When the Results Aren’t What You Expected: A Labyrinth Walk

The first time I heard of a labyrinth walk, the idea peaked my curiosity. I filed it away in the part of my brain where I keep a small collection of things I want to experience someday–like photographing a hummingbird or growing a blowsy, lush rose bush with blooms the color of sunset.

I’ve yet to have luck with either the hummingbird or the roses, but my husband and I stumbled upon a labyrinth a few months ago while hiking on a weekend getaway. It sat tucked in the woods and wound around and around–a maze of brown and gray stone. The Lotus Labyrinth, so named for the inlaid lotus at both the entrance and exit, was set in a clearing, and surrounded by trees.

I pulled my husband towards the entrance, and we slowly wound our way towards the pile of stones in the center to the sound of the wind making music of dried leaves. Small signposts explained that upon entering, we should take note of any heaviness or emotional weight we carried. On reaching the center, we were to release the things that weighed us down, as if laying them down on an altar. Then, as we wound our way to the exit, with slow measured steps, we would symbolically leave behind the thoughts, fears, or false beliefs we had carried in.

My husband sped through the rest and sat down on a nearby boulder to wait for me. I took my time circling around and around, stopping to pray in the center, then circling back out again until my feet found the final lotus. I took a deep breath and surveyed my feelings. I felt exactly the same as when I entered the labyrinth. I had arrived carrying the weight of a few things, and I had carried them right back out again.

I didn’t experience a spiritual epiphany or feel God’s presence in any discernible way. My soul didn’t feel lighter, and my concerns followed me from entrance to exit to the hike home again.

My labyrinth walk comes to mind every so often, and I’ve asked myself if it was worth doing if I didn’t experience the peace it promised. It’s a small thing–inconsequential, really. But it brings to mind all of the small physical acts that I hope will bear fruit in the long term, despite their small beginnings.

The hug I give to my stiff and reluctant teenager. The quiet moments of prayer with no obvious answers. The folding of clothes that end up crumpled again. The pose of a warrior on the yoga mat with a persistent wobble. The chop and stir preparation for a meal gone in minutes. The phone call to an elected official who refuses to listen. The typing of words destined for deletion.

When the results hold no promise, these become small acts of obedience and resistance. We resist the urge to allow life to happen to us. Instead, we press on and create our lives out of these small acts strung together with purpose. We obey the needs of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, and we acknowledge there will be disappointments. The act itself is rarely pointless, rather it points to something bigger.

If I walk a labyrinth again, I will enter it knowing that the action speaks more than the end results.

Reclaiming Our Place

FullSizeRender

A small creek ran through our neighborhood of manicured lawns and look-alike condominiums. Thick walls of gray rock under wire-mesh netting sat on either side of the water’s edge, containing it, keeping all things wet and wild within its borders. When I was a child, I loved to explore there. I loved to escape the stale air-conditioned spaces of our two-bedroom unit and feel the submerged rocks, slick with algae, slip under my feet.

We creek-walked in the shallow places, but the water grew deep near the neck of the small woods bordering the development. There, the neighborhood kids and I spent hours sitting on thick rocks jutting out of the water watching sunfish and crayfish and water striders scuttle by. “The Woods” became the backdrop for every summer day adventure… 

….

Today, I have the pleasure of writing at You Are Here on the theme of reclaiming place. To read the rest of the story, click here. Have a look around and read some of the fantastic pieces on roots, identity, and place while you’re there.

What Hollywood Taught Me About Real Life

IMG_7720

We sat in the rented min-van hurtling through the Hollywood Hills, the two youngest on probation in the back seat, the oldest in the middle pretending she couldn’t hear any of us, the mother-in-law with nerves of steel next to her. He and I sat in the front, not speaking. Oh, we’d been speaking. We spoke through gritted teeth with words that cleverly hid everything unspoken behind them. We spoke with a false politeness that raised itself into something akin to yelling. Then we stopped speaking altogether because everything we wanted to say could not be said with other ears listening. My mother-in-law, she with the endless stream of words and the patience of a real-life saint, said absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell if she was appalled or enjoying the show that was our family–hungry, disobedient, frustrated, turned around in a new city.

Before the Hollywood Hills, we had a great morning touring a television/movie studio. We walked under hundreds of lights and cameras on Conan’s sound stage, and sat on the sofa at Central Perk, and took photos of almost every single item of Harry Potter memorabilia. We all sat under the (real!) sorting hat. I am in Slytherin. This did not bode well for the rest of our journey. My daughter told me during the tour that she wants to be an actress. I prayed, please Jesus, no. Then I contemplated becoming an actress myself for a brief moment because I like to bring all the drama. If you knew me in real life, you would not believe this unless you put a ring on my finger or happen to be my sister.

Later, Hollywood had it’s way with us. We parked and walked around and my kids realized immediately that the glitz and glamour are an illusion. Something I knew already, but with the kids fighting incessantly behind me and the husband refusing to feed us lunch until we squeezed in ‘one more’ landmark, and the half-naked girls dressed like hookers/policemen (a bizarre combination if ever there was one) shaking their boobs at my son, and the sad desperation of artists lining the streets trying to shove their music or art or street performance at anyone who made eye contact–the curtain pulled back a little farther to expose the little man playing at a big one.

Once we escaped Hollywood itself, and drove through hills and hills of mansions, I couldn’t help but think of all the lost souls looking for work in that town. All the artists working as waiters, all the women afraid of aging, all the “aspirings” hoping for a big break and forgetting to live the life they have in the process. I am an artist (on my good/delusional days), I am an aspiring, but my life is so full. Full of people who love me in spite of my drama and my tendency to become hangry. Full of work and words. Full of life and love and anger and frustration and joy and hope. I fear that I will miss out on what I have sitting in the mini-van rental for the want of everything outside of it. The illusion of success. The mansion in the hills. The creative expression. It is a desire to be known, to be bigger than I really am, to be admired, to be talented, to be wanted. But, I already am all of these things to the people fighting in the seat behind me, and sitting silent in the seat beside me.

We ended the night laughing over a meal together at the Cheesecake Factory, but only after slamming car doors and real yelling and some people losing their electronic privileges. Most days this is the art I am making–no illusions, no hair and makeup, no fawning fans. Real life–I’m pulling back the curtain.

On baby steps and bunny slopes

ski via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Here’s the thing. I have an unnatural fear of heights, speed, and being run over by other people. These three factors come to a head on the ski slopes, where I will surely experience all three while participating in forced family fun. I don’t fear falling, two seasons of snowboarding cured me of that particular fear, but it’s the loss of control, the waiting for someone to come from behind me and cut me off at the knees that worries me the most.

I once attended a running expo where a friend and I picked up our race bibs for the next day’s race. She felt so much anxiety over the race, she later told me she considered dropping a brick on her foot in order to get out of running it. This is how I feel about skiing. Self-inflicted injury sounds more appealing than bunny slopes. I once told my husband I would rather have a tarantula on my face (on. my. face.) than strap into a pair of skis again.

Unhinged? Perhaps. Irrational? Certainly.

Over the Christmas break, we skied for a day during our trip to Vermont. My stomach tied itself in knots for days in advance, and I alternately snapped at everyone for no reason or brooded in silence. My husband finally suggested I stay back at the hotel while he took the kids without me. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to say yes, how quickly I wanted to jump all over his offer and sit in the quiet of the hotel room with a book, without fear eating away at my stomach lining.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t accept his offer because I still want to have some credibility with my kids when I tell them they can do hard things. I might be an irrational scaredy-cat, but I can’t quit while the kids look at me wide-eyed and bewildered. So, on a biting cold morning, I strapped on a pair of skis and I forced myself onto a ski lift and I forced myself down what some generously call a beginner slope and I fell after a dumb kid nicked my skis and I fake smiled and I cried when no one was looking and I complained and I ate an ice cream and I survived the day.

I know this sounds ridiculous to those of you who face bigger fears than creeping down a mountain at a snail’s pace. Believe me, I have Very Real Fears too, ones tied to shame and self-worth and what the hell I’m doing here and how am I responsible for mothering little people? But sometimes it’s worth celebrating when we take a small step outside of our self-imposed boundaries. It helps us live brave into the heavier doubts and fears we carry. Sure, it’s only skiing, but tomorrow it might be something else, something bigger, something knit deeper into the intricacy of my soul. I want to know what I’m made of, I want to know what you’re made of too, and it starts with baby steps and bunny slopes.

…………….

What’s one small step you took this week towards fear and not away from it?

Running feet

lake via kimberlyanncoyle.com

If I left my little gray house and walked straight up, past the other homes built terraced into the hills, across the main road, and around a deep bend, I would find myself standing in the forest within twenty-five minutes. Once there, the noise of the street traffic below faded into the hush of the fir trees. Paths crisscrossed through forest and farms, winding around a central lake. Birdsong and the soft tinkle of cowbells strung around thick bovine necks played like music to the discerning ear. I, of course, heard none of it with my headphones smashed deep into my ears, pumping out the sounds of Pearl Jam and Pink.

In the three and a half years I lived in the gray house, I always drove the five minutes it took to reach my forest destination. I couldn’t imagine…

………………………..

Today, I’m writing at Shout Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine about stripping things down to the bare essentials, in both running and in life. Runner or not, I think you’ll relate. For the rest of the article, click here.