didn’t realize from my cursory look at Google Maps that there is a large, woodsy old cemetery right down the street from the Framingham town common: Edgell Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum, which was consecrated in 1848 and emulates Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, one of my favorite places to walk. Discovering there is a large garden cemetery within easy walking distance from campus was even more serendipitous than finding waxwings behind the historical center, since those waxwings were presumably just passing through, but I’ll definitely return to Edgell Grove. (If nothing else, the red-tailed hawk I saw zoom across one of the cemetery’s gravel roads served as a kind of avian welcome-wagon: if hawks frequent Edgell Grove, then I know it’s the kind of place I’ll enjoy visiting.)

The Old Academy Building

The only downside to Edgell Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum is that photography isn’t allowed there, so I’ll have to content myself with walking around and admiring the scenery without taking pictures. This assortment of photos might give you a sense of what Edgell Grove looks like, though, and it might give you a sense of why I plan to go back. When you’re getting to know an unfamiliar town on foot, you can do worse than to frequent cobblestone historical centers and old, woodsy cemeteries.

Plenty of pokeweed

Yesterday afternoon, after I got home from teaching, J and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, and for the first time in weeks my body didn’t hurt. The foot I’d sprained last month wasn’t swollen or sore, and my hip (which I’d tweaked when I was limping around, favoring my foot) wasn’t stiff and aching.

On the fence

It was the first time in more than a month when walking actually felt good. I wasn’t counting steps, looking for shortcuts, or anticipating the end of the walk, nor was I lamenting every step as pain. I could simply walk—and enjoy walking—without worry, as I used to do, my body free and unencumbered. I’m learning that this is one seemingly inevitable part of growing older: you feel grateful for what you used to take for granted as “normal.” A good day isn’t one where something particularly special happens; a good day is when nothing bad happens. “No new aches and pains”—something unremarkable when you were younger—becomes cause for celebration.

On the fence

I’ve missed walking while I’ve been recovering. Walking has always been one of my favorite pastimes, an exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. Walking is my favorite way of clearing my head and getting both my blood and creative juices flowing. For me, walking is an intellectual activity, an exercise for the mind as well as the body. Spending more than a month on forced rest, walking only a little here and there while constantly monitoring how either my foot or hip felt, has been challenging, as if the bounds of both my world and my interests had shrunk. When I’m sedentary, I grow sluggish, and I don’t enjoy life as a slug.

One of the things I’m looking forward to now that my body is better is exploring around Framingham State more. On the days I’m in Framingham, I teach in the early morning and late afternoon, with a substantial break in between. For the past month, I’ve been spending that break in my office catching up with work rather than wandering, trying to give my foot the rest it needs to get better. Now that walking is no longer a (literal) pain, I’m looking forward to getting out of my office and exploring a new-to-me campus and town: an excellent way to break up my break.

Prayer in motion

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.

Prayer in motion

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.

Prayer in motion

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?

Prayer in motion

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?

Prayer in motion

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.

Prayer in motion

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!

Parking lot labyrinth

A few weeks ago, A (not her real initial) emailed me a photo of a green, grassy labyrinth she’d walked near Cincinnati, Ohio: her first. In my response, I mentioned that I’ve walked a labyrinth in a parking lot off Church Street in downtown Keene, NH several times these past few weeks, on evenings when I’m teaching at Keene State. What a strange contrast between these two labyrinths, with A’s lush, leafy one looking so much more alluring–so much more inviting, soft, and contemplative–than mine of bare blacktop.

Parking lot labyrinth

Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, Keene’s parking lot labyrinth is close at hand, so I use it, not every Tuesday and Thursday, but enough days to make it worthwhile: a sanctuary close by. If you had to choose whether to have your sacred spaces in the world or not of it, which would you choose? I love the thought of walking a leafy labyrinth in a faraway, tranquil spot—anywhere but here—but at the same time I know I’d rarely, if ever, bring myself to that place. Labyrinths are themselves supposed to represent the travails of pilgrimage, but it shouldn’t take a pilgrimage to get there. I’ve grown to like Keene’s bare blacktop labyrinth because it’s already begun to feel like it’s mine: almost empty right after 5 pm, with only a few lingering parked cars and strangers going to or from their business, mostly ignoring me, a middle-aged woman in a long skirt or dress walking in circles, quickly, in their parking lot.

Parking lot labyrinth

I walk Keene’s downtown labyrinth quickly, not slowly and meditatively. In other cases, with other labyrinths, I’ve walked meditatively, but the whole point of my evening walks in Keene is not to dally. I have a class to get back to campus for, and my head is typically full of thoughts: whatever paper-grading or class-prepping or email-answering I’d been doing moments before during my office hour. I arrive to the downtown labyrinth with a full, distracted head, full of clamoring thoughts, so the only way to remedy the situation is to walk it off.

Winding

And so I walk briskly, at the same pace that I walk anywhere on my evening walks: a fast, steady stride. When you walk a labyrinth quickly, you have to concentrate intently on the path beneath you: there’s no skipping that. The turns in any labyrinth are tight and narrow, so you have to place your feet carefully, stepping precisely into your own footsteps. But you can do this at any speed, and in this case I enjoy walking briskly, perhaps because then my feet are in tune with the cluttered, racing thoughts that jangle in my head like loose keys and coins, or perhaps because rapid walking is such a welcome relief from the slow-poking walks I’ve taken for the past few years, when I lived with an old dog.

2004-11-06a

Walking a labyrinth swiftly is a different kind of meditation than walking one slowly: they each have their respective benefits. When you walk a labyrinth slowly, you can pay attention to the angle and arch of each foot as it falls, and you can pay attention to your body and breath as they settle into each stride. When you walk a labyrinth quickly, however, you pay attention to the path ahead of you, focusing outside of yourself, your thoughts, and your own corporeality. You aren’t thinking about the fact that you have a body; you’re simply moving in that body. Your walking, in other words, takes on a life of its own, with no thinking necessary. You simply follow the next step, then the next, then the next. Instead of being an exercise in mindfulness, this is an exercise in mindlessness: with each step, your thoughts sooth and settle as you leave your mind alone. It’s like letting a restless creature off its leash to race and pace at its own speed, your mental greyhound chasing its own fake rabbit round and around, lapping.

2004-11-06b

I think in an ideal life, one’s spiritual practice would have a time and a place for both kinds of practice, fast and slow. Sitting is slow, as is (typically) walking meditation. But in my Zen school at least, both chanting and bowing are fast: a time to let your body simply be a body as it runs at its own brisk clip. It’s fine and good to stop and think—it’s fine and good to take time to be contemplative. But for many of us, stopping to think easily turns into obsession and repetition as we rehearse time and again the same old litanies of worry, speculation, and regret. At times like this, stopping to think might be counterproductive, so doing anything fast and physical is a good antidote. Instead of trying to stop a racing mind, let your body outpace it.

2005-09-13b

I’m not a runner, but I admire runners because I can imagine, vividly, the hypnotic power of step following each step. I’m not a runner, but as a walker I love to reach that point after you’ve been walking fast and long when your body seems to lengthen, your legs feel light, and you can almost feel the earth turning slowly and broadly beneath your feet, like an enormous curved treadmill, your steps exactly in time with its rotation.

2005-09-13a

The builders of labyrinths are brilliant, I think, because they recognize this way that body and soul are connected: more accurately, they recognize the link between mind and sole. As a body thinks, so does it walk. If you want to get to the bottom of an infinite head-full of thoughts, try walking it out, one footstep for every thought.

On nights when parked cars make it impossible for me to walk the labyrinth in Keene, I sometimes walk part of the Industrial Heritage Trail, the rail-trail bike path that goes behind my former apartment. It’s a trail I walked many times with Reggie, at least when he was young and fit enough for long walks: it was the closest nearby place where I could let him off leash, and he’d run ahead in his own time while I lingered behind, snapping pictures of shadows and trees.

2005-09-13c

Everyone should have a place close at hand where they can let their mental dog off leash to sniff, explore, and race ahead. On the railtrail, Reggie was safe because a fringe of trees on either side hemmed him in: he could race ahead, but he couldn’t bolt far to either side. I didn’t need to worry about traffic or about Reggie wandering off where I couldn’t find him.

Coiled

This is, in a sense, how a labyrinth works. Because you don’t have to worry about getting lost, you can let your brain off-leash. You don’t have to pay attention to where you’re going, just to the fact that you are going. Paying attention to the next step is enough: no more planning or foresight is necessary than that.

Walking a labyrinth is a great exercise in trust. Do you have enough faith to take the next step, even if you aren’t sure exactly where it leads? Are you trusting enough to take the next step, even if it feels like you’re running in circles?

Labyrinth parking

These days, I don’t know what the future holds, but every day I know exactly what I need to do today. Walking a labyrinth underscores the idea that taking care of today—the next step—is enough to get you there and back safely, without undue worry or exertion. Don’t worry about the destination, which will come in due time: just keep going. It’s a lesson that we need every day, everywhere, regardless of whether we live with a labyrinth near.

Today’s post is illustrated with photos of the parking lot labyrinth off Church Street in downtown Keene, which I blogged in December, 2010; a visiting labyrinth at Keene State College, which I blogged in November, 2004; and the labyrinth behind the First Baptist Church in Keene, which I blogged in September, 2005.

« Previous PageNext Page »