Seeing growth in ourselves isn’t always obvious. I find that it is usually in retrospect that I can see where I was and what has changed so profoundly. Sometimes it takes an outside object, a physical place, a person, words that I return to and, in placing myself next to them, I see that I am not the same. I see, hear, feel, sense them in a different way. It is like a marker. I think of a child marking her height on a wall and returning to it sometime later and is surprised and delighted at seeing that she has surpassed that mark by an inch. We don’t necessarily see or feel it happening in the moment. When we do find ourselves awakened to this other place we get the opportunity to take in what has happened. These are the moments where we can feel awed by life. I had one of these experiences recently discovering it among evergreen bushes that led me to the center.
The Garrison Institute, a contemplative retreat center located along the Hudson in New York, in what was once a seminary, has on its grounds a labyrinth. I stayed at the Institute for the first time in 2012 and visited again two weeks ago for another retreat. This time, it was part of our practice to walk the labyrinth. Shortly into the walk, I realized that everything was different. When I was there five years ago, the bushes that constituted the shape of the labyrinth were small, individually shaped, round, evergreen bushes. They came up to my shins and, if I were impatient, could easily step over them and get out of the maze-like garden. The experience of the labyrinth didn’t strike me much at the time. This many years later, the bushes are now a continuous wall, flowing into each other and rising up to the level of my thighs. They have grown and everything about the experience felt new. As I walked and sensed this dramatic shift that had happened, I realized that I, too, had changed. Everything about me was also different. Five years ago, my life felt in turmoil. I struggled with the major changes and turns my life had taken. While I knew at the time that it was necessary to go through whatever it was that was turning my life upside down, it was painful and seemingly long. And yet, here I was in October 2017 experiencing the same place from a very different inner place. The labyrinth that ultimately brings us to the center, even when at times it feels like it is doing the opposite, showed me that I had truly arrived at the center. It is not a straight course. It often does not do what we think it will, or take the time we expect it will, and doubt is inevitable along the way. But in the end, we get to see the whole picture of where we started and ended and how we got there. Along with the evergreens, I got to see how I grew and changed. It was subtle and profound.
Though I am in the center now and enjoy being here in this more stable, grounded place, I know there will be other labyrinths I will be asked to navigate again. I have more understanding in me now, more experience, and I know my resilience in a way I did not before. Maybe it won’t be so unbearable next time. Even if it is though, at some point in time, I will have another perspective of it. It will be another marker of how I changed, yet again. No doubt, I will find center again. I can rest in that. Life is uncertain. As the saying goes…that is the only thing that is certain. Embracing that understanding brings me much relief. I know not to panic. I know everything changes. I let go and remind myself to keep at that work of letting go more. It is endless work. In doing that, I can love more as fear gradually takes a backseat. Bring on the change. I trust that it will bring me where I need to go.
I feel the need to add that though it is in bad form to get out of the labyrinth by stepping over the bushes, sometimes, you need to do what you need to do. The day I had the realization of how much change had gone on, I didn’t know how long the labyrinth would take. I ran out of time and had to get back to my group. I did the awful thing and climbed out. It felt strange and wrong to cut it short and clumsily make my way out…but even that is part of life. Sometimes it is just sloppy. The beauty is that we get to forgive and try again.