When a good friend of mine asked recently if I knew anything about labyrinths I had to pause. If I had thought about them at all, I guess I had always thought of a labyrinth as some sort of dark scary maze from which one might never emerge. My friend is someone who is drawn to healing, meditation and spiritual paths, and she told me she had been looking into them and was amazed at what she found.
A look at Wikipedia informed me that most labyrinths, which have been around since the ancient Greek times, have one definitive path from beginning to end, as opposed to a maze that has dead-ends and multiple options, but what my friend was intrigued by was their use by many people as a ritual or meditative tool. They have been used in many cultures and belief systems and can be found in cathedrals the world over, the most famous being Chartres in France. On doing a little searching she found several in the Boston area: Boston College, Harvard Divinity School, a couple churches in Concord, to name just a few. She sent me the link to a video of Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn talking about the labyrinth she put in her own garden and her experiences walking it. I was hooked.
It turns out there is a beautiful labyrinth on the Rose Kennedy Greenway across from Faneuil Hall in the Armenian Heritage Park. That is a short T ride from our house and very close to the North End. What better way to spend a warm summer evening than to peacefully walk a labyrinth, and then feast on good Italian food?
The labyrinth we went to is a concrete path with grass on either side that winds back and forth and in and out, eventually reaching the center where there is a little fountain. Apparently you are supposed to walk the path slowly and meditatively, keeping a problem, issue, person or prayer in mind as you walk.
My husband gamely agreed to go with me, but as with so many things in life, the path is too narrow to walk side by side, so although we were both there, we each needed to do it alone, at our own pace, on different parts of the path at different times.
And so we walked. I found I had to concentrate on my feet to follow the winding path, step by step, as I went around and around, back and forth, in and out of what was on my mind. Sometimes it seemed like I was close to the center, almost touching the truth, but then the path would move me back out to the edge of the circle giving me more musing, more weaving, more winding. As I walked my focus would wander and then refocus. As with all that life hands out, I tried to trust that the process itself, the journey would lead to clarity even as it meanders.
The labyrinth seemed to offer whatever one needed from it, and people around us were all experiencing it differently.
Some kids were there, running, jumping across the grass, going straight to the fountain at the center, not knowing what the ground was under their feet. They were distracting but I kept focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Others were walking the path purposefully, exchanging nods with those of us who were passing next to them, continuing on the journey, and yet others took it lightly, laughing and racing through it to get to the middle and back. My husband enjoyed the walk to the center, but rather than return on the path, he went right to a bench and relaxed in the summer evening.
When I reached the center I took off my shoes and reveled in the cool water, walking a circle around the fountain a few times, before walking calmly, a bit more quickly back. Ever notice how trips always seem shorter going home from a new place?