My first experience of walking a labyrinth was at the 11.11.11 celebrations at Gorton Monastery.
It was a profoundly moving experience and full of insight. So I was delighted to discover that a Labyrinth Festival was going to be held in Lincoln Cathedral in August this year to celebrate the labyrinth as a metaphor for the journey of life. I knew I had to walk that labyrinth, as the poster said ‘The beauty is in the walking’, and as my birthday is August 12 I knew I had to walk it on that day.
Something was luring me to the labyrinth and I wondered how many people throughout history have felt that lure too. I had great hopes of my walk and an expectation of profound insight. I’d also read that every time a labyrinth is walked the earth receives a healing and that really appealed to me.
I grew up close to Lincoln so the cathedral has always been a place of great spiritual significance to me as well as a building of immense architectural beauty. Every visit leaves me in awe of its creation and the men who built it. Walking a labyrinth there felt like a divine calling.
The labyrinth, a copy of the Chartres classical eleven-circuit labyrinth, was chalked onto the floor of the nave in the cathedral. It takes you through 34 turns as you seemingly meander the whole circle, getting close to the centre only to wind your way back to the outer edge and then back into the centre again. There is only one path to the centre and then you walk it backwards to return to the entrance.
As I started my walk there seemed to be a lot of noise and chatter in the cathedral, which I found distracting and frankly annoying. It echoed through the building and seemed magnified by the space. Then a group of people, too busy chattering with each other to notice, walked right across my path and right across the labyrinth. I was dumbfounded by their lack of respect for this sacred space and symbol, and for people walking in meditation.
And then it started to dawn on me as I walked. The journey of life is full of distractions; it is down to us to choose whether or not we let them take our attention away from our path. People will wander right across our path and through our space oblivious to their intrusion, caught up in their own world, unaware that our path is even there. And how often do we do that to others?
Maybe we are pulled off track by circumstances, or we chase after a bright, shiny object (or person). Often we are distracted by the beliefs of our peers or family or society. Or our own jumbled thoughts. We start doing things we feel we should do, rather than stick to what we know deep in our hearts we need to do for our soul’s peace. We will often want to take the short cuts to get there quicker but there are no short cuts in the journey of life. Part of the journey is the awareness of those distractions and the choice to ignore them. I noticed how few people were actually walking the labyrinth. Two youngsters were whizzing around it at speed. A bemused chap clearly thought it was a puzzle to be solved. I could see he was trying to work it out and was definitely confused when he met my husband on the way out as he was on his way in. He jumped across the path two or three times to different points on the labyrinth and then wandered off altogether when he couldn’t solve this mystery. Two women earnestly walked their way to the centre and then walked off, presumably thinking that their work was done when they got to that point. What a great metaphor for life and how we live it.
The insight that came to me was indeed profound but not, of course, what I was expecting. There was no earth-shattering illumination, no sudden epiphany. It was very ordinary and yet a beautiful, deep and simple reminder to choose your path wisely, stay focused and keep going.
“You cannot fail in your journey through life as long as you follow the path and keep putting one foot in front of the other. The path will twist and turn and go backwards as well as forwards, but it will lead you to where you want and need to go. Stay true to the path and it will stay true to you,” said the voice within.
A few days later my husband and I walked the labyrinth a second time, pondering on the grand vision we have for our future together. On this walk I was reminded that the beauty is in the journey. “Do not rush through the journey to get to the end or you will miss the beauty of the process. The twists and turns and even the sections of the path where we seem to be moving away fromthe vision, will still be carrying us to it. All we need to do is begin. And then keep putting one foot in front of the other.
” The beauty is indeed in the walking, the daily small steps on this labyrinth of life.
By Tina Bettison, Writer, Author and Broadcaster at www.tinabettison.com