Sunday, February 15, 2009
The Unexpected Path
I was doing rounds one evening when I stopped at the floor-to-ceiling windows along one of the hospital corridors to look at the outside world.
I often try to steal these moments of stillness whenever I can (and usually a moment is all I have). I think of them as micro-retreats, to make my body pause and give my soul a brief rest.
Imagine my surprise and delight upon seeing this unexpected sight when I happened to look down into the courtyard of this as-yet unfamiliar place:
A prayer labyrinth. In my new hospital. A replica of the one in the cathedral at Chartres.
In the midst of the hectic pace here and the stresses of adjusting to a foreign environment, I felt suddenly comforted by the sight of this quiet space reserved for a different kind of healing altogether - an open area of tranquility meant for the spirit, tucked away into the heart of an institution dedicated to the care of the body. A circle, with its suggestion of infinity, within the confines of a square.
In the hospital we run around in circles in what can sometimes seem like an endless labyrinthine path as we prepare patients for surgery, check on them after surgery, and help each other with piles of work, always pressured to go faster, faster, faster. There is little choice; we have to go, go, go. It can be easy to lapse into distraction and the feeling of being constantly on edge, harassed.
The prayer labyrinth, in its silence and patient openness, encourages the opposite kind of labyrinth walk. A mindful crossing and winding, done at our own pace. A peaceful and generative walk on a path freely chosen which, despite its circuitous turns, always leads home, to the center.
The ancients knew that there's a difference between a labyrinth and the maze. A maze confuses and misleads, but a labyrinth can lead to the dispelling of inner monsters and rebirth into a new, more centered kind of journey. I hope the prayer labyrinth at the heart of this maze of work, by its very presence, can gently inspire me with the energy to do just that.
But love has pitched his mansion in
The house of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent. -W.B. Yeats