Walking the Labyrinth

by Carly Sachs

Outside it is a perfect fall day—lots of colored leaves, blue sky with low-hanging clouds. It’s a day that feels like when I walk outside I’m stepping into a canvas, the day so gorgeous, it seems almost painted, too good to be true. Inside, I don’t feel so picture-perfect. Even though I am using my tools—being compassionate to myself (sort of), breathing, meditating, and sharing—it still feels like something is wrong with me.

While I’m outside everything in the world looks perfect, and everything in my life looks perfect: a great romantic relationship, meaningful work, and loving family and friends. But something feels terribly raw and empty inside. The sense is that I’m not doing something I feel I should be doing, but I don’t know what’s missing. Or rather, somewhere I know there is a knowing in me, I just haven’t been able to unlock or translate the message. In this moment, it is a feeling.

I have a few hypotheses about what’s going on. Inside me there are a few unmet desires. I'm in a long-distance relationship with my high school prom date and he’s back home where most of my family is, as well as my high school and college friends. I’m of that age where the biological clock is ticking and I finally feel the urge to stop being single, form a partnership, and plant roots in one specific location. Even though I have lived outside of Ohio since I was 22, each time I go back, the pull feels a little stronger.

And so here I am at the entrance to the labyrinth asking for help, not help from the outside, but calling inside for help. As I begin the circling path, the tiger grass is overgrown. There is a part of me that wants to turn back, maybe the blocked path is a sign. After all, it’s starting to get cold and windy and I’m beginning to doubt that walking the labyrinth will fix or solve anything. Somewhere inside I hear the voice of one of my teachers: Whatever obstacle arises, you have to move through it, not around it. So, I lift my hands in front of me and walk through. I know this is a metaphorical lesson. Call the grass doubt, fear, or whatever blocks the path. I know I must move through it. After several twists and turns, the overgrown grass situation gets more ridiculous and soon I am laughing as if this were a game or joke of sorts. Ah, yes, humor—another great tool. One of my favorite songwriters, Emily Saliers, writes “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” It’s amazing how true that feels. The more grass, the more laughter, and the lighter I feel.

When I get to the center of the labyrinth, my first impulse is, okay, walk done, just walk out and get back to the warm building and dinner. And then I think, Wow, how many times in life do I not go all the way in? How many times am I present, but not fully present? I pause and notice the desire to jump course and abandon ship. I take a breath and begin to circle the path back. This time instead of putting my hands in front of me to shield the sting and rub of the grass, I walk through with my hands by my sides. This is the lesson I would have missed. How much do I try to protect myself from feeling? I keep my hands down the rest of the way and slow my pace. I coordinate my breathing with my walking. When I get to the pagoda, I notice the wildflowers—lavender, magenta, white, and orange. I pick myself a bouquet.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.