Corona virus time feels labyrinthine, the pandemic tangle, like those sacred paths, unfamiliar. Spiraling vulnerability. No clear course through.
I remember my first labyrinth. Two of my dear friends, Jean and Alex, both sixty-three, died days before I stepped –as an experiment —into that web-like design, symbolic of our human journeys. My mind, tortuous with their deaths, turned like the twisty labyrinthine lines in the Tucson, Arizona desert where our group stood.
Our leader, Serena, invited us into our first strides, “Navigating labyrinths can help navigate grief. Enter with curiosity. Follow the puzzling path. Meander to the center. As a tool designed for us to find our way, labyrinths take us through complications and complexities. Like life.”
My mind shut; muscles tightened. I wanted to rant in crisis mode, “Not fair! Sixty-three? Too young! Too soon!”
Serena continued, “Labyrinths are riddles, like the riddles of living entanglements. They ravel and unravel. After winding and shifting through the pattern to the center, rest there. Breathe. Ask questions about unwinding and shifting your concerns. As you leave, –the way to the end is uncertain–listen for help with your troubles.”
I groped for explanations of life and death. As my feet tread this muddle, I wondered how we should, how we could, tread in our muddled existences, since I had seen so many mortal non-linear trails. I sauntered to the center, then pivoted to the Four Directions, as instructed, and bowed, honoring North, East, South and West. I asked, “What am I to learn from these two early deaths of good people, doing good work in the world?”
Next, I stood in the place that Serena said could order the chaos of our labyrinthine lifespans. And I waited.
Gazing at the surrounding Santa Catalina mountains, I heard a voice within, “Life is a gift, meant to be opened and enjoyed. Relax and trust the path you are on.”
I wanted something big, something like, “Continue the service work of Jean and Alex.”
I asked, “That’s it?”
I heard, “Yes. That’s it. Open, enjoy, relax, trust. Lifecycles, zig-zagged like this, are easier than you’re making them.”
Jean and Alex could have, would have, said that.
Years later, jogging around Casco Bay’s Mackworth Island, I noticed on the rough hillside a small sign: “Labyrinth.” I sensed from the brightly-painted bricks, unevenly placed with patchy gaps between them, that these circles had been crafted by schoolchildren.
Mackworth’s creation had no center. “A labyrinth needs a center,” I grumbled, “a spot to stop, rest, listen, receive messages. This is a maze, not a labyrinth.”
Again, I heard echoes of Jean and Alex, “Open your mind and heart, relax, trust.”
Left. Right. I walked in and out of the child-like pastel footpath, then stood still, inhaled, and pivoted to the four directions: Falmouth, Open Ocean, Portland, Westbrook. Exhaling, my muscles and judgment softened.
Yes, pandemic days feel labyrinthine, rough, with patchy gaps in knowledge, winding steps toward a vaccine, unknown pathways out of worldwide spread, challenges of feeling lost through experiment after experiment, and uncertainty about the end. Raveling and unraveling. Unanswered questions in this tortuous crisis Covid moment.
Maybe the pandemic teaches us the need to shift and pivot out of our old thinking to find our way through virus jumble into new modes of being. Left. Right. To come from our center. To open our minds and hearts to twists and turns. To ask hard questions. And, even with unsure movement and outcome, to listen for the gifts in new and unexpected answers.