Bernie Bell: Walking the Labyrinth – Following your Path

This evening, I walked the path on a copy of the Labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral.  This piece of canvas, with the Labyrinth printed onto it, had been brought to the East Church King Street Hall, Kirkwall by a young woman named Fiona Fidgin as part of the Mission and Discipleship for the Church of Scotland.  Here are the impressions I received on walking the Labyrinth.

maze at Chartres Cathedral 001As it is, I use a picture of a maze as my letter-head.  This is because a maze can be seen as a metaphor for life.  You start off, you may take some wrong turns, find yourself at some ‘dead-ends’ from which you need to turn around and start again, you may find yourself right at the edge, nearly falling off, but if you persevere, keep on going, keep on keeping on, you will find your way to the centre, or your centre, eventually. And that word matters, eventually.  It won’t necessarily be a ‘quick-fix’, it will be eventually.

Now, a maze is a different thing to a  Labyrinth, as the Labyrinth has just one path, no ‘dead-ends’; in theory, if you just stick to the path, you’ll be o.k.  Or is it that simple?  As I walked the path, at each turn, I stopped to look about me.  Whilst going along, I needed to ‘watch my step’, but took the opportunity at each turning point, to look around.  At one of these turns, I realised that I had forgotten which foot I needed to lead on.  If I chose the wrong one, I would just go back the way I came.  If I chose the right one, I would proceed, progress, move onwards.

So, I trusted my intuition and set off, fortunately having chosen the right way!  From then on, as I paused at each turn, I placed my leading foot,  ready on the path ahead.  I didn’t get so worried about my way that I just kept my eyes down and didn’t look about me at all, I just made sure that I could pause and look around whilst feeling safe that I at least knew which direction I was heading in.  Not necessarily where I was going! but at least which direction I was taking.  and when I stopped at each turning point, what did I see around me?  I saw my surroundings, and I also saw……….the other people walking the Labyrinth, treading their own paths.

This added another dimension to the maze idea.  The extra dimension is people, how we encounter each other whilst walking our paths in life.  To stop and look about me, meant that I saw the other people much as you would see people passing by if you stood still on a busy street.  On the Labyrinth, we were in a more confined space, which made the inter-actions more intense and heightened my awareness of these inter-actions.  Some people we pass at a distance, some we pass more close to, some are aware of us in passing, and we are aware of them, some not.  Some we actually meet. Sometimes we meet them when we’re just starting on our way, and they are on their way back, or vice-versa.  Some we meet in a pleasant way, with a smile, some stay in their own ’bubble’, are only just aware of the person they meet, and pass on.  With some, there is a slight embarrassment, a nervous smile, but only because people can be unsure of themselves, unsure of how to be.  At times, I was walking right alongside some-one, shoulder-to-shoulder, but each on our own path.   Sometimes aware of each other, sometimes not.

Whether passing at a distance, walking alongside each other, or meeting, here was Humanity, in microcosm.  For all those people to walk the Labyrinth together successfully, they had to get along, accept each others presence, make allowances, and take their time!  You can’t hurry the Labyrinth, it won’t let you.

And finally.  Fiona had placed little candles all around the sides of the canvas.  I realised that, at times, I found my way by following the lights, moving from one point of light to the next, through the darker bits in between.  “Lead kindly light” indeed!

These are just some of the impressions and thoughts I received whilst taking my ‘turn’ on the Labyrinth canvas in the Church Hall.  I wanted to be able to do it again the next day, to see what else I would see and feel.  What does that tell us?

Here are Mike’s impressions:-

“I started out feeling at would be good to tread the Labyrinth on my own.  I would be able to have a measured tread, finding meditation through the rhythm of my steps and my breathing.  So at first I was irritated at being pressed from behind by faster walkers, and at having to step aside to make way for others.  Then I relaxed and didn’t mind – we all have to live together.  And all at once I was glad that there were other people, to be allowed to make adjustments and courtesies in consideration of the paths they were taking.  My job was to tread my own path at my own speed – having reference to others, but basically doing what I was doing.  Rather than being an annoyance, having someone behind me breathing down my neck became an opportunity to develop a closer focus on treading my own path at my own speed.  Each of us is completely responsible for our own actions.  None of us is burdened by others’ expectations, except to the extent that we choose to be.”

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News

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  1. I should mention that I wrote this a few years ago! It didn’t actually happen yesterday evening – I sent it to Fiona as it is – maybe I should change the beginning……………

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