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Terez Mertes

Labyrinth

December 22, 2010 at 8:59 PM

Part of my annual December tradition is to seek out a few days’ solitude at a nearby retreat center tucked deep in the redwoods. Not only does it give me a breather from the too-loud, too-bright, too-frenzied aspect of the month, but it allows me to observe this otherwise sacred season in its most organic state. Here, it’s impossible not to note the darkness that descends so early, the bare deciduous trees with their leaves lying fallow, the invisible bulbs and seedlings sleeping beneath the damp, chilly ground cover. There is a stillness in the air, yet a sense of expectancy. I catch up on sleep, meditate, take walks through the center’s eighteen acres of forest. One redwood grove I pass has an open center and is framed on three sides by tiers of redwoods rising up like amphitheater seating. Standing in the center (lying on the ground is even better), looking up at the circle of trees above me, is one of the year’s peak spiritual experiences. 

Spiritual, too, is the center’s nearby labyrinth, an enormous circular maze of sorts, outlined by smooth, flat grey stones. From the distance, it looks modest, unassuming. The goal of a labyrinth experience is equally unassuming: you walk in, pause at the center, you walk out. 

Labyrinths have been around for 4000 years, used as a place for contemplation, prayer, ritual, spiritual guidance. They’ve been made out of stone, shrubbery, sand, earth or even edible substances like cornmeal or flour. You can walk one merely to admire its geometric precision. You can pose yourself a question at the onset and meditate over it as you walk, in the hope of receiving some sort of insight once you’re in the center. Or you can clear your mind of all thoughts or goals and simply receive what the experience brings you.

I love walking labyrinths. I take one or two steps and boom, I’m in the middle of it, rows on either sides comforting me, assuring me that I'm on the right path. I’m always reminded right at that moment of the way it feels to start a new big project, be it writing a novel, deciding to play the violin, taking on an ambitious piece of music. You’re excited, daunted by what lies in store, but the path gives you reassurance that all you need to do is put one foot in front of the next. And keep doing that.

But the labyrinth journey, like life, can be visually deceptive. What you thought was the middle was merely the beginning. And when you feel like you should be in the middle, ever closer to that sweet center, suddenly you are cast out to the very outer rung. It feels like you’ve made a mistake, and that you are now moving in wrong direction. You were so close to the finish line, the center, after all. You could see it there, two rows over.

But you keep walking. One step forward and another. Another. Patience returns. It’s about the journey, after all, and it is soothing when you give into its rhythm. And finally you arrive in the center. You see those rows of concentric rings all around you, and it looks so beautiful, so perfectly arranged, that you feel a little sheepish for ever having doubted your mission.

I hope I'll always remember the insight I've gained in the labyrinth. Now, when I feel defeated at an unexpected detour or failure, when I’d been so sure I was approaching the finish line, I can remind myself that nothing is “wrong.” I didn’t fail. Instead, this less comfortable place is precisely where I was meant to be, as part of the journey. Being close enough to touch a goal is not the same as arriving there. And feeling woefully far from it does not mean it will take all that much longer to finally arrive. The arrival is timed right when it was intended to be. 

It’s a nice gift to receive, this insight, and a nice month to receive it in.

**

PS: Extending my politically correct Season’s Greetings to all at Violinist.com…

Happy Solstice

Merry Christmas

Happy Kwanzaa

Hope You Had a Nice Hanukkah

Same Goes for Your Eid-al-Adha (Which was Dec 20th in 2007, but moves back 11 days every year. This year it was Nov 17, so at this rate, Eid-al-Ahda will soon be bumped from my “Season’s Greeting” list. Sorry! Although in 2012, being the 26th of October, it will pair nicely with Halloween.) 

And a good [fill in the blank with your winter festival of choice] to all!

 

© 2010 Terez Rose


From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 9:44 PM

Very nice and interesting blog.  I have never done a labyrinth, but your blog gives a very good idea of what it is like.  Like meditation, a way to lose yourself or extract yourself from the everyday issues of life.  But, it is also like life in an important way.  The journey and what it gives you, rather than the destination, is what counts.  Have a great holiday of your choice and a wonderful New Year.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 9:56 PM

One of the best mornings of my life was spent strolling through Muir Woods.  Those trees are amazing.

How nice it is to read your blog this month.  I thought of you the other day, when I was shopping at Publix (a grocery store) and spotted bags of chocolate Christmas Bells.  How are the mice?

Also, you forgot this one:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

Merry Christmas, to you, your family, your pets, and your mice!


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 11:53 PM

 > How are the mice?

I thought of them just the other day as well. I was in the far reaches of the attic to pull out a bag of decorations and saw the crawl space they must have come through. Must confess to worrying about their welfare, wondering if I should set out another bag of Christmas bells. (The answer: nah!)

Tom - the best thing about a labyrinth versus a more traditional sitting meditation is that it's hard to fall asleep when you're walking. ; )

Thanks for your comments, you two!


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 3:01 PM

>Also, you forgot this one:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

Okay, this got me thinking and Googling...

 

Dec 22 - Soyaluna, observed by Hopi Indians

Dec 23 – Festivus – First observed on a Seinfeld episode

Dec 21 – 23 - Dongzhi Festival, observed by Chinese and other Asian cultures

Dec 24 – National Eggnog Day – Drink up, or else...

Dec 27 – National Fruitcake Day* - the day you give the fruitcake you got to someone else.

*Crucial information on this festival was gleaned from http://www.holidayinsights.com/other/fruitcakeday.htm and I hope they don't mind if I excerpt a bit. Because this is important information.

"National Fruitcake Day celebrates the rock hard, fruit filled holiday cake. While fruitcake was popular in the 40's and 50's, we are not sure if anyone has ever eaten this weighty, gooey, sugar laden cake.

"Scientists have been unable to penetrate deeply into a fruitcake, and therefore, have failed to uncover its exact composition. Its density has also hampered their ability to use carbon dating to identify the age of a fruitcake. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that some fruitcake are hundreds of years old.

"It is very appropriate for National Fruitcake Day to be celebrated shortly after Christmas. Once the holidays are over, it's time to get rid of your fruitcake. Giving a fruitcake is a Christmas tradition for many. It is also believed that recipients will re-wrap the fruitcake and give it to someone else. Who knows how many years, or decades, a fruitcake has been passed along? Ultimately, the trick is to make sure you give away the fruitcake before the holiday season is through. Otherwise, you get the joy of storing it, until the next fruitcake-giving season."


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Some of us actually like fruitcake...


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 4:20 PM

 Uh oh, do you REALLY want to be saying that online? Hoo boy, is YOUR mailbox going to be crowded later this month. : )

My sister, who made a batch of fruitcake each year up until recently, got clever about sending it out. She'd wrap up one slice at a time, add festive-looking ribbons, and send them out. It was actually pretty good. But a cake, a whole cake? Of the commercially made stuff?! ((Backs away fearfully from the computer, making the Sign of the Cross.))


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 4:25 PM

 ...and by the way, Anne, I will probably be visiting Muir Woods next week, when we spend 2 nights in Berkeley. I'll tell the trees you say hi. 


From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 5:58 PM

 Did you say National Egg Nog Latte Day? Yeah! ;)

I love this time of year, too. The winter solstice -- especially with the eclipse this year -- is a little like that center of the labyrinth, where one pauses and goes the other direction. 

Hey, do you have any photos from this beautiful retreat? :) I'll gladly help you post them if you do!


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 7:15 PM

 >The winter solstice -- especially with the eclipse this year -- is a little like that center of the labyrinth, where one pauses and goes the other direction.

Ooh, great analogy! And no, I don't have any pics of the center; I never have taken any pics there. Funny, that. Guess because it's all about un-doing and just relaxing. Or maybe that I've dropped picture-taking entirely in lieu of trying to create pictures with words (frankly, the latter is infinitely easier - what was I thinking?!). 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 7:19 PM

Okay, here's the next best thing to posting a pic - a link to the center. It's the Ben Lomond Quaker Center and I highly recommend a visit! (Check out "personal retreats" and "The Haven".) Heaven on earth.

www.quakercenter.org/


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 8:43 PM

Terez, you write so beautifully.  I'm always deeply touched by your blogs.  This one gave me a very welcome feeling of peace.  I think I'll practice some yoga now.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 8:37 PM

Santa didn't bring any fruitcake this year.  Santa brought a Nook.  (Smile!)

If you decide bury your sister's fruitcake at the foot of one of those magnificent Muir Woods redwoods, fine.  But if you can't be bothered, you can always forward it to me.  The fruitcake, that is.  Not one of the trees.  (Another Smile!)

Speaking of pictures, I made a startling observation this past summer; whilst strolling through The Art Institute of Chicago, young people were taking many pictures of the paintings and sculptures.  That is all fine and good, but the kids weren't experiencing the art.  They were looking at the art through a tiny screen.  I found that sad. 


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 8:50 PM

Also, give the Muir Woods redwoods my best regards, and I'll be back to visit them as soon as I can...


From di allen
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 10:53 PM

what is a Nook?  something you put on a violin?  a cousin of Nanook? 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 10:55 PM

 Di, you took the words right out of my mouth (my fingertips?). And a capital "n" at that. We're not just talking a nook, it's a Nook. This is serious.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 10:57 PM

 Pauline, aww, what a lovely reply, and now you've made me feel relaxed and serene all over again. : )  I'm so glad my feelings for the place, the experience, came across correctly. You never know when you throw the words down on the page (well, screen) and press "submit." 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 10:59 PM

 >Speaking of pictures, I made a startling observation this past summer; whilst strolling through The Art Institute of Chicago, young people were taking many pictures of the paintings and sculptures.  That is all fine and good, but the kids weren't experiencing the art.  They were looking at the art through a tiny screen.  I found that sad. 

This is the main reason I don't regret dropping the picture-taking business. I always felt this pressure to record a moment, an experience, instead of just experiencing it. Now that my son has broken my camera (they don't make a good overhead lasso) and my archaic camera doesn't have a photo-snapping feature (gasp!), the choice is simple. Enjoy instead of record.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 11:59 PM

A nook is a hidden corner in the attic, most handy for storing bags of chocolate Christmas bells for the mice to feed on.

A Nook can be found here:

www.barnesandnoble.com

Santa came through with the 3G wi/fi version.  (Smile)


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 24, 2010 at 1:26 AM

Whoa, nice Nook, baby! (Doggone, I learn new vocabulary every day...) I think the mice are disappointed, though.

Enjoy Nooking on Christmas morning... that is, if you can wait that long.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 24, 2010 at 2:11 PM

It's December 24th. Happy National Eggnog Day, everyone! (And yes, Laurie, I think an eggnog latte qualifies as well.)


From Trevor Jennings
Posted on December 24, 2010 at 9:35 PM

Labyrinths are sometimes found in music.  A notable example is the "Harmonic Labyrinth" from Locatelli's Op 3 No 12, where he says á propos the cadenza  that it is easy to enter but difficult to get out of.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 24, 2010 at 11:47 PM

 Ooh, ooh, labyrinths in music. What a cool thought! Or wait - would it be just like a palindrome? I know Berg composed several pieces incorporating those, which just fascinate me. But "labyrinth music" just sounds soothing. Like something Debussy would compose.

Must check out the music you mentioned - thanks for the tip!


From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 25, 2010 at 1:11 PM
My wife and I used to make a fruitcake every year for my parents in the hope that my Mom would view her more favorably. Making children turned out to be more effective for that purpose. Happy holidays and New Year.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 26, 2010 at 4:38 PM

 >My wife and I used to make a fruitcake every year for my parents in the hope that my Mom would view her more favorably. Making children turned out to be more effective for that purpose.

LOL! : )


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 29, 2010 at 5:40 PM

 In the UU Sunday school curriculum that I taught last year (my son's class), they started each session with a labyrinth.

"Home is a place you journey from and return to each day of your life. Even if your home changes, its relationship to your journeying does not. To combine the message of threshold and the message of journey, Creating Home uses a labyrinth. In existence for over 3,000 years, labyrinths lend themselves to a ritual of discovery. The labyrinth provided an ancient form of walking meditation. In this program, a labyrinth-based opening ritual designed for young children will help them slow down, focus their attention, and mark the moment they cross the threshold into a place of learning. "

Sometimes this worked better in theory than in practice, but even 5-6 year olds enjoyed walking the labyrinth.  The Director of Religious Ed drew it on a carpet that we unrolled each week and the children had their own stones that they made and placed.

I also learned something concrete from teaching that curriculum--I had always thought I knew how to spell labyrinth, but I had been spelling it labrynth.  It looked funny, but I couldn't figure out why.

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