"Labyrinth Walking"©Mary DeDanan

Northern California writer, poet and photographer Mary DeDanan brings a vision of

Living The Labyrinth

By Mary DeDanan


Each rock is a jewel. Each rock is alive. Sparklers of mica. Green volcanic glass in brushed patterns. Jade serpentine. White quartz. Black obsidian. Red jasper. Blue granite. Many I have no names for. Rounded from years of running water, or squared new from the land. They have bands, veins, swirls of color, fingers of otherness branching through them. One has a picture: red rock shot with quartz and mica, forming a perfect petroglyph of a shaman dancing, arm raised in a disco salute. There is wonder in how they formed, slowly in sediment, or abruptly in great heat. What would they whisper of time and patience, if I had ears to hear?


I began the labyrinth with cotton string and a few small stones to hold it down. I laid out the string in pieces, as though I were drawing on a very large piece of paper. Thirty feet across. Astonishing how much string it took. I drove my '66 VW bug down to the creek with my friend Doug, where we wandered around, picking up pretty stones that caught our eye. Small, easy stones. Loaded up the back of the bug, up the steep road, then laid out the stones along the string. It was sparse. Lots of bare string. This, I joked to Doug, was going to be a Project.

And it was. I had placed the labyrinth out in the far meadow of my new home, in the hills by the ocean of north California. From there, I could see a fine slice of deep blue water against the horizon. Redwood forest up the other side of the canyon. Hills that are green in the winter, gold in the summer. Overhead, a huge sky. An enchanted place. I prayed and sang and whispered to the spirits here. I felt heard.

The range cattle, stupid and suspicious, kicked around the little rocks within days, chewed and tangled the string. From then on, in my rock hunts, I went for the big ones, big as I could lift, big as bread loaves or basketballs. I took large plastic crates and canvas bags down to the creekbed. So much beauty in that place, where fresh new water rushes down to a hidden sea. Shimmering alder trees. Bright wildflowers. Paw prints of a mountain lion. Nettles that demand awareness. Music of water against stone. It was not a chore to gather rocks, but a joy. Like a child playing. Like an elderly priestess lost in rapture. I asked each rock: "Would you like to come with me? I promise you a place of honor." A few stayed behind; most wanted to come. Lugged one by one, crate by crate, to the waiting VW. Sometimes friends helped. More often I worked alone. Meditation.

I got up early, that first year, on the holy days of the earth: solstices, equinoxes, cross-quarter days. Stood in the center of the labyrinth at dawn and saw the places where the sun rose. Then I placed the biggest rocks I had at those points, just outside the circle. Same for sunsets. Solar magic, a miniature Stonehenge.

As the labyrinth grew and the rocks filled in the tattered string, I walked the path. Spiraling in. Out. In again. Rainy afternoons, the stones wet, their colors brilliant. Midnight under the full moon, the stones luminous. Early morning, my brain sleepy, my feet wet with dew. But mostly I walked at sunset, a break from my deskwork. Often I began the walk when my mind was spinning with inner chatter, so that it took a full round, or two, or three to remember to breathe. Let go. Ground. Calm. Watching the sunset colors, singing goodnight to the sun. Watching the new crescent moon appear in the west from the setting sun's glare. Singing to the moon. Watching the change of light in the gloaming time, black hills and trees against the bright blue. Watching the planets appear and the stars deepen, learning their names and patterns as they twirled through the seasons.

Walking in circles: in, out, in, out. Feeling the center, the navel of the world. Connected. Earth and stars, inhale and exhale, walk in, walk out.

There I have murmured uncountable prayers. Chanted and sung. Purified. Recharged. Told secrets to the stones. Mourned my dead. Considered issues with the living. Gathered wisdom like dandelion puffs. Practiced the stories I would tell at the next community holiday. Made up songs. Worked out problems of the day's writing. Left offerings and flowers on the two center stones: the womb and phallus rocks.

In the labyrinth, I feel the spirits of the land, of the rocks themselves. The presence of Goddess and God, of the Otherworlds. I'm thankful. I hear the ocean crashing distantly, hear the wind caress the dried grasses. Curious birds sometimes fly overhead: ravens, hawks, flocks of swirling swallows, a rare owl. Usually I'm alone, unless my two cats come out to join me. They hang out on the pathways, ears alert, waiting until I'm done and it's suppertime.

It's been not quite three years since I first laid down the string. Many of my prayers were requests that I may stay here always, buy-in to this land as an owner, make this my true home, grow old and die and be composted in the garden. I worked very hard for that dream, spent all my money -- and I failed. It has sold to others. And I must leave this place. The grieving and anger took its time. Now I must be practical. What will I do with the labyrinth?

To leave it here is a waste, a disrespect. The new people coming in have little interest. The range cattle regularly knock around the stones, looking for new grass. Unloved, this labyrinth would soon be a pile of forgotten rock.

So there are three choices: Take all the stones back down to the creek. Or cart them to a friend's land nearby, where I know the labyrinth would be used and cherished. Or take them with me, to my next rental.

Do you know how crazy this is -- any of these choices? How heavy those rocks are, how many hours and aching muscles and strained tendons it will take to haul them around? The truck question? But I am the woman who has lugged around a huge portable garden for years. Sanity is not the point.

Househunting. I go to look at another place. After the bathroom inspection and the talk about how the landlord plans to replace the roof, really ... I carefully look at the grounds. Sunny enough for my roses in tubs? Big enough for a 30-foot labyrinth?

I am not crazy. I'm not. After all, I am selling the Volkswagen.



WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?


A labyrinth is a meditation tool, usually set on the earth as a walkway. It can be large or small, simple or elaborate. I've seen them inlaid in marble, cut into grass, painted on a huge roll-up canvas, made of herbs and flowers, laid out with rocks, drawn in sand at the seashore. They can even be sketched on a piece of paper or carved into a smooth piece of wood--the meditator then traces the path with a fingertip.

A labyrinth is not a maze. There are no blind corners or wrong turns. It's a uni-path. You can't get "lost." You simply walk forward. You'll notice that the pattern is meant to trick expectations. You don't begin at the beginning, but in the middle. When you think you're close to the center, you turn -- and suddenly you're far away. When you think you're stuck in the middle, one turn brings you into the core. Not unlike life.

When you walk the labyrinth with intent ... breathing fully, letting go of your inner chatter, and then opening yourself ... things happen. Some say it is the meditative mind-set. Others say it is its own ritual. Still others say that there's something in the abrupt turns that mimics the patterns of the human brain, creating a rhythm that calms and energizes at the same time. Whatever it is, it's rather easy to go into a trance state, where you can connect to the All. You release the stiffness of rationality and logic, and instead soften into creative intuition. The labyrinth lets you hear your own inner voice.

The labyrinth is one of humanity's oldest symbols. The bronze-age civilization of ancient Crete was so famous for its labyrinths that the pattern appeared on their coins, and the motif transmuted into the legend of the Minotaur. The basic 7-layer path is still known as the Minoan labyrinth. In the Middle Ages, mystics developed the complicated 12-layer path, full of twists and mathematical magic, the most glorious example of which is on the floor of Chartres Cathedral.

The last couple decades have seen a renaissance of the labyrinth. They now appear at spiritual retreat centers, churches, hospitals, sacred places of the earth, and especially in backyards.


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