On Tuesday, I went to Grace Cathedral to walk the labyrinth. Something I was involved in had just ended on Monday, and between that ending and my job assignment being completed, and just life generally, I felt in need of spiritual reassurance.
Regardless of what I think about God, walking labyrinths has always grounded me. Sometimes that effect does not last very long, but at least while I am walking my mind tends to be clear and focused and I feel calm descend to the core of my soul.
There are other labyrinths closer to me (including at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto) but the indoor labyrinth at Grace particularly moves me.* The stained glass and pews are comforting reminders of a faith I once had. Whatever the doctrinal issues standing between me and the Catholic Church, and recently between me and any organized religion, I find the rituals and the spaces held sacred to be soothing. They fill me with what might almost be described as joy.
I started by thinking about letting go. I often have to let go of things and people, and this is a recurrent theme in my meditations while labyrinth walking.
My mind wandered to people I was upset with for one reason or another. My mind does wander when doing this sort of meditation, and I simply have to figure out whether the new road is likely to be a fruitful one. In this case, I decided it was.
I began by visualizing these people individually and wishing them peace. My mantra was “I wish [him/her/them] peace,” repeatedly. It did not feel very difficullt: I generally wish peace for all people I know. So I moved on to wishing each of them joy.
Ah. This was much more difficult, and I had to refocus time and again on what I wanted to achieve, and why.
Wishing people peace can be dispassionate and removed: “wherever you are, may you find peace.” Wishing people joy is personal: “Wherever you are, and whatever the state of your relationship with me, I actively want you to be happy.”**
To wish people joy is to begin to shed any load of bitterness you carry. While there are people whom it is neither possible nor perhaps healthy to wish joy (someone who physically or sexually abused you, for example), most people fall well outside that category. The sources of conflict can be over trivial or much larger things, they can be longstanding or more recent, they can be open or unspoken.
To wish people joy is to move towards forgiveness. It is also to move towards responsibility: it is easier to see your own contributions to whatever the conflict is, or if you have been holding grudges long beyond the point where it is appropriate, if you are not fixated on the other person.
Wishing people joy, forgiving them, moving on or past, makes my life better, more whole. I am not there yet: I have to return to my mantra of joy when I think of certain people in my life. I am hopeful that before too long I will be able to think of them only with forgiveness in my heart.
We are heading into the season of goodwill towards all. I am glad I have started actually trying to practice it.
*There is also an outdoor labyrinth at Grace. I had the idea on Tuesday that I would love to walk it at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I won’t be able to do that, having just come in from Georgia earlier in the day, but I am certainly keeping it in mind for next year. Of course, I am sure it will have occurred to a lot of people.
**I’m intrigued by the fact that it is easier to wish joy upon people who I suspect are not going to be happy no matter what than those who generally are pretty happy anyway. In any case, me wishing them joy will not affect them (unless I tell them about it), the exercise is for my benefit, mostly.