Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walking the Labyrinth: Traveling through life.

Man in the Maze
The story of Titoi, the man in the maze is also the story of every human being, traveling through life as through a maze taking many turns while growing stronger and wiser as death at the dark center of the maze comes closer.  Tracing the light path with your finger you will find one more turn at the end, away from the center.  Here we can look back on the trail and find acceptance of the last step. ~ Tohono O’odham Nation’s story.

Cathedral Chartres

In the summer of 1998, I was six months pregnant and sitting on the church basement’s floor painting.  A group of us had received a grant to re-create a replica of the Cathedral of Chartres, France Labyrinth (42 feet wide in diameter and 16 inch wide path).  Ours was painted in dark purple on white gessoed canvas unlike the original that was embedded in tile into the church floor.   

I had bribed my two brothers-in-law with pizza to help layout the design using their surveying and mechanical engineering talents.  Their skills brought in the invisible 13 point star which is vital for finding the placement of each path and the six petal rosette center.  Dr. Lauren Artess in her book Walking a Sacred Path, writes about how sacred geometry was used to create the Chartres’ Labyrinth.  The ancients believed that sacred geometry was necessary to bridge the earthy world to that of the sacred.  The Chartres’ Labyrinth is one example.  These sacred spaces were purposefully constructed to uplift the spirit in an unconscious way using geometry, numerology mysticism - prime numbers, the Golden ratio and that formula you learned in 9th Grade Algebra named Pythagorean.  It is Artress belief that the 13 point star is the key for providing the flow of sacred energy into the labyrinth (64).


Last week I took my fourth trip down the winding path of the Grand Canyon.  The Anasazi people (Ancient ones) considered the Grand Canyon a holy site that connects people to place.  It’s been relatively recent that I’ve considered this holy site similar to the Glastonbury Tor: a three dimensional labyrinth.  Unlike the Tor whose path climbs up to the heavens, the Grand Canyon pilgrim descends down into the depths of the earth. 

We hiked down Bright Angel Trail that descends into the side of the canyon.  The trail was built by the Havasupai (Havasu 'Baaja) Nation for access to a water source (Garden Creek) found at Indian Garden. The Havasu like many desert dwellers settled seasonally in this area.  We chose this trail because the only camp sites were available at Indian Gardens.  (Note: Backcountry passes fill up quickly during the summer months).   

The Bright Angel Trail isn’t for the casual pilgrim dressed in flip flops and a sports drink.  The trail has 20 switch backs that descend steeply down Indian Gardens (5 miles).  This trail is beautiful with geology, plant life and wild life; and compared to the South Kaibab it offers shade only until 10:00 am.  After 10:00 am the canyon walls are heated up by the Arizona sun to oven like temperatures.  When we reached Indian Gardens at 10 – the temperature was 95 F with noon temperatures in the 102 F. 

My approach to Bright Angel is similar to any labyrinth.   I opened with a prayer asking Motherfather Spirit for guidance during the  hike.   This time I really didn’t have any pressing questions and asked that if any aspects that needed to be worked on be identified and released.  Artress describes the first part of the walk as a purging ideas and things that keep us disconnected from spirit (29).  I tend to agree with her.  I use this time to examine the dark places in my soul.  For me, these often appear as self-doubts and fears that create barriers between me and Motherfather spirit.     I often equate this process to the hero’s journey to the “supreme ordeal” as described by Joseph Campbell.  The hero faces her/his deepest fear in order to be reborn.  During this walk – my mantra was basically: purge.

The center of the Bright Angel Labyrinth is at Indian Garden.  If you look down from the south rim it is easy to identify.  It is a bright green area amongst the browns and reds.  We pitched our tents had some lunch, took a nap, and went for a wade in the springs.  We weren’t alone in our camp.  The Poles, French and fellow Americans each did the same as us.  People were quiet and only the wind whipping through the leaves was heard.   I sat at the wading pond watching the blue and orange dragonflies, playing with the tadpoles and listening to the sound of the water.  I was amused at the symbolism present by the dragonflies - paying attention and deep thoughts and their colors blue – spirituality and truth and orange – endurance, energy and balance.  I kept asking what needs to be cleansed and changed.  The voice within was silent. 

We went to bed after watching the sunset.  The stars were brilliant and glowing.  The frogs and crickets sang their nightly song.  And, the wind picked up in the trees sounding like an approaching storm in the Midwest.  Still no answer.

My trek up the trail was slow the next morning.  However, half way up, a message came to me.  I realized that my message was given before I even left on my journey.  I remembered a conversation with two New Yorkers on the tram.  One of the men said he hadn’t been to the canyon since the late seventies.  Balding, he told us he had wild heavy metal hair.  He had brought his partner because he was trying to get back to that feeling he had back then.  His description reminded me of what Mr. H told me as his intern on Navajo Nation.  “Each step should be done in honor of the Great Father who watches over you and the Mother who cradles you through your sleep.”  Mr. H also told me I needed to slow down to sync my heart, mind and spirit up.  I too long for that feeling back then, and began making promises to myself for changes bringing myself back in balance.

Walk a Labyrinth - this is a good site to find one close you you. 

Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool.  The Berkley Publishing Company. New York, New York. 1995.

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