Walking the labyrinth

Yesterday, I listened to an episode of the Spirit of Things about walking labyrinths as a spiritual and meditative practice. Today, I was curious to try it out. So I tracked one down and went for a stroll. In the process I managed to renew my respect for the power of the mind. :shock:

You can glance above to see a photo of where I walked, and below to see a picture of the type of labyrinth I walked.

So what do you do? First, you drop the urge to bolt straight to the middle, ignoring the path, while yelling, “Ha! I knew this was stupid.” Then, you gather yourself, take a breath and decide to walk to the centre. You find an easy pace and slowly trace the path to the middle. When you are ready, you walk back out again. Simple? Simple.

A classical 7 circuit labyrinth
Image attribution: Originally version uploaded by User:Blleininger, current version by AnonMoos [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
From what I gleaned in the show, the trip along the switch-backing path to the centre encourages the mind to settle, settle, settle into the present until you arrive, still and centred, at the still centre of the labyrinth. Here you can stay to reflect and rest until eventually you feel it is time to leave. Hopefully you’ve found a bit of solace, or insight. Then you return to the normal world via the winding path you came in, bringing your new experience with you. The labyrinth is a symbol of journeying within and renewal. By walking it you hope to pull a little of that power into your life.

I set off. My feet crunched the gravel path with each step. At first it was amusing how close to the centre the path kept taking me, as if tempting me to cheat, but soon I stopped noticing that and I just plodded along. I listened to the birds flitting in the tree. I marvelled at how interwoven the path was. I listened to myself breath. Then back to walking: Left foot, then right foot, then left foot, then right foot. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Circling round and round, back and forth, outward and inward.

I reached the middle and took a seat on the flat boulder under the tree. At the outset, I’d thought I would feel a bit silly after trekking so long to end up sitting a couple of metres away from the entry. Instead I felt nestled away, safe within the curves of path, as if all that walking had invoked the labyrinth around me and made it substantial, if not tangible. The entrance and the occasional person walking nearby all felt very distant. It was easy to relax and fall into a meditative state.

In part, “meditative state” means to feel at home in the universe and to discover that everything is fine just the way it is. What a weight off the shoulders. I sat that way for a while, maybe twenty minutes, then I lifted my feet and lay along the boulder with my hands behind my head. It was like a beach holiday, crossed with gazing up at the stars. It was like laughing with friends or getting a massage. I must have lay there for another fifteen minutes, before deciding to go, even though I didn’t feel like moving.

As I traced the path back, it occurred to me that that was a pretty strong experience to have just because you walked around a tree a few times and had a sit.

That’s the power of the mind, people. Watch out.

Sorry, not doing that…

It’s a flash of anxiety and tension that jolts the whole body… I want to try a new leap and roll at the dojang, or tell someone what I really think and just before I can do it, a part of me sneaks in and slams the brakes on. The body shudders to a halt and the mind pulls away like a hand from a flame. The internal world of thought and feeling seizes power. It says, “Not happening”.

The flip remains unflipped, the phone call undialed, the truth unsaid and the story unwritten. Whose show is this anyway? Someone snuck in and installed a governor when I wasn’t looking and cranked the setting way down.

The question: is there anything to be done about it? Is it just a matter of repetition? Do I slam into the walls that the mind throws up, ad infinitum? Maybe one day there’s a hole and I scramble through. Do I just settle into life on this side of the wall? Or is there another option? Is there the mental equivalent of a demolition team to come in and blow up the walls? Or a builder’s trade union I could get to strike so the damn thing stays unbuilt?

To spin it another way: Too self-conscious. It is the transparency of the eye that lets it see the colour of the world, but the eye that sees itself–if it has cataracts, for example–is off kilter. To act effectively I have to find a sort of transparency of mind and emotion. When I try to act I trip over a tangle of thoughts and feelings. Beyond that tangle is action, but there is such a thicket of internal reactions and commentary that I am in my own way.

I’m not sure what the next step is, yet. There are many things I can do effortlessly, but there is a bigger world out there, full of the new. How to get through?

By Jove, he grasped the tyre iron in one hand and his life in the other

I got a flat tyre on my car today and I fixed it myself. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was the first car wheel I’ve changed alone and it involved an unusual amount of veering across three-lane highways. So that’s something.

I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was late for work, although that’s not why I liked it. So many days are drawn with such broad strokes that they all look alike: get up, then work, then home, dinner and bed. These are redundant days that can be removed and no one would notice. In fact, I can’t distinctly remember them after only a short while. No, I liked this flat tyre, because it was something new. It knocked me out of that numbing pattern. Today cannot be factored out. Sure, while I was standing on the tyre iron, jumping up and down, trying to undo the nuts, I didn’t yell, “This is living!”. But I was laughing.

When I look back at the moments I value the most, I see a string of new experiences that came in and sharpened up my dull, worn edges. The world didn’t fit in the box I had made for it. It was capricious, but I rolled with it and felt alive. If there is anything I wish for myself, it is to keep that keen edge.

Platitude of the Day: We Are What We Do

“We are what we do” is true in non-obvious ways. Our chosen actions soak deep into areas that we have less control over, like our feelings and our perceptions of the world around us. How we act sends indelible ripples forward into the future.

For example I’ve been working as an optical dispenser for several years now, and for better or mostly worse my brain now yells at me about all the bespectacled people I look at:

  • Short-sighted!
  • Long-sighted!
  • One eye is closer to his nose!
  • Is she playing the air trombone, or does she need reading glasses?!
  • That eye doesn’t know if its coming or going!

On my days off, I really don’t need that sort of “help” from my brain, but the actions I spend 40 hours a week doing have a consequence. They’ve changed the way I think. Imagine what else I could be noticing instead. It seems like a loss. I mean, there was a time I didn’t even know what an air trombone was: such innocence. This example is pretty innocuous, but I’ve been slowly realizing how profoundly my actions become me.

And a question: Am I a person I enjoy being? The smallest actions I can take suddenly seem more powerful and less superficial, but the converse is true: unwanted actions can soil my very soul.

A vampire metaphor:

Hmm.

Shoreline

When it comes to the big questions, it’s all crud. You know, “Life, the universe and everything”. Apart from 42, what is it all about? Why are we here? What should we be doing? How can we live in a way that will lead to happiness and success? How can we fill that hole in our soul? Hell yeah, I meant the big questions. Well, if someone has told you they have answered these then they are lying, at least to you and probably to themselves too.

There have been billions of people alive and there have been no answers that do anything other than a) put books on the New York Times’ bestseller list, and/or b) help people to calm down for a second. Note there is no “c) satisfactorily answer the big questions”. There are many people who act certain, but they are all full of shit. Literally and figuratively. Sometimes I’ve thought that I knew the answers, but on reflection, I was full of shit too (and also potty-mouthed).

What are the options? Well, there is a well defined spectrum of answers, depending on whether you are gazing up at the stars across the vastness of space or down at your navel lint. For example, you might be an infinitesimal speck in an uncaring universe. Or maybe you are a spirit being who has incarnated here to learn life lessons, or have fun. Maybe you have an all-knowing Father in heaven that gets a notification on his phone every time you have a bowel movement. Maybe. Let’s take these in reverse order.

Our Father who art in heaven.

I am the first to admit that there is just as much evidence for God as there is for UFO landings, but this never seems to assure anyone. (The Venn diagram of believers in each shows little overlap.) This is because there is no evidence. The whole show is only doublespeak, hearsay and wishful thinking. So many religions had their start with someone saying that God revealed the truth to them alone, but he loves us all equally. He loves us, but he is okay with keeping us in the dark and letting his existence be hearsay. This is only the start of the hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. For example, he loves us, but he is okay with giving my friend’s mum Huntington’s Disease. Every time someone says there is a loving God I think they are saying a big FU to my friend’s family. What is more, when I look around at everyone I know, almost everyone suffers from either a physical or mental ailment of some sort, so I’m left thinking that if there is a creator then they are inept. If there is a supreme being, why would it create a world full of its suffering children? And on top of that be so spineless that it doesn’t show its face to all of its children? You’d have to be either completely indifferent, outright evil or maybe, just maybe you don’t exist. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but please hold onto some doubt.

We are all powerful creators

Now perhaps you are an embodied spirit being from a higher plane. Here we have spirituality that spans some brands of Hinduism to the modern day law of attraction. In effect we are all god: you, me, the bear over there and the chair as well. From boulders to banjo players we are all actors exploring the breadth of experience for some reason. Well what a masochistic bunch we must be. Not only have we created much suffering in the world, but we have made ourselves take it all so seriously. I’ve tried to not take it seriously and believe me that lasted for 10 seconds before I was worrying about some mistake I made at work, or what a random stranger thought of me that time I wore a fedora. Also, apparently diabetes is becoming a popular learning experience for god. Give me a break. If the Law of Attraction is true, it is especially good at attracting uncritical thinking.

We should just slit our wrists now.

Now finally, perhaps you are an insignificant, unwanted, microscopic irrelevance in a meaningless morass of a universe. In this version we are all part of the universe and no part has any significance. We could compare a cow fart to a galaxy and you are hard pressed to say which is more meaningless. Let’s look a bit deeper. In this version the universe is indifferent, but we too are just another bit of the universe and we hate and love until we are blue in the face. Tada, the universe is not indifferent. To find the universe meaningless is to act like we are strangers in it, when in fact we are it. We could say that there is no purpose and yet something gets us out of bed in the morning to face another day. There is something that keeps the sun revolving. Who is to draw the hard line between “us” and “the universe” This is our home, maybe the same passions that rage in us fill the whole universe. Maybe. Just a little doubt

Void?

In the end we are left with a big question mark.

Sometimes I think that the closest we can come to the answer is emptiness and silence, but it is hard to ignore the sound and chaos that crashes around us. It’s important to remember that we know so little whether we are thinking about the big questions or evening going to the shops. What a load of bullshit. ;)

EDIT: No sure what this has to do with shorelines, except in a hand wavy sense sorry.

There are two types of purpose here, and I think I was a bit easy in moving between them. In a Godless universe, like in the last section, it is hard for a thing to have telos external to itself and so purpose has to be more self contained… like how the rhythm of a drum feels like it wants to continue, or a dancer moves to the beat. You can think of the universe a sort of music that way, ie. the the spin of the earth creates the rhythm of night and day. Anyway this concept explained better by Alan Watts, but I’m having trouble finding a good link. This needs more thought.

Government Panders to the Impoverished

Under the new Everson government, public funding of hugs will increase by over 250% from its current level of $SFA. All public employees will administer this service and will receive an on-call loading and a can of deodorant for being ready to hug anyone who is having a bad day, or who just needs a bit of love.

Stock markets plummeted at the news as investors anticipate that the hole in our souls will be filled by something other than confectionery and gadgets. Market analysts have predicted that many consumers will call their mothers and apologize for being an arse at Christmas and promise to phone more often.

Prime Minister Michael Everson spoke at the national press gallery today:

“The Government is committed to making the program carbon neutral. Posterior sensors will be distributed and for each Potently Odorous Olfactory Terrorist or POOT emitted during a hug, a tree will be planted.”

Many of the assembled crowd were nodding their heads, but not everyone. Father of four and prominent hug retailer Shark Daddy was concerned that flooding the market with publicly subsidized hugs would push an already struggling hug sector into collapse. Prime Minister Everson addressed such concerns asking:

“What is more important, that everyone have access to such an essential service, or that a few can get rich off it? Anyone affected by the change will not find themselves lacking in hugs.”

The program is expected to be rolled out before June 7 2014.

(Aside: How many fully funded hugs would you have received under an Abbot or Rudd government? Thanks for voting for Everson. And thanks to Alex Lehmann for the seed of this article.)