embers

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In Art and Physics by Leonard Shlatin I learn that artists in Egypt depicted the Sun in its divinity, but that the Greeks and artists for generations deemphasized it to “cut down on glare”, until Van Gogh who recognized the “primordial furnace” and in doing so “emancipated color” along with the other Fauves.
If I leave work on time now in mid February, the primordial furnace’s embers glow pink   and the sun sets behind the dairy barn silo which is now an art studio. I am ecstatic.

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The labyrinth rises again above the thinning snow and I can walk it again. Swiftly, in the cold.  I am charmed by the frozen garden in the morning light which does resembled the muted art of Winslow Homer who did not share the sensibility of those would free color. I remember my hot love affair with the garden in summer when it was at its beauty’s height and sadness and fear at the thought of days like these.

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walks 51-55: earth

st j labWalk 51 August 30 : Before I walked, I prepared lunch for my friend (the spiritual tourist) and her daughter, who was about to start graduate school in Philadelphia. I prepare the salad with focus and enjoy the preparations. I thought that it was somehow connected to my daily meditations, and ability to observe the tomato I chopped.  I had some wine before they came and some more with them. I then went to the labyrinth alone and the overcast sky and the dissipating edge from wine made the walk more stark than usual.  Later still, a walk on the St. Joseph’s labyrinth in the moonlight with my friend, where in the center I found myself beaming as I looked at the dark silhouettes of the stately pine trees, and a bit further afield, the burned out pines that slashed Japanese writing across the purple sky. My friend later tells me that the labyrinth comforted her.

Walk 52: August 31: I take my friend to the Friends Meeting, where I revel in the silence and nourish myself with long deep breaths. I bowed my head at one point and felt my spine form a fetal position.  I imagine all my material body crumbling to dust, as one day it will, and it feels somewhat comforting and right in this moment.  After the leader began the handshake that signals the end of the meeting, we learned that he and his wife are celebrating their 46th anniversary. She is sitting behind us, and as usual this woman always brings tears to my eyes with her expression of joy and wonder. She lets us know that 46 years is over 16,000 days. Trust and surrender, she tells us, trust and surrender. Remarkably, my friend and I had just had a talk about surrender.  We next go to the St. Jude and the Nativity labyrinth, and walk. At midday in the sunlight the many shades of summer red and green blaze, and the many hints of autumn are subdued for the moment.  My friend talks of gratitude at the center, and I share her thoughts, but am too moved to speak myself.

Walk 53-55: September 1: I wake up late and read the engrossing RANDOM FAMILY by Adrain Nicole LeBlanc, fascinated by the characters, and uninterested in the sunlight, although tomorrow I will be once more in a windowless room for many hours.  I walk to the labyrinth and am in awe of the blue sky and the expanse of trees that I pass by every day. A warm mile exchanged with a passing jogger after we both try to make room for each other as we crossed makes me feel happy and vulnerable at the same time.  My friend has gone, but we had talked more about labyrinths, and she had reminded me that some people ask questions before walking the labyrinth. I do not ask the question for my first walk, as I find my way to the end, I then decided to ask a question for my second walk. What should I do about my debt?  I was longing to feel the earth so I remove my shoes.  At first, the earth is giving and soft, but soon the woodchips force me to carefully and slowly pick my way, requiring a deeper attention to the path.  I am reminded of June days in my childhood when school was first out and I could wear shorts instead of knee socks and skirts. I always stole away to the woods next to my house. The woods was my refuge and the place where I could let my imagination go. There were always warnings—Don’t go as far as the stream. Don’t take your shoes off. Don’t go in the stream. Don’t cross the stream. The stream is polluted.  I only knew that the water was cold and clear and tadpoles danced at my feet there. I think the fears of my mother and grandmother were more about strangers in the woods than about the gentle stream and once I did have a run in with a pack of older boys  but that moment of fear and shame was eclipsed by the many days of solitary joy.   I always noticed the different ferns and wildflowers and mosses, the way the tree stump changed slowly over the years. The labyrinth is like my woods now. On the journey outward of my second walk, my action becomes the answer. I am walking with barefeet on wood and earth on a winding path. What do I do about debt? I walk on barefeet on wood and earth on a winding path. No other answer is forthcoming, but this suffices.   I put on my shoes for a third walk to appreciate the ease of it. At the center lies a bird’s feather alongside the center rosette of stone. I consider taking it or putting it in the middle of the stones like a talisman, until I realize it is perfect where it is

walks 14-16: verbena

verbenagarden girlI took a drive to the labyrinth, although I had been there in the morning. Kathy, the pastor greeted me and we introduced ourselves for the first time. We had just been saying hello for three evenings. Her eyes are sea green and so clear. The night before I had seen her standing with Midas slightly off the grounds and she seemed very much both of the earth and of the spirit. On this particular evening she was weeding the garden, and I shyly offered to weed when I came to walk, which she said was I was so very welcome to do, as they never could keep up with it. She showed me where the buckets were, and then mentioned that she knew I wanted to walk. I told her how wonderful it had been for me to walk the labyrinth.

walk 14: July 30   I love the long stretches on the path the most. Sometimes, the journey in or the journey out is so long, and sometimes it is so short.

Kathy and I said goodbye and she told me how happy she was when someone used the labyrinth.

I had an email notice from the Labyrinth Society. It led me to their website, and their labyrinth finder. I decided to see if the St. Jude and the Nativity labyrinth was listed. It was. As well as another labyrinth, also very close to my house, on the same road. It is at the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in Chestnut Hill, one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Philadelphia and just 2 miles southeast of my house. The description said it was 60 feet wide. My labyrinth is a smaller version of the Chartres labyrinth, this one was Classical and larger, two things I was intrigued about when I thought about exploring other labyrinths. I knew I would visit it.

This evening I realized that I could not go to the labyrinth without gardening gloves and possibly even weeding tools, after telling Kathy I would weed. I scoured the house and found 1 glove, no pairs. I thought I would head southeast, to get the gloves at a nice old fashioned hardware store and check out the other labyrinth before weeding and walking ‘mine’.

I have noticed 3 things since I started walking the labyrinth.

My eyesight is extremely acute.

My breathing and heart rate are slow and full after I walk.

I have lost the ability to find my way in my car…

I went northwest instead of southeast. But there was a Lowes so I was fine. Flowered gardening gloves and an evil looking weeding tool. I saw a flowering plant that caught my eye, like peppermint candy. I first thought to get it for my front bed at the house. The tag said it was verbena, one of my favorite scents. Once I picked it up, I knew I wanted to place it in the garden. It would be my little memorial to Eartha that I had been pondering.

 

Kathy was nowhere to be found when I got there, but many weeding tools were out, so I placed the flowers where they seemed to belong in the garden. 5 rabbits chased each other and birds were taking short walks on the labyrinth. I began to weed the circle which holds the statue of the girl with her arms outstretched and birds perched along her arms and the fountain. I took a little patch of it, and then the perimeter of the circle. I saved a maple sapling or two and became worried that I didn’t know which were weeds, so I began to focus more on plants growing between bricks. I lost myself in weeding.

Walk 15: July 31. I was quite tired when I finally felt I had earned my walk, and my left shoe hurt my foot so I limped inward, lame, dirty and tired, like so many who followed Jesus, I thought, but were welcome in His sight. When I sat down, I realized it was dusk. A crescent moon rose above the red maple and pink clouds. I felt that I was actually at the center of my being, and I cried in the center because at my center I was mournful and alone and scared but also grateful to be alive and in awe of the magnificence of the world, and sitting on the toadstool, surrendered over and placed my hands on the ground, and got back down to earth. On the journey out, I was so aware that the closer I thought I was, the further I was.

Filled with strength and peace, with a look back at the verbena plant which looked as if it had always lived there, I decided to try to find the other labyrinth.

The other labyrinth—

jesusI parked on the designated road, wondered if the labyrinth had been replaced on the south side of the road by the large circular horse paddock that I found. The website had said the labyrinth was next to Chestnut Hill College, which reminds me of the beautiful College of New Rochelle. I now wished I had gone to my reunion when I drove through the stone gates of Chestnut Hill College. The wall around the college also housed the Sisters of St. Joseph. As I walked it was getting darker and darker, I finally found a part of the wall that was low enough. I saw a large stone circle. I had to find a break in the wall, and walk through the grass. A beautiful large statue of Jesus was at the entrance to the path of the labyrinth, and a stately church. The labyrinth was made entirely of bricks, also stately, in contrast to the charm of the humble stones and weeds of my labyrinth up the road.   Red bricks interrupted the grey brick path. The Classical labyrinth, I learned, had longer stretches in one direction. The size of the labyrinth made the paths quite long. It was getting darker and darker, but I could follow. At the center I stood and reached my arms up to the sky. I felt the center, but the agony and ecstasy of walk 15 was not present, which was just fine with me. It was really dark on the journey out, but I made it, aware sometimes that I was walking on the perimeter very early, and inside very late in the journey. I walked back to my car a different way to avoid the grass and was startled by a statue and a small road that seemed to go underground, as if it were a tomb. It was too dark to make out and I was too scared to linger.other lab

I am not going to count this as one of my walks for the challenge I set myself. As seductive as the other labyrinth is, I thought about the confines of choosing one labyrinth to commit to walk each day. We only get one body in this life and its length and shape of it is also not that much in our control as we might think. Santosha. Ah, if I had learned this earlier in life..

 

Walk 16: August 1. Morning. The sun was behind the clouds. The path was wet, but I managed to stay dry. At the center, I smiled at the charm of this labyrinth with its squat statues and weedy garden. I walked out and felt that fullness of heart and easy deep breath that I have come to depend upon.

walk 13: santosha

from the centerSantosha,or contentment, is one of the niyamas, or observances in yoga. Niyamas are one limb of the 8 limbed (ashtanga) practice of yoga. Asana, which is what most Americans think of as yoga, postures, are another one of the limbs.

When I was looking deeply into yoga and attempting to practices the 8 limbed path, santosha always intrigued me the most.  To arrive at contentment seemed to me the most elusive pursuit, and one that I believe would help put so much more into place. Yesterday, surrounded by truly beautiful land and sky, I longed for Long Island. When I was there, I misssed the magnolia trees of the south.

To walk the same labyrinth path over and over is an attempt for me to find santosha, in a practice that is as simple and complex as the pursuit of contentment.

Today is my father’s 79th birthday.  We had such a great celebration for him on the 75th, all his children and grandchildren as well as the woman who would become his wife, his best friend  and a surprise visit from his sister in law. We stayed in Harriman State Park close to Bear Mountain, one of his favorite places on earth.  That was 4 years  ago.  4 years. It feels like yesterday. At the time I was running alot, and competing with myself at all times. There is no competition here.

walk 13: January 30. Morning is the best time to walk the labyrinth. The sun rising in the east aligns with the toadstools at the center perfectly.  Freshly weeded, the contrast of the black path and white rocks is heightened. I was so used to the weeds and enjoyed them.  One tiny maple sapling survived. The more I walk the path, the more attentive I am to each moment, and the walk gets longer instead of shorter.

At work a few minutes later, my eyesight is particularly sharp and the light is so much brighter.

walk 8: awareness

20140721_194140July 25 walk 8: I had a bad headache. I noticed the flowers more. The finiteness. (or ‘finity?’) I walk the path and I still don’t know it by heart, although I am beginning to recognize certain green weeds and mushrooms. Being in it means I cannot see exactly where I am going. I can’t fly above it when I am walking it. It is a Chartres labyrinth in design. Will I know it by heart one day?

Afterwards I went to see if I could get my car oil changed. I waited behind a woman who really wanted to discuss her car problem to the cashier at length and in detail. I observed a strange sensation.  My heart beat was very strong and slow, my breath was full and free. Although my mind was a little impatient with the long conversation in front of me, and a little afraid (of what? But there it was) — my body remained calm. My headache was gone. My cat is still gone.

 

walk 7: loss

shewhoseeksEartha Kitten, who for 17 years has shared my life, slipped away quietly into the night last night and has not returned. She usually brushes against my leg, maybe to tell me that she is leaving but this time she didn’t. I did see her as I headed back to the door after throwing out trash. But I figured she would come back up to the stoop as she always does within minutes. After 3 hours of waiting I went to bed, but took a walk in the neighborhood before going to work.  I called the shelter and they told me to come down, so after work I did and seeing all the cats and dogs and no Eartha —my heart which has been so full lately was suddenly starved.

(image abovefrom shewhoseeksblogspot.com)

 

July 24 walk 7: how would I approach the labyrinth? A rabbit startled me. once I was close, I arrived at the chant “Thy will be done”  At the center I had a good raw cry, and for the first time noticed the centeredness of the center.  I looked beyond the labyrinth and saw myself in it and the world beyond it. I was in the center of my world and at the same time very aware of the church, the pale sunset, the bicyclists on Germantown Pike, the trees and fields. I had an image of many labyrinths with everyone taking their paths among each other.  I chanted “thank You” on the way out. My heart was back in my chest and now it was quite heavy.

Cat%20LabyrinthWhen I arrived home, I knew I would not see Eartha. I think she left, to die alone. But my neighbors said, do you have a black cat? There is one sitting on Kate’s porch, two doors down, I walked down and another black cat stared at me.  I felt I knew her–she looked like a younger Eartha, or a skinnier Menina, or a smaller Achilles, who when he lived was my brother’s companion.  She seemed to fear me and I could not turn her into Eartha.The brief reversal reversed quickly back to the original direction.

image from http://www.oswin.co.nz/What.html

what you will

12thnightLast night I attended an outdoor production of TWELFTH NIGHT by Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company at Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill Philadelphia. Many years ago I played Olivia in an outdoor production. The wonderful Jessica DelCanton performed the role in this production, and Leonard Kelly was a delight as Andrew Aguecheek I went with two faculty members and their partners. I was flooded with onstage and offstage memories of life in the theatre and among those who live their lives in it. Its been a long time.

Patsy Rodenberg gives an exercise in her book THE NEED FOR WORDS in which the actor walks and changes direction when speaking Shakespeare at every punctuation point.  It helps the actor see the shifts in the character’s thinking.  She uses Hamlet’s speech “O, that this too too solid flesh..” as an example, and its a good one because Hamlet’s thoughts move in very uneven patterns.  Sometimes when I walk the labyrinth I think of that exercise.  Kristin Linklater in her book FREEING SHAKESPEARE’S VOICE asserts that the rhythms of Shakespeare, in their relationship to the heartbeat, are actually healing, much in the way I am beginning to discover that the Labyrinth is healing.  Olivia and Viola’s scene was so well played,  that tonight I began to experience that feeling of well being as I listened, and Viola’s “make me a willow cabin at your gate..” speech made me cry in its earnestness and beauty.