The Labyrinth Map
Trying to Solve the "Labyrinth of Life"

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Rainbow Labyrinth

The young boy rushed back into the labyrinth with his map.

 

A labyrinth looks like a maze but is not. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists and turns and dead ends. You have to think and think and be alert for any clues you may find. A maze can be frustrating, frightening, or challenging. You can get lost in a maze.

A labyrinth, unlike a maze, has no dead ends. There is only one path, and while it does have twists and turns, you can’t get lost. The same path takes you into the labyrinth and out again. With a labyrinth you don’t have to think, or analyze, or solve a problem. With a labyrinth you just trust that the path will lead you to where you need to be.

Recently, I had the opportunity to introduce a group of 20 children, ages six to eleven, to the labyrinth. They were attending a study group at a church which has an outdoor, classical seven-circuit labyrinth designed of stone. We talked together about mazes and labyrinths and to illustrate the difference, I gave them several simple mazes to trace. They all experienced getting lost by making a wrong turn. Next, I offered them a three-circuit labyrinth and had them trace it. No one got lost. I asked about the difference between a maze and a labyrinth, and the children easily recognized that you couldn’t get lost in a labyrinth. There are no wrong turns.

For more of a challenge, I gave the children a large drawing of a seven-circuit labyrinth to trace with their fingers. As they were following the path, several of them inadvertently crossed over the lines and became confused. We talked about how you had to pay close attention when tracing the finger labyrinth, but I assured them that when we went out to walk their labyrinth, no one would get lost if they just stayed on the path. One young boy, about eight years old, held up his paper labyrinth and asked if he could take the "Labyrinth Map" with him. I hastily said, "No. Just leave it here. You don’t need a map." And, with that we all went out to walk the labyrinth.

I told the children that they could walk a labyrinth anyway they wanted, but that for today we would walk it slowly and quietly. I had several parents with me who were helping to monitor the children. I decided to walk first, so I could model "slow and quiet" walking. The children were to follow me, and then the parents would walk.

Now, I have never actually seen children walk a labyrinth slowly and quietly, because the labyrinth has its own energy that calls to children and asks them to run and shout. All went well for a few moments of slow walking, but as more and more children entered the labyrinth the energy of it caught them. The noise level went up. There was running and stumbling, laughing and shouting, and "high fives" were being passed all along the path. Parents, both those already walking and those waiting to enter, were loudly whispering to the kids to slow down and be quiet. They made a valiant effort at control but to no avail. The joy of the labyrinth was contagious. A few parents even smiled and walked faster.

Several children who had run through the labyrinth wanted to do it again. One was the young boy with the "Labyrinth Map." Secretly, he had put it into his pocket and was now taking it out for comparison. Back he went into the labyrinth with his map. He was carefully comparing his position in the labyrinth to the map so he could tell where to go next. At each turn he evaluated where he was and how much progress he had made. He looked at his map to see where to go next. He would occasionally seem lost, but with the aid of his Labyrinth Map he made the journey to the center and back out again, where he seemed quite pleased with his success.

I watched this young boy with amusement as he struggled to find the path he was already on with the aid of a map he didn’t need. Suddenly, I realized what a wonderful image! What a metaphor! This is what we all do. We try to solve the labyrinth of life. We seek the experience of life in our minds through our thinking. We want to understand the journey in advance. We want to be prepared and not be surprised. We want the security of a map. We want the map of intellectual concepts with the left-brain logical, sequential, analytical assurance that we are going in the right direction.

In reality the right or correct direction is always right before us, if we will just give up the distraction of the map. If we move from left-brain to right-brain, open our eyes, and drop the illusion of the map, then we can clearly see the path and recognize that we are already on it. It was there all the time. It is there all the time. The path is one of intuition and faith, and it always involves risk. The path is full of creativity and surprise and inevitably takes us off the beaten path, the well-known path, towards where no map can go, and where no map is of use. Each path in life is unique. My path is not yours, and yours is not mine. We must each find our own way.

There is no Labyrinth Map, nor is one needed. This is an extraordinarily difficult lesson to learn. We already have what we need. We are where we are supposed to be. This is it, if we drop the illusion that it is not. The map is not the territory. It never was. The map is not the experience. The map only points you towards it. Excessively relied upon, the map takes you away from the experience.

We are all like the young boy with the Labyrinth Map. We all have our strategies and plans and our schematic diagrams of where life either is or should be going. While clinging to the Labyrinth Map robs us of the lived labyrinth experience, such clinging may also be needed in order to lead us to the precipice where the trail disappears, and we are thrust onto our own resources. We may need the safety of a map until we learn to trust our experience and ourselves.

Such trust may begin at the entrance to one of life’s labyrinths, often disguised as one of life’s crises, where we are forced to discard the Labyrinth Map and step into the journey to our own deep selves through a leap of faith.


"A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.’"

Joseph Campbell

2000 Daniel H. Johnston. All Rights Reserved.

 


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