The Onion and the Labyrinth

“Everything that’s created comes out of silence. Thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Words come out of the void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness.”       Wayne Dyer

Decades ago, a musical called Stop the World! I Want to Get Off ran for about a year on Broadway. It was not a particularly memorable play and its details, I’m sure, are remembered only by Methuselah and me. It’s etched in my memory because I saw it at an age when my brain still had the sponge-like ability to absorb everything that it heard or saw.  I’m not bragging. These days I do well to remember where my phone is and I positively resent the space this silly divertissement holds in my brain. Be that as it may, I’m stuck with the character  Littlechap and the circus-like environment in which I found him. He is the glue that holds the play together, and, if memory serves me right, he booms “Stop the world” and talks to the audience whenever his happiness is threatened or he is displeased.  There are times I envy him, and while he is crass,  I suspect somewhere along the way he was exposed to Wordsworth, and his  battle cry is borrowed from the poet’s The World is Too Much With Us.

I’ve always thought the  good life was a matter of balance and I’ve rarely felt Littlechap’s  need to stop the world. I’ve been fortunate and my feet usually find themselves on steady ground. There are times, however, when life closes in, and noise coupled with the weight of people, obligations or circumstance weigh heavy on my soul. Not the “Dark Night”  of which John of the Cross, spoke, mind you.  I do, however, love the first stanza of his poem and it does remind me that sometimes life, layered like an onion, must be peeled to its core to be fully realized.

In an obscure night
Fevered with love’s anxiety
(O hapless, happy plight!)
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be

The metaphor of an onion stuck with me, so, I sought to find a place where I could, without distraction and in near perfect silence, peel back the layers that kept me from my core. I found a retreat house in the woods along the McKenzie River and it was here Bob and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday. Set far back from the highway, the only sound  to be heard was rain and the roar of water as it rushed around the river bend. The water became a symphony whose beat and measure replaced the noise packed in the “baggage”  that came with us. The rain was steady and lasted the entire holiday, but not easily daunted, we walked, umbrellas furled like sails, on rough trails that had, a month earlier, been mobbed with hikers.  And it was on one of the retreat center’s trails we met a young priest making a retreat so silent we were unaware of his presence until we met him at the Labyrinth, a place I would repeatedly walk to gain clarity.

There is a difference between a maze and a labyrinth. A maze is a circular branching puzzle with many paths and a directionality that can lead to dead ends and false starts.  A labyrinth, by contrast, has a single path which leads to and from its center. It is impossible to get lost in one.  They were originally designed for spiritual purposes and were meant to engage the body, soul and mind in prayer as they traversed a path that, if followed, would lead to peace and eternal life. The labyrinth, which symbolizes wholeness, healing, and inclusion, is also used as a meditation tool to help find internal peace and clarity. It is a tool that encourages self-exploration and reflection. Walking the labyrinth represents the journey to and from one’s own center and if undertaken with intent it can release tension and free the mind, readying it for quiet contemplation.

Mine was a personal rather than a religious retreat. Many will view my “escape” as the height of self-indulgence. They may be right,  but I can tell you that the time I spent listening to the rain pound tattoo, the smell of drenched forest duff and the tiny  room that was sufficient to our needs, stilled my not always quiet mind and helped me focus on the things that must come and go in my life. I am slowly shedding the weight of things and the demands of time, and if you hear reports of two old people hiking in the rain while holding hands, they obviously encountered Bob and me. You can tell them you knew us way back when.

7 thoughts on “The Onion and the Labyrinth

  1. “There are times, however, when life closes in, and noise coupled with the weight of people, obligations or circumstance weigh heavy on my soul.”

    Yes! This is my life in a nutshell. I envy your escape and don’t think of it as self-indulgence but more as self-medication. The stress of the recently ended holidays is still upon me. My stomach still a mess from the rich foods and over indulgence. My brain still on the fast track of wondering if everyone was happy, was every tradition followed, what did I forget. It’s not just the holiday, but work, family life, relationships, friendships. No Mary, not self indulgence, I envy your freedom to follow your heart, you’ve earned it. I have too, but just haven’t found away to “get away”! But I’m getting there, slowly but surely! Great post!

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  2. Your post set my mind chiming in response. I am also struggling to find the balance between obligations I have real feeling for and the need for creative solitude. Your lovely writing argues well for the beneficial effects of a quieter life.

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  3. Hiking in the forest or up mountains always gave me a feeling of peace being away from ringing phones and the stressful everyday things of life. I am reminded of one winter day when we started up the mountain in about 3-4 inches of snow only to have it get deeper and deeper as we reached the top. Our rather strenuous climb was rewarded by seeing the many scrub pine trees with their needles sparlilng like crystal flowers against the blue sky. I will remember this sight forever. It puts a smile in my heart each time I think of it.

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  4. Mary, I’m one of those folks who doesn’t worry about too much…if I can’t change something or it isn’t my problem, I just don’t fret about it. No real contemplation needed… My better half on the other hand, worries about everything, from a high school classmate’s marriage (50 years ago ), to the problems that our new neighbor is having with a painter. Re: that classmate…the only contact my wife has had with her had in 50 years is via Facebook! What?!

    My goal is to enjoy every day I have left…do what I/we enjoy doing. Don’t overthink everything… Don’t get involved unless you can actually help someone you are close to. Appreciate the little joys in life.

    Just saying… Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

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