In a grief seminar, we were asked to find a labyrinth and walk it with some contemplations on our own grief experiences, what helped us during our grief, how we coped, and what was unhelpful. We were asked to choose a specific loss or two, rather than survey several losses. We were supposed to immerse ourselves in this visit. I found myself surprisingly resistant. I realized by surveying several, it allowed me to remain more distant, more academic, and the wisdom in choosing one or two, was that we could become more intimate. We often do believe "I've worked through it, been there, processed it." My resistance let me know that, of course we're never done. HAHA. But of course, that doesn't mean it's a problem. It's just a disruption. And so, I noticed, and I leaned in, even if I was grumbly.
Dog and I went to the car, on our hunt for the local labyrinth.
The labyrinth I walked was surprisingly near my home and just created last Fall. I didn’t even know it was here, so that was pretty neat.
As I chose my loss, I was prepared to feel waves of things. I braced myself to go into a space of loss feelings, based on the way we expect to feel, not really knowing, all that this conjured in my mind and body, but knowing that there are real feelings there of sadness, confusion, love, wishes. I was curious why brace? Why not just allow?
So, here we were, dog and me, at this labyrinth, near my home, newly placed, like it was put there just for me and this exercise. The sun was setting. The air was perfect. No one was there. I stepped out of the car and faced IT. The labyrinth. How symbolic. I breathed in the air in reverence for the space and thanked it for whatever it may bring me. That seems like what we should do, right? Frankly, every time I've tried doing the labyrinth thing, I am painfully reminded how I want to "cheat" - "quit" - too aware of others, haha, and I was relieved to see it was a small and manageable size. Some are so, so big and full of turns. I know, that's the part of the idea of the labyrinth is to be in the space of noticing, release, pausing, reflection. I DO actually get it. But that doesn't make it less of a challenge. Somehow, having a structure going in gave me a different determination to "do this thing."
The space was in an alcove of trees, like a cradle. The sun was setting and shining into it, so there was this odd space of sun setting, moon rising into the mouth of this labyrinth cradle.
The path was made of sand, the labyrinth lined with stones. All shapes, sizes, colors. The stones that lined the back wall were larger, like the local Mother Mountains the seems to be everywhere you look in this region watching over us. There are arrangements of stones balancing intentionally on the path stones. I looked around before I went in in case I too wanted to place one, but I couldn’t find ANY loose stones, weird. I took a breath, remembering my assignment, grabbed my loss and entered this space, stoneless.
The smaller stones that made the pathway, reminding me of an idea that they are the memory keepers, all different, all part of a larger stone, that gets broken down and down until it’s the very sand we’re walking on, which carries the footsteps of everyone who was just here, even their dogs. Time. Community. All bringing us to this place to walk together, in contemplation and comfort. We are not alone, the labyrinth tells me. Suddenly I realize the loss I came to walk with is not walking with me. It is resting in these stones. The stones are telling the story of a universal loss, a universal comfort, a timelessness in their size and shapes, in the breaking down of them, in the footprints. You can see where people stopped, walked fast, turned. You can see the intentionality of placing their own stones to add to the pathway. They were here.
I come to the center. There is a small circle pit filled with smaller stones. It is a well. It is an invitation. I can get my stone here. I am no longer stoneless. I have made it to the place where I have earned my stone. I find I also no longer feel stoneless, in loss, and I ask myself, do I even need to place one? As I look out, I realize, it is not for me. It is for the next one who comes to realize that whatever brought them here to contemplate, whatever they came here to walk with, we are walking with them.
It was not just made once, it is made again and again, because I can choose to leave my stone here in the well, I can choose to add my stone to the community. I can even take a stone with me or return and add to the well. I have choices. I had to earn my stone, that’s why there were none around. I had to go through the labyrinth and be ready to return. Some were balanced carefully, some just laying aside, some joining others. What choice would I make? I decided to sit a while at the well with my loss until I knew.
As I was leaving the last bends of the labyrinth I was suddenly aware of a rich sadness filling me, that sense of community that I had not expected, that had filled me by surprise as I came to this place, I now found myself reluctant to leave behind.
I paused in the curves, taking in the light with the feelings, trying to understand all that was going through me, and trying to embody the sense of community I was feeling as not just philosophical metaphors, but as real human experiences that I could keep. As I felt like I was claiming this experience more viscerally, I felt my feet able to leave my own prints in this place in gratitude, knowing I’d be back, recognizing my loss and sadness was held by a silent, eternal community for a moment, and if I’m careful, I can take that moment with me. I am not stoneless.
Helpful: a quiet sense of community, steadiness, simplicity, quiet, letting me have a rhythm, trusting me (and trusting myself) to know what I needed - even if it took a bit of discovery, that I’m still competent -even if I'm overcome, and to just go about things in my own waves, my dog, a little tiny bit of structure. Also, time alone and people who just came and sat with me, like movie, or just read their book while I wandered. It was like I had to get to know myself again and feel my way through it. Discover gently.
Not helpful: chaos, remarks, impatience, expectations of “normalcy”, assumptions that I can or can’t do or handle certain things - even in my own mind, too much or not enough silence, awkward expectations for me to be or do or reach out, feelings of abandonment by community because people don't seem to know how to be, too many houseplants and flowers as condolence gifts (something else to take care of and reminders of death instead of life) I normally love flowers and plants-this was a surprise.
The sun was setting in such an orange illuminating way through the pines, it was a moment filled with intimacy. It was warm and golden on my skin, like it was baking it in, soothing me to just allow. It's ok to find ways to lean in. These reminders to lean in to resistance, remind ourselves that our expectations that we brace for are based on things that we can only imagine, really.
We are more ok than we believe. Why do we forget that? What did I really think was going to happen if I leaned in? Of course the losses were TERRIBLE, deep, tearing pains. Who wants to feel that again, but I am still here, more than functional, enjoying my life. Why not lean in? Why not feel the span of my being? This was an experience I will keep with me. It is something we all share through all time, all people, even other beings, whales, gorillas, flamingos, penguins... loss, grief, deep sadness is universal. If we lean into the isolation, that is what was the common thread of what was NOT helpful. If we lean into the common thread of what was HELPFUL, it is finding what connects us, which is that of true agape love, compassion, gentleness, what supports, cradles, as we find our way.
I would love your conversation. Let's talk about it in comments.
Ama la vita d'altro... Love the life of another... it is the most basic thing of all.
Here is a resource to help you locate a labyrinth: https://labyrinthlocator.com/