You’d think by age seventy-six, my days of exploration and wandering might be over, but though I try to settle in, sooner or later something shifts inside me or my external circumstances change. The niche that once gave me a sense of security and identity becomes unstable, uncomfortable, or just plain non-existent. Whether moving to a different town, becoming an empty-nester, retiring from my career, or sensing dissatisfaction with a given situation, I’ve had to explore new options.
I may get upset about it at times, but I no longer panic. Instead, I say to myself, “Well, here I go again,” and do my best to adjust. To do this, I use strategies I’ve collected over the years.
For instance, during periods of uncertainty, I allow myself to wander and explore. So far, it’s been rewarding.
A few years ago, during one of my ‘uncertainty’ phases, a poster caught my attention. “The Wisdom of Imagination – In Ourselves – Our Lives – Our Relationships”. Using my imagination had always been a strong part of my survival toolkit, but I wanted to expand my knowledge on the subject so I could make better use of it during change.
Some of my women friends had signed up for the one-day workshop and since my husband Bill was to be away on a fishing trip in Canada, I thought, “Why not?”
The timing was appropriate since it was late September and Mother Nature was in transition as well. The morning I arrived at the retreat lodge, the air was crisp and cool. The trees, not yet in full color, were already busy shedding leaves.
Walking past a campfire set up to greet guests, I entered the lodge, registered, grabbed a cup of coffee, a chocolate-chip cookie (one of my favorites), and mingled with the group in a large meeting room. Eventually, we were asked to sit down on folding chairs that were arranged in a semi-circle facing a tall stone fireplace framed with large windows.
The leader, a Franciscan nun, divided us into groups of three. During the morning, we discussed ways we might use our imagination to adjust our attitude, make decisions, survive difficult times, determine moral actions and find spiritual wisdom. The discussions throughout the day were stimulating and inspiring as we shared the ways we had tapped into our imagination during times of change.
For the day’s final assignment, we were to choose a suitable location, inside or outdoors, where we could reflect in quiet for half an hour. During this time, we were encouraged to seek the wisdom of our imagination. There was an outdoor labyrinth we were also welcome to explore.
Over the years I’d heard about the value of walking a labyrinth and even though I didn't know what it was, I was eager to try. At the time, I didn’t realize that a labyrinth is a flat path that spirals until it stops at a center point. I also didn’t understand that, after reaching the center, individuals return the same way they enter..
Instead, I incorrectly assumed it was a type of maze, like one might see next to a pumpkin stand: a small field of corn with winding paths cut into it, the goal being to enter and find a new way out. Since I was in woodland country , not cornfield territory, I envisioned an area of tall, thick hedges framing paths that wove back and forth.
Two women were heading to the labyrinth so I asked if I could join them. I told them I had never walked inside one before and asked them how to do it.
They were happy to oblige.
“First,” one of them said, “you stand in front of the entrance. Then you take a couple of deep breaths and focus on the intentions of your meditative walk. After you do this, you step along the path in silence. It will lead you to the center where you will ask for insight. Then you go back out.”
The other woman added, “Once you begin, you will experience an energy vortex phenomenon.”
I didn’t know what she meant by energy vortex, but I imagined shifting into a higher state of consciousness where, once I entered the center, some sort of shortcut to wisdom would be made apparent.
My excitement turned to concern, however, when we had apparently arrived at our destination and one of the women said, “Oh no, it's all covered up!” When I looked in the direction she pointed, I didn’t see anything other than a large, leaf-covered clearing amongst the trees with a few benches positioned along the sides.
I wondered, “Where is the labyrinth? Where are the hedges?” but said nothing.
The women must have noticed my puzzled look and explained that the labyrinth was hidden due to the fallen leaves.
Still confused and disappointed that my imaginings had let me down, I remained quiet as we continued to head toward the clearing.
Once in the middle of the open area, they began to brush leaves off to the side. I grabbed a stick and used it as if it were a broom. In doing so, I discovered flat concrete pavers embedded in the earth. The path was only a foot wide.
Due to limited time, the three of us began to proceed even though it was difficult to see under the autumn mess. We moved along in close proximity, single file. The two women kept talking which didn’t seem very meditative to me. They weren't following their own directions and they were spoiling my chances of entering an altered state in pursuit of wisdom. Meanwhile, so busy judging the others, I ignored the directions myself and forgot to ask for insight.
I slowed down and lagged behind. In doing so, I lost sight of the path they were on and decided to start over. I went back to the beginning and took careful steps while studying the ground. After a while, I noticed the women had stopped talking. I looked around to see where they were. They appeared to be getting closer to a center while I seemed headed further away.
Still plenty of leafy debris on the path, I had trouble following it and got turned around. The path led me back to the beginning before I reached the center, the place where I could ask for wisdom. I started over, only to end up at the beginning once more.
Thirty minutes almost up, there was not enough time to try again.
I sat on one of the benches and watched as the women reached the center of the labyrinth. They stood there in silence for a short time and left with smiles on their faces. I assumed they had received all they had hoped for, unlike me.
Defeated, I watched the falling leaves swirl through the air until they found a place to rest. My imagination, busy swirling inside me as well, offered me needed insight. These are the thoughts that came to me:
During times of change, my preconceived ideas and expectations hinder my progress. I waste energy judging myself or trying to be something I'm not. I can trust that I will find my way even if it is different than I imagined.
What helps you transition through change?