9 walks: commitment

labyrinthchairAugust 29: Chestnut Hill at the magic hour. I sit down to write my blog entry and reflect on walks 41-50. Late last week, I got to the labyrinth with a sense of elation and insanity that made me think about commitments and the faith and counter-intuitiveness they sometimes require. Today is the anniversary of a day that I made a promise that I did not keep. If I understood life the way I do now, what advice would I have given myself?  I am sure that I could not have understood how the path would turn over and over. And that love can change and endure at the same time.

Last Friday evening the sight of the brilliant purple flowers alongside the dying pale ones made me weep so fully as I winded my way through the labyrinth. On the labyrinth I feel like a child and a very old woman at the same time, and somehow being a half century old lets me look back and forward from an equal distance.  I weep often on the labyrinth, but it is not from sadness, I think. It is from recognition.

Yesterday morning, fruit from the shade tree began dropping down as if a tennis match had begun in the garden. The surprise of the sounds got me to listen.  Midas the Dog.  An ambulance. And I continued to trudge a path that always reminds me a bit of the ancient theatre when I first came across it in Cyprus–removed from the present day in its elemental nature, yards away from a major pike with a few flowers a church and a maple tree to protect it.

This evening on my walk, I lavished some attention at the fountain which is the remembrance of the little girl. I learned of another girl, Julia the daughter of my coworker, who has lived with severe challenges for 17 years when her parents were told she would live minutes. She is on her own path, her father told me, and he describes how a neighbor stopped a lifetime of drinking when Julia was small, because the neighbor wanted to care for her. And she can now mark 17 years for sobriety.

I read a blog post from Labyrinth Pilgrim. She seeks out many labyrinths. She tried the 365 challenge for a month and a half, and found it lacking.  I do not find it lacking and hope that I can continue to uphold this commitment, so that I can learn to make more and keep more.

4 walks : timing

ribbonWalk 36: August 18:  A toad crossed my path, bats fluttered overhead in the dark. I had not gotten to the labyrinth all day, but finally, my father, his wife and I arrived at nightfall. The garden had small lights to guide our way, . The white stones were lit by moonlight. The three of us silently walked the labyrinth like ancient monks.  While I was on one side of the labyrinth I saw my father and his wife walk alongside each other, then suddenly swoop away from each other. I keep my gaze at the moon, and worry that we are disturbing Kathy by being in her backyard at such an hour. On the walk out, we three swoop away in an elaborate dance with each other, choreographed by the labyrinth.

Walk 37: August 19: I did not go to the labyrinth in the morning, and had to work for an hour in the evening, so I took an hour break in the afternoon. The stolen hour was just what I needed, and coming to the garden bathed in afternoon sunlight was like coming home. I inhaled the mint plants that line the garden gates. My family have all departed. I realized as I took this walk that I began walking the labyrinth just after my childhood home (also always laced with mint in the summer) had been sold, leaving with a new homesickness that I had not felt the same way in my first year in a new place. I went back to work, grounded and peaceful, almost too much so, as I had to speak at Parent’s Orientation. It was so satisfying to speak to parents who so obviously very much cared about their children’s education that on the drive back, under the canopy of trees on Morris Road, I felt that I was truly happy in my life. I decided to not go directly home, but to the St. Joseph’s labyrinth. Others go to Wissahickon Creek to fish, I am compelled to walk a labyrinth, but I was tempted to see the water, although it was once again getting dark. The classical labyrinth pattern on the smooth brick at St. Joseph’s is such a contrast to the earthy St. Jude’s labyrinth. On the way out I take in the scent of the heavy rose blossoms. Will I mourn the summer more acutely this year in my new intimacy with the flowers?

When I got home, the cat that my neighbor had mistaken for my missing Eartha startled me like a black ghost. The cat does resemble many of the black cats I have known. I opened up one of the cat food cans I had just purchased but she did not want it. She was frightened of me, yet she sat on the grass looking up at me while I peered down at her from the stoop. I got her some dry food, which she did end up eating. My cats watched her eat from inside and hissed and chortled angrily. They are jealous of her freedom from my oppressive kisses and cuddling. I don’t understand her view of me–she seems to want something from me, but is not taking what I am giving. I am reminded of how much I miss my old friend, Eartha and hope that she is free from suffering.

Walk 38: August 20: I almost did not go to the labyrinth in the morning, pulled by my work obligations, my tiredness, but my need to start the day right. I trudge through the labyrinth, still half asleep, part of me already taken up with work cares. I am grateful to practice.

Walks 39 and 40: August 21 After the longest day, I decide to walk to the labyrinth. Before I left I unfortunately checked email. A faculty member’s careless word to a superior. Careless and inaccurate. I spend walk 39 rehearsing emails to everyone, so much so that I could not remember the walk out at all. So I immediately turned around and took a second walk. I veered from sight to sight, the white azaleas, the shade trees, the purple daisies, the church, back to the white azaleas. Present, but unable to be penetrated by the peace and beauty. Walked home and saw the way the London plane trees’ leaves were beginning to pale.

walks 32-35: decomposition

maryMy father and his wife came over the afternoon of the 14th, when they were napping I took an afternoon bike ride to the labyrinth.

Walk 32 August 14: New red berries on the bushes that surround the upper part of the labyrinth, even as the daisies in the center have died. I walk in and just walk..my mind does work, but it all goes so lightly, and the insecurities and little threads of problems sift out.  Later, because I have had this moment under the sun, I easily overcome those deadlines.

August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption. A holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, the day the Church celebrates the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul. She was without sin, so her whole body was accepted into heaven.

Walk 33 August 15: My father and I walk to the labyrinth, we are very talkative until we get to the garden gate, my father said, how nice, observing the stream and the center of the garden, but where is the labyrinth. I point beyond, and we are then silent.  I walk right in and he reads the blue information page.  He begins his walk and I sit on the mushroom, facing the sun.  He stops from time to time to photograph the church or some flowers.  His pace is slow and meditative. Mine is always quick. He enters the center, and then immediately walks out, I let him wind around a bit, then begin to take my own journey out.  We pass each other several times, I can’t tell how close or far away we actually are. At one time, I am alongside him, and I slow my pace so that we may walk together, but then his path veers him away from me.  We walk out the garden in silence. After awhile, he told me that he was in Chartres, but never saw the labyrinth there, the model of the path we just walked.   Later, he tells his wife that the labyrinth was great and they should go together on Monday when I am at work.

We went to mass at noon.  Stained glass wraps around the church, but tall flowers tap on the glass from the outside.  It is a day to celebrate women in the person of Mary.  I think about how all of the images of Mary are the beautiful and sanctified  13 year old girl visited by Gabriel. But she lived a very long time.  I thought of a photographic installation dressing women of all shapes and sizes and colors in the blue robes of the Virgin Mary.  When I was in Ephesus, they claimed that Mary had stayed there until her death.  I think about the idea of the assumption—that only Mary’s body rose up to heaven.  I think about the garden, where the death and decomposition are a constant reminder of our impermanence, and the ultimate dust we will succumb to with our bodies. The priest told a great joke which disarmed me:

Men were working on repairing the ceiling of a cathedral when a woman came in and kneeled before the image of Mary and began to pray.  One of them decided to play a joke, and said from within the spire “woman, this is Jesus” the woman looked around and said nothing. So the man said it again “woman, I am Jesus, let me here your thoughts.” The woman looked around and went back to praying before the image of Mary.  The man said a third time “Woman, I tell you I am Jesus—do you not here me?” The woman said “ I hear you. Please be quiet and  leave me alone, I am trying to talk to your mother.”

Walk 34: August 16: My father and I go together again.  I am struck by the extension of the metaphor of the labyrinth, I cross my father’s path, walk with him awhile and then we go our separate ways, both solitary in our own journey, ultimately. The woodchips which have that decomposing but nevertheless pleasant smell remind me of the idea of decomposition as opposed to assumption. The labyrinth and the garden are of the earth and the idea of assumption does not even feel very comforting, let alone aspirable.  I think of a woman, Mary, human, scared, in pain.

The Testament of Mary is a beautiful novella written by Colm Toibin which is in the voice of this very human Mary. I received it as a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. I show it to my father, and he opens it to a page that describes the horror of the crucifixion through a metaphor of birds of prey killing rabbits.

Walk 35:  August 17: I was worried that I would not get to the labyrinth on this day, but I did it, despite my shyness to go early Sunday afternoon when there are still many churchgoers.  A small commitment to myself each day, I felt immeasurably grateful that I just did it.  A loud chattering grey bird, who might be the same loud chattering grey bird in my backyard accompanied me. I sit in the center, and look at the impenetrable statue of St. Jude, as joggers, motorcycles and others pass behind him on Germantown Pike.



walks 29-31: hatha

fusciaHatha is the branch of yoga which is most practiced in the West. It can be translated as “sun (ha)-moon (tha)” A practice of duality—strength and release, stretch and contraction.

Walk 29 August 13: The light was so pale in the morning, and I was troubled by the sound of a dog crying intermittently in distress, perhaps Midas wanted to go out? I circled closer to the center, crunching on the yellow and brown leaves which grow in numbers at every walk, and saw that the lacy plants, half daisy half mushroom had returned, along with the littlest maple trees.  A man with groceries pulled up to the pastor’s house, and stared at me walking, I started thinking about how I act like this is my space, but must always remember I am a guest. I sat at the center and saw the rows that form the path before me, and they looked all the same. I had awoken with a feeling of anger around a nagging problem at work, and disliked that people were not getting along or agreeing to make any compromises with each other.  As I circled out, I thought about real pain, real tragedies, Gaza, Michael Brown, our collective sadness of the loss of greats such as Robin Williams and Bacall.  But still I breathed bitterness in and out.

Later, I went to Chestnut Hill, and the sun became very bright on the cobblestones. I sat in a coffee shop and saw a large woman with grey curly hair, a blue and white sweater and a beatific expression serenely cross the street, and I thought I had never seen anyone more beautiful in the sunlight, although this true beauty would never be thought to sell any magazines. I walked out and greeted several people, because I suddenly saw them as I see the flowers in the garden. I had a wonderful early afternoon with a gifted teacher and best PA friend who taught me to hit golf balls at the country club. Positive reinforcement works. Later, back to work and some more dis-ease.

Walk 30 August 13:  The day continued to deepen from pale to brighter and brighter hued, and the afternoon sun drenched the garden, and it became alive with color, 2 doves and a robin were startled by my approach. In the center, the sky was interrupted by an airplane. I bowed my head surrendering to the end of the day and all its differences. I made my arms ‘like ropes’ the way I was instructed to on the green. I found I could look ahead and the patterns were emerging for me in a new way. Time seemed to slow and I noticed every part of the path in detail.  I think golf and the spatial relations required had opened up something for me.

I learn that there is flooding in my hometown of Islip. My sister in law posted a photograph of the old movie theatre on Main Street to my wall. I wish I was there.


Walk 31 August 14:  The sun and the moon were both in the sky and on a certain moment of the walk the moon hung directly above the church spire while the morning sun blazed through the shade tree. Patterns of sun crossed the paths of the labyrinth. I drive up now and fall into a state, this morning it was flavored with gratitude  and I remain there as I slowly wind my way around. I think that this is my season, the season of my life stage. Summer is still here but autumn is everywhere. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I will find more kinship with November. When I am on the path, I am never sure where I am precisely. I don’t know until the path ushers me out at the last turn.

3 walks: discipline

garden girlWalk 26 and 27 : August 11 I got out of the house early enough to take a morning walk. The light in the morning always pleases,  the ground always wet, always the challenge of the small pond in the upper right quadrant, more brown and yellow leaves on the path tell me summer will not last forever, but the shade tree above looks all green, as if the brown and yellow leaves were plucked like stray grey hairs when they are few. The birds were out in force many of them taking part of the labyrinth as their walk until I showed up and they fled. Later I came directly after work. The ground was very dry and the sky was grey. I felt the cold greyness after a numbing day of offended students and faculty. Midas the dog ran into the labyrinth to greet me, and turning to say hi felt jarring, as I was veering from the path. I thought of the beautiful little girl who died and who was honored in the creation of the garden as I walked out. I think of the little girl statue as her, I see today in the greyness that the arms outstretched with birds perched on them are crucified. On this day,  I was more moved by the white heron who flew in front of my car with loping wings, than by the labyrinth, and the stunning quiet and dark sky when I emerged from hours at a bookstore hunched over paperwork. I thought about the rich conversation I had  the night before  with my dear friend, the healer and artist. The labyrinth walk is a practice, I don’t think that every day I will find the heights of awareness. Just showing up, as I learned in yoga, with dedication, will bring out its gifts.

Walk 28: August 12 In the morning the grey was different, serene,  like the grey of the dove who eats the seeds I provide and does not fear me. She has grown fat over the days, bigger now than the other birds who fly when they see me. She stares at me with a black glittering eye ringed in green, unblinking.  I start my walk on the labyrinth and I know where I am–I take in the labyrinth’s embrace like the hug of an old friend, but without feeling I need to keep strong and independent as I do when I get such a hug. The owl makes her presence known, I have noted that she is there morning and evening.  Midas steps out, and Kathy pulls him back in when she sees I am walking.  The path is damp, after the rain, but there is no puddle to try me. At the center, I look beyond the labyrinth and myself out to Germantown Pike and the school buses and the ambulance car. I will miss all the shades of red in the garden when fall comes.


6 more walks: grounding

st. jsjesusAfter a sad morning, I wanted to go to the St. Jude and the Nativity Labyrinth, but it was Sunday, so there were churchgoers hanging out in the garden, and I decided to escape to St. Joseph’s. I had already gotten the idea to walk the labyrinth 5 times, and actually this brick labyrinth with no cozy mushrooms to sit on in the center invited a more dynamic approach. I looked up in the center on walk 1, and I realized I was beneath a very tall fir tree, the sun burned through the blue fir, to the other side, I noticed the height of the catherdral and how it rivaled the tree In its reach. As I walked I was so aware of the suddenness of the turns one takes in life, how taking one direction for awhile may be a long or short walk, but it will always change, and then, even when I feel as if I have been down a path, actually, it is another path alongside it, closer or further away from the center. By walk 3 I was completely in the labyrinth, as much as in my own head. A nun in a yellow dress opened the glass door a bit of a way from the labyrinth, and sat down to read. I notice that I am different when I perceive a witness. I thought of bringing my 8 year old acting students to the labyrinth to find out what they could learn from the walk. In the middle of walk 5 I lay down at the center, in savasana, or corpse pose. I put my head up and realized the nun could not see me, even if she were interested.
The bricks beneath my body were warm and I was aware of the Earth underneath them as a comforting and powerful presence, my whole body was being held, my gaze at the very blue sky, the fir tree and church were even more tall from this vantage. The circulation of energy reminded me somewhat of the end of a yoga class, but it was more symmetrical and energized than after a well balance yoga practice which slowly draws the body down. It took me awhile to get the notion of ‘grounding’ when I was learning yoga. Here, I was so aware of the ground and the support it brought in this moment, that I think I have finally gotten it. I walked out barefoot like a pilgrim to keep my connection to the Earth, which was an animated being to me at this point. I trusted that when the bricks got too hot, that I would always reach a patch of shade, and it was true.
I remained in an altered state for a few hours, and a bit shaky.
August 10 walk 25: Later, I got to St. Jude and the Nativity. No humans, but the animals were all out in the garden, rabbits, crows, robins, at least 3 other flocks of birds and a monarch butterfly whirled close to me. The afternoon sun was directly resting on St. Jude and the Nativity Church, the many colors of the garden were vibrant. A rabbit crossed within inches of me. I wondered if the animals trusted me more after all the meditation of the day, but when I got home, the birds that enjoy the two feeders on the front lawn flew away as usual, save the dove, who never seems to fears me.

5 walks: shanti

labyrinth2Shanti is a Sanskrit word which is often translated “peace beyond any understanding of it” I got a little more understanding this week. My friend from Queens, a writer and self professed ‘spiritual tourist’ went to Lancaster PA to have an authentic Amish experience and invited me along. Driving out after work, I noticed how the landscape became more and more expansive, the occasional farm in my county gave way to swaths of farms. She and I met at Lancaster Brewing Company, near Franklin and Marshall College, very college-town.   But then I followed her to the farm where she was staying. In the deep dark, the burros penned to my left just a few feet away stared at me with enormous eyes. A large guest house, with electricity for the guests, but nevertheless simple and remote. A beautiful pale orange cat cried to come in and played with us for an hour, before crying to leave. I had to go to work in the morning, I fell into a deep sleep in my plain room, and woke up at 5 am to an incredible sunrise emerging from the mist, a pond, cornfields, horses, cows, a woman in a bonnet putting blankets on the clothes line. The picture could have been painted 200 years ago and nothing would have changed.

August 6 Walk 20 : I was in another state of being after the peaceful night, short sleep, long drive and intense day at work. I thought of my brother who told me he had walked the labyrinth at his law school after studying all night for a particular difficult test. His experience was heightened because he walked it backwards. I couldn’t even contemplate that. But I began contemplating my brother, I admire him so much in his his integrity in all things. I left the labyrinth realizing that although I wasn’t present to every step, my thoughts had been good, useful ones.

August 7 Walk 21 : The next morning I woke up feeling very strong yet free mentally. My inner monologue on the walk took in the twists and turns with a bit of hilarity. The morning is the best time to walk, but I often don’t take the time to sit in the center. And the morning is when the right top quadrant is usually flooded, but I have learned to scale the rocks and except this bit of difficulty.

August 8 Walk 22: On this morning, I did take the time to sit in the center, and know that I was at my center. It’s a dual experience, gazing at the rock paths in my immediate surroundings and then beyond to the flowers and the church—but knowing at the same time that I am gazing at my own inner life’s workings and the world outside it in co-existence.

August 8 Walk 23: After work the same day, the pull to the labyrinth was strong. There seems an infinite observations to be made in the finite confines of the garden and labyrinth at St. Jude and the Nativity. Plants I had not before noticed, such as the rose bushes at the outside of the gate or the white blossoms like snowballs on two of outer most points in the garden. I cried at the center, again feeling that I was at the core of my being. A tiny new maples tree was growing at the center of the labyrinth.

August 9 walk 24:  All morning, I argued with myself–finish straightening the house or walk? The walk won out half way through the straightening. It was hot outside, but the path was cooled by the shade tree.  New fuscia flowers bloom at the gate.  I sat at the center and felt grounded, just gazing at beauty, not so far inside myself, but at peace.

Later after a disturbing phone conversation, I escaped to the other labyrinth. I found that my heart was pounding hard in the center.  A family walked by and stared me while I was in the center, standing with arms by my side, inside myself and outdoors at the same time and I felt uncomfortable. The father and his small daughter then began to walk the labyrinth, as I journeyed out they were going in, the father walked slowly with his hands behind him, his daughter skipped around and used the red bricks which delineate the path as her preferred walk.