Labyrinth #73: Fellowship in Prayer, Princeton, NJ

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.

This was my first labyrinth in town on this trip. It’s slightly altered seven-circuit classical pattern in a cozy nook behind the Fellowship in Prayer building and parking lot. The path is crushed stone, and the walls are varied rocks.

As I drove into Princeton, I was thinking about what it might have been like if I’d gone to college here, at the university. I had the grades and the SAT scores for it. I probably could have gotten into just about any college I wanted, thanks to all the book-smarts I had. (Perhaps I’d even have gotten the substantial financial aid I would have needed.) I thought about how I’d only ever considered one college, with the assumption in high school that I’d get a good education at lots of different places, so why not go with one I knew I liked? I don’t regret that decision – I did receive a good education at Muhlenberg. But as I was heading into the town where Einstein taught, where presidents and Supreme Court justices and writers and mathematicians studied, I wondered what my life would be like had I applied here.

I thought about all the ways that Muhlenberg affected my life, and I think the most significant ways were the relationships, the friendships, the people. Had I gone to college somewhere else, I never would have met my closest friends or my wife. Would I even have gone to seminary, and if so, would I have attended a different one? It seemed like my life would have gone on a totally different trajectory. Whom would I know now? How would I be different?

With those thoughts rebounding in my mind, I entered the labyrinth at this Buddhist center with this question:

How much of who I am is my relationships? How different would I be with different relationships?

As I walked, I thought about my Enneagram number, and how the books I’ve read say that your number never changes throughout your life. I’m no expert on the Enneagram, but it does seem right that there’s a core inside me that is unchanging, or at least is truly me. This core is there, no matter what my experiences or encounters. But I can’t deny that so many people throughout my life have changed me in so many ways. It seems to me that there’s a very blurry line between the core and the relationships, though. It doesn’t seem like there’s any way I can tease out what’s nature and what’s nurture, so to speak. And it also felt like that wasn’t something very fruitful to pursue anyway. I wasn’t here to have some science-fiction experience of what my life is like in a parallel universe where I was a Princeton graduate.

But what did seem fruitful along this walk was thoughts of the future. I could affect my own future. I can influence the future by investing in and nurturing relationships. What I choose to do, whom I choose to contact, how much I focus on whom, will make a difference, and I can nudge myself toward becoming the person I would like to be.

I have these recurring daydreams of being all alone, a hermit hiding in a cave, with no human interaction beyond buying food and books. There’s something darkly attractive about that to me, maybe because it would mean I’d never be able to hurt anyone, or be hurt by anyone. I could never be abandoned if I already abandoned everyone else. In my darker moments, I think about that a lot.

Walking this labyrinth, I realize how easily I could move myself in that direction, if I tried. I could cut people off from getting to know me. (I’m good at that when I want to be.) I could even leave my family if I really wanted to. But I don’t – I really don’t want that. So what do I want? How do I want to grow in the next few years? If I invest in relationships, I’ll grow.

And maybe that’s what this idea I’ve had today of reaching out for help is. Even if I don’t find the specific answers I’m looking for, for book ideas or website management, I will find connections, and that will be good. At least I think it will be good! And it will be authentic. 

Watch for your opportunity to help answer these questions, starting very soon! Join the conversation!

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