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Through Lattice Windows: Walking The Labyrinth

...We were a small group; about ten women. From the time we entered the chapel, we would maintain silence in order to tune in to the inner movements of our souls. The space was filled with the fragrance of flowers. Lilting music with evocative lyrics played in the background...

Leanne Hunt tells of the vital, last-for-ever lessons she learned when she walked the labyrinth.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity of walking a labyrinth as a spiritual exercise. a labyrinth is a kind of convoluted pathway that appears like a maze from the outside but, in fact, is a single narrow route to a central location. In this case, the labyrinth was chalked onto the floor of a chapel.

Because of my extremely poor eyesight, I was apprehensive about taking part. What if I couldn't see in the dim light and lost my way? It was supposed to be a sacred ritual. What if I made a mess of it and spoiled it for everyone else?

The retreat leader , being aware of my difficulty, would have excused me if I had but asked. There was no pressure to participate. We were all there to deepen our own spiritual experience, so no-one was going to judge me if I chose not to do it.

But I wanted to. I had read about labyrinths and their mystical value. I knew that I would regret it if I did not take the opportunity offered me. In all my years, this was the first and only time I had met someone who could conduct such an exercise. If I didn't do it now, I might never again get the chance and then all I would have would be an empty longing each time labyrinths were mentioned.

So I took my courage in my hands and joined the others. We were a small group; about ten women. From the time we entered the chapel, we would maintain silence in order to tune in to the inner movements of our souls. The space was filled with the fragrance of flowers. Lilting music with evocative lyrics played in the background.

I took my seat along the wall while the first woman made her way to a point indicated on the floor. This was, I realized, the entrance to the winding path. From where I sat, the only markings I could see were about four parallel lines in front of me. I had no idea where the lines went or how they were arranged. From watching the others, I could tell that the path involved an intricate series of loops, but it was impossible to discern any sort of pattern.

At last, my turn came. I stood up, moved towards the spot on the floor where the others had started their walk, and looked down. At my feet I saw a set of lines stretching ahead of me. With my heart in my throat, I took my first tentative steps.

Suddenly, the path turned. I turned with it and realized, with a jolt, that I was already learning my first startling lesson. The spiritual journey doesn't go the way you expect it to. Perhaps more than anyone else there, I was experiencing not knowing what lay ahead, because I simply could not see further than my own toes. If I stopped, the path ahead of me remained obscure. If I moved, it became clear. The secret - keep moving forward.

The next challenge came when someone approached me on a neighboring path. Heads lowered, we did not acknowledge each other except to move aside slightly so as not to break the reverential atmosphere. I realized that here was another lesson; pilgrims on the journey are not in competition or alliance. They walk alone, wrapped in their own presence, and yet part of a great company whose presence creates an aura of holiness.

Further along, the pathway got narrower and more convoluted than ever. I had to walk carefully in order not to stumble. If I took my eyes off the path and made a wrong move, I could end up in a completely foreign sector of the labyrinth, unsure of whether to go forward or backward. It was essential to pay close attention and not even be distracted by the words of the songs that were playing.

I concentrated on my footsteps and found my life's journey coming into focus. I was headed somewhere, although I still had no idea where that was or what it would look like. People passed me, but I hardly noticed them. I was too busy trying to capture the impressions that were coming at me from unexpected quarters. Scraps of memory, palpitations of my heart, verses from Scripture, the sound of a instrument, a mental image of a building, a voice, an outpouring of gratitude...

Then, all at once, I was in the centre of the maze. A small candle burned in a low candle-holder, creating a circle of light on the floorboards. This was the time to pause and wonder: What have I come to? What does this mean? Into my head popped a thought that made me draw a deep, quavering breath. I marvelled, "My God! Is this what it's all about?: The knowledge that had been planted in the depth of my being was undoubtedly true - but impossible to substantiate in any way. Accepting this, I continued on my way. Back I went following the path, loop after loop, until I reached the exit.

The final lesson of the labyrinth only emerged much later as I reflected on the experience. It was this: The pure knowledge imparted in the beauty of holiness does not perish or fade. Even when it is smothered, ridiculed and repeatedly denied, it persists like honey in the pyramids of the Pharaohs.

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