I finally did this, and the experience was moving in more than one sense.
For those unfamiliar with labyrinths (often thought of – mistakenly – as synonymous with mazes), here’s a brief explanation: http://www.labyrinthnetwork.ca/whatisalabyrinth.htm.
I walked the Toronto Public Labyrinth, a lovely stone installation nestled in the heart of the city next to a beautiful old church and behind a gigantic shopping mall (a cathedral of consumption). Interesting juxtaposition.
Got there around 7 p.m. The sun was still out, but the temperature was on the cool side (6 degrees Celsius, or roughly 43 degrees Fahrenheit) – all the more so because the labyrinth was shaded by the tall buildings that surround it.
Unlike the folks in the labyrinth’s publicity picture, I had it entirely to myself for most of the time I was there. Just as I started to walk the labyrinth, three boisterous young fellows (possibly a mite tipsy, but possibly just awash in testosterone and feeling their springtime oats) came along and ran about for a bit shouting and laughing, showing off some for each other and perhaps for me. I persevered despite the distraction, telling myself that they had just as much right to be there as I did and that it was no doubt a useful lesson in staying on my path despite whatever anyone else chose to do.
Fortunately, they soon pinballed away to some other pursuit, leaving me on my own once more.
A sign next to the labyrinth gives suggestions on how to approach the walking of it, which is not physically or mentally demanding – the path is obvious – but which many people find spiritually uplifting. “You may enter the labyrinth with a question or a special intention in mind,” the sign notes.
The intention I chose as my focus was a combination of reviewing and releasing the events of the past six months, considering the gifts in those admittedly difficult experiences, and symbolically walking back out into the world (appropriate, I think, given that this is the last week of my medical leave, and I’ll be returning to work on Monday).
Well, I laughed, I cried, I sang. Good thing I was alone, or I might have landed in a different kind of hospital ward. :-D
I didn’t time myself. My guess, though, is that I was walking for at least 30 to 45 minutes. I deliberately took it slowly, in an effort to maximize my mindfulness as I walked.
On the way in toward the centre, I concentrated my thoughts on recalling the illness, the surgery, and the initial post-op weeks, during all of which I was deeply depressed and anxious – partly as a (presumably natural) response to such intense physical misery, and partly as a side-effect of the high doses of corticosteroids I was on.
The illness wasn’t life-threatening at any point, but there were a number of moments when I wanted to die, and many others where I was connected to my love of life by only the slenderest of quivering threads.
As I walked the labyrinth, its hairpin turns reminded me of the daily, even hourly, twists and turns I experienced in the hospital: medication A, side-effect B, crisis C, medication D, mysterious symptom E, bureaucratic entanglement F, and so on.
At one point, I was nearly brought to my knees with gratitude that I could even walk the labyrinth at all. I was so sick – and all but bed-ridden – for so long before the surgery that my upper-leg muscles actually atrophied. Combined with the 8-inch vertical incision in my abdomen, this meant that I wasn’t able to stand, much less walk, for close to two weeks post-op, and it was several more weeks before I could move unaided from sitting to standing (which takes much more leg and abdominal strength than walking does). As I wept and wailed through the physiotherapy sessions aimed at helping me regain my mobility, lamenting what felt like impossibly slow progress, I could not have imagined making my way on my own around the labyrinth’s loops – especially not after walking about a kilometre through the city to get there.
When I reached the centre, I hung out for a few moments, looking around at the delicate pale green of the budding trees and at the setting sun reflected off the high-rise buildings, and just breathed, allowing myself to feel the joy of having survived to revel in another spring.
I was fairly tired by this point, and briefly considered whether I needed to give myself permission to stop then, rather than – as is normally done – to retrace the path back to the labyrinth’s starting point. After a few moments’ rest, though, I decided not to cut the process short. Feeling weary and wondering how much longer it was going to take seemed exactly right, since that’s how I felt as I figuratively “rounded the corner” back in late January and began – with excruciating slowness and not a few frustrating setbacks – to inch toward healing.
When I made it back to the labyrinth’s entrance, there was no dramatic aha moment. I just felt a quiet pleasure in the sheer ordinariness of gathering up my packages and heading home.
My legs do ache tonight, and I had to ice away a foot cramp. My soul, however, feels perfectly at peace. In the words of a poem I’ve loved since I was a teenager, “In all my spirit there is no ripple of unrest.”