I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society. Find where labyrinths are in your area at the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator.
A few days ago, I took a trip to southern New York State, with the intention of walking four labyrinths. I was heading there with a hope of exploring what it is that I value, so I could learn how to make the kinds of choices that I wrote about a few days ago.
The day didn’t go the way I intended, and I ended up learning some things in spite of myself.
It started well. I arrived in the town of Goshen, and easily found First Presbyterian Church. They have a well-maintained labyrinth in the open space between two parts of their building. It’s a 5-circuit medieval-style labyrinth, all made from inlaid stones. The path is a light grey, and the walls are a darker grey.
It was a rather cold day when I walked, the first cold day we’d had in a while. I wasn’t fully acclimated to the temperature, but I’d had a ninety-minute car ride to get there, so I was very glad to get out and stretch my legs. I asked the question, “What do I value?”
It wasn’t a very long walk — five circuits isn’t huge, plus the cold encouraged me to get back to my car quickly. But as I walked, I felt some bullet points come into my head. I value:
I wasn’t sure how happy I was with this. It felt more like the results of a brainstorming session to identify a mission statement, something I have too much experience with. But I tried not to judge my responses. What did I expect, anyway? Some kind of deep insight or a key to unlock my inner values? I had pretty much asked for a bullet list. So I moved on, grateful to the Presbyterians of Goshen (that’s my new band name, by the way) for creating and maintaining this gift to the community and to me.
As I drove toward my next destination, I considered what I might ask next. How could I go deeper with this topic? I decided that I’d ask more about learning, since that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I couldn’t decide the best way to frame the question, so I decided I’d ask a two part question: “What do I value about learning? Or, what do I value learning about?”
As I drove through the countryside between towns, I felt more and more uncomfortable. I saw so many signs and flags everywhere, all some variant of support of Donald Trump. Some of them were professionally made, some hand-written. Some were just plain vulgar, calling not for Trump’s reelection, but for something nasty and tasteless to happen to Biden, or to his supporters. I thought about how many of these signs are all over my own area, how strange it is for them to be up so long, and how sad it is that so many of them use language I would never think of using in a public setting. Seeing these signs anywhere makes me sad and distressed, but for some reason as I drove through New York, it also made me fearful. I felt like I was among people who were suspicious of me, who hated me, who would be glad to attack me with little provocation. This was almost certainly irrational, but those are the emotions that overtook me.
The Labyrinth Locator pointed me to a farm at the end of a private road. This listing was many years old, and a little googling ahead of time had made me wonder if the farm were still even there. I turned onto the private road, which was narrow and bumpy. As I drove down it, I felt more and more like I was driving into unfriendly territory. I felt twitchy and nervous. When I reached the end, where the farm was supposed to be, nothing looked right. There were buildings and fields, but nothing resemblng a labyrinth. No sign identifying the farm as the place I expected. I turned around and headed out of there quickly.
The next labyrinth I was seeking was at a private home. There was contact information listed, but no request for contacting them ahead of time. The only instruction was to park in a specific place. After about fifteen minutes of driving, I found the road this home was on. I drove slowly, and found the house. I saw the place where I was asked to park. But I also saw some people outside on the other side of the house. I felt very self-conscious. I drove past it, trying to figure out what to do. I was scared that if I parked there, they’d ask me why I was there. I was scared that I would respond, “to walk your labyrinth,” and they’d say, “Why didn’t you call ahead? You’re very rude, and trespassing.” I wished I had contacted them ahead of time. There are a number of labyrinths I’ve discovered on the Labyrinth Locator that say things like, “contact us to make an appointment,” and I’ve always avoided those. I just somehow don’t want to talk with others, I guess. I’m always scared that — I don’t know what I’m scared of. But now I felt that fear again. I turned around, and ended up driving past the house three more times before making my decision.
I parked in the designated spot. I walked up the stairs into their backyard, and stood at the threshold of the labyrinth they’d so lovingly made. It was a three-circuit classical design, with small stones for the path, and fist-sized rocks for the walls.
I stood there, trembling inside, and asked my question: “What do I value about learning? Or, what do I value learning about?” As I walked, someone came outside to do some yard work. I tried not to make eye contact, and he didn’t make any sign of greeting to me. I was trying to decide if I was being rude not greeting him, or if he was being compassionate letting me do my thing here in the labyrinth. After all, anyone who builds a labyrinth would know that walking it can be a very private experience. I realized as I walked that I value learning on my own. I value finding things out for myself, figuring things out for myself. And this: I am frightened of other people while I’m learning, because I’m scared they’ll realize that I don’t already have everything figured out.
I realized that this another instance of the Dark Voice, the internal voice I’ve had my whole life who always tells me how wrong and guilty I am, whose favorite words seem to be, “You should have known better.” I was feeling that as I walked this labyrinth — I should have done something different, or I should have known what to do, or I should have, I should have, I should have.
I quickly walked down the stairs back to my car, wrote a few sentences in my journal, and left. I never said anything to the man in the backyard. He never said anything to me. Was that okay, or not? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. I drove on to the final labyrinth I had planned to visit, and discovered that it just plain wasn’t there anymore. The building it was supposed to be behind was still there, but there was no labyrinth.
All in all, it was a rather disappointing day — yet I did have some very important learning. Instead of really exploring what I value about learning, I discovered some good insight into the roadblocks that can stand in the way of my learning. I am frightened of other people when I’m learning. I wonder what that’s really about. Is it a fear of being exposed as an impostor? Is it a fear of feeling like a child? Is it a fear of losing my identity, an identity that has so often been wrapped up in my own intelligence?
I’ve got some work to do on this — some more learning on the way.