I am easily led to anxiety in unfamiliar situations. I don’t like to do things with other people, and though I recognize the necessity in community, I’d almost always prefer to go about my day on my own, for comfort’s sake. Like most of us, I like certainty. Like most of us, I realize life isn’t very certain.
While walking a labyrinth with a group of friends last week, I was brought to a place of holding this uncertainty in a new way. In our preparation to walk, we reminded one another that the walk is not a maze, and no matter how lost we may feel at any time, we aren’t lost at all — as long as we keep our eyes on the path under us. We read aloud, “there’s no wrong way to walk the labyrinth.”
My anxiety led me to jumping in the labyrinth as soon as I possibly could, keeping only a few things in mind from our previous discussion. I chose to walk in with my hands down, symbolically releasing all that was hindering and holding me back — the heaviness that has been insistently upon my mind and heart in recent times. And as I sauntered into the center I recalled the only other thing I retained from our discussion — that the 6th petal in the center represents the unknown, and I was darting for it because that’s all I did know.
“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
When I arrived in the middle, I felt nothing. I knelt in the unknown petal, begging for a revelation, and there was nothing. It seems the emotionalism of my evangelical background has corrupted me to think I can experience an encounter with or of God on demand. I tried to conjure up something, anything, ordering a meeting with this sacred symbol and something from/of the God it’s related to.
Alas, nothing. As I rose to walk myself out of the center, I took on this nothingness from the petal of the unknown and began reciting with my hands up: Take all my unknowns. I give you all my unknowns.
Making my way out of the labyrinth with my hands up, with the obnoxious gift of nothingness, I met friends weaving their own ways in and out of the center. I found myself constantly on and off the path, making room for those whose way crossed mine. I didn’t stay on the path. I meandered and kept my eyes on the path. As much as there’s no wrong way to walk the labyrinth, there isn’t a right way to walk it either.
I’ve found this feeling of being lost and clueless (even angry) is far less of a gaping disconnection with faith than it is a marker of it. My lack of certainty in the steps ahead may be a part of my grueling anxiety, but it can also be an opportunity for acceptance and awe of what might unfold, of that which is unexplainable.
As I made my way back to sit and watch my friends finish their individual walks, I was struck by this nothingness in the unknown being exactly what it was postured to be. Something beyond me that I can’t fit into my tiny box of language; something I have to sit with and gaze at without trying to describe; something that doesn’t have a wrong or right way to be examined; something of God.
“There is a certain bleakness in finding hope where one expected certainty.”
–Ursula Le Guin, “The Farthest Shore”
There’s no wrong way to walk the labyrinth.
Some are faster than others, some wander in with their hands up, out, closed, open, some kneel at the center, some recite cuss words while others recite prayers. I’ve walked the labyrinths of my life in a combination of ways, none of which are wrong or right.
The labyrinth is not a maze. There is one way in and one way out. Sometimes walking the path comes easy. Sometimes all I can do is be still and look at the path below me. Sometimes losing sight of the path means pointing my gaze towards the feet of a friend. I walk the complexities of life alone, or I walk with those near and dear to me. Sometimes I must jump off the path to make room, sometimes I must let others get out of my way, because I can’t bear to lose sight of the steps ahead.
No matter the walk, there’s no conclusive consensus – the walk is different at each turn, for each person, in each moment. At this turn, I hold this unknown nothingness with open hands.
“Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.”
–Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
Cassidy Hall is an Iowa-born writer who has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is currently working as an Associate Producer of the documentary film, In Pursuit of Silence. Cassidy is the creator of 17 Spaces, an online resource dedicated to appreciation of the O.C.S.O (Trappist) monasteries of the United States. In addition to her writing and photography, Cassidy has worked as a tour manager, co-writer, and background vocalist for her musician sister Leslie Hall. Her interests and writing lie in the topics of solitude, creativity, contemplation, and love.