March 19, 2012

What’s *that* doing here?

I’ve been walking outdoor labyrinths lately—I love doing this!

Sibley Labyrinths

Labyrinths in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

I’ve experienced these labyrinths as enclosed, safe containers that hold me and all that’s growing in me…

…spaces that honor interior privacy, thanks to the custom of silence and the narrowness of the path…

…sources of nonlinear reverses and surprises that take me close to the center even when I have a long way to go…

…patterns that guide people into nonhierarchical configurations, because the person who started in front of you is now next to you, now behind you, now in front of you again.

An outdoor labyrinth is a holding space held by the larger holding space of Nature, which is held by the larger holding space of the Creator.

It’s hard to escape the feminine imagery in all that I just wrote. When I’m open to receiving this generative aspect of the labyrinth, quieting my “how does it work” and “how do I fix it” mind, I encounter strong and empowering feminine aspects of God and myself.

But! And!

On Thursday I went to Mercy Center and walked their labyrinth, which I’ve walked many times over the course of many years. But never once, until Thursday, did it dawn on me that the upright rock in the center of that labyrinth suggests a decidedly, er, masculine symbol.

Mercy Center labyrinth rock

The center of the
Mercy Center labyrinth

At first this threw me into confusion and something like embarrassment. I had my hand on the rock and pulled it away, resisting an urge to look around and see if anyone was watching me!

But as I reflect on this symbol, I find the idea of it powerfully calming, because it seems to me that the rock makes the symbol complete. The so-called feminine and masculine parts of the symbol have a similar function, but they carry it out differently.

– The circle cuts off possibilities
but encourages meandering.

– The rock expands possibilities
but cuts off meandering.

Here’s what I mean.

In the labyrinth we meander. Without meandering in one way or another, we might lose the depth dimension of life. We might lose the multivalent complexity of the irrational. We might lose the winding road to healing, a beautiful phrase that I saw in a blog today. If, in symbolic terms, I march across the labyrinth and head straight for the rock, don’t I risk becoming trivial, short-sighted, and violent?

But we’re contained by the edge of the circle, and the path leads us to the center, to the heart of the matter. This heart of the matter is the revelation that we carry out to the world—or maybe it’s what gives us the strength to carry our revelations out into the world. The rock suggests outward-facing possibilities and an end to the meandering, or at least a temporary end until it’s time to start the cycle again. If I wander in the circle forever, don’t I risk becoming ungrounded, irrelevant, and ineffective?

I’m reminded of a previous experience on the Mercy labyrinth, which leads my thoughts in interesting directions when I put those idea together with these ideas. But I’ll leave that for another time….