Marching and the Labyrinth

While marches were recently going on across the country, I was completing my training as a spiritual director at The Haden Institute. In connection with those marching, essentially, to affirm the value of human dignity and respect, we held a liturgy around a labyrinth.

One at a time, each person taking part in the ritual stood at the entrance of the labyrinth holding a lighted candle. After silently declaring our intention in making this symbolic journey, each passed the flame to the next person and proceeded to walk the labyrinth.

Many of us shared in this ritual of walking the labyrinth, which meant that some were on the way in toward the center as others made their return. We sometimes met another person on the narrow path and needed to yield so that both could continue on the journey.

It was a contemplative version of a march, appropriate for a group committed to doing our inner work and discerning how and where the Spirit is leading. In our training we have faced our own self-delusion, unhealthy patterns, and the hollowness of the ego’s demands. We have also experienced the wisdom and light available when we can get out of our own way and find the true center—the spark of the divine within.

People across the country are considering how best to live up to our civic and moral responsibilities. To choose where to invest ourselves, each of us needs to know more about our values than what we’re against. Outrage and fear are powerful motivators, but not a strong basis for setting a wholesome vision.  To build a better society, it’s important to go beneath our immediate emotional responses and act from a grounded center. We gather strength when we know what we’re working for. Then we can be clear about our vision, goals, and values and share them with others. We can help foster the vital, healthy communities that sustain our lives and work.

Walking the labyrinth is a beautiful meditation on the three-part journey. We go within to become centered and grounded. The circuitous route to the midpoint is full of the bewildering turns that life can take. Its confusing path shows us the need to connect to divine guidance. The still point in the center is a place of restoration and wisdom. In this place we find rest, and are given what we need. Finally, we take that inner peace with us as we navigate the complexity of our path back into the world. We repeat this journey again and again throughout our lives.

A balance of contemplation and action changes the world. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and countless others have been able to generate change through action rooted in their connection to the Divine Center. The vision and work that emanates from this center is what will truly carry us forward.

My work is to help people connect with that same center of wisdom, strength, and peace. I’m grateful for the training that has prepared me to offer spiritual direction. Spiritual companionship is a natural a balm for our fragmented society. Now more than ever we all, regardless of our politics, need the ability to act from our highest and most essential self. We need the ability to make soul-level connections with others to create life-affirming communities. Spiritual direction is a healing force for just such a time as this.

My office is open and I would love to meet with you. Email me at: susan@mildlymystical.com

 

Prayer-Filled Air

At the edge of the parking lot at Third Street Coffee is a section of tall chain link fence. It might serve as a divider between lots, but its primary role is that of connection, just as the coffee shop serves to foster community. The chain link canvas is a place for statements to be made without words, a place that emanates prayers.

 

Love Locks for Lexington at Third Street Coffee

Love Locks for Lexington at Third Street Coffee

 

Mostly it holds small padlocks, an echo of the love locks attached to bridges around the world. The practice apparently arose from a poem called “Prayer for Love” by Serbian poet Desanka Maksimovic.  The result has been bridges where so many couples have attached locks as a symbol of their love and devotion that the cumulative weight threatens the structure of the entire bridge. The locks, meaningful as they are individually, become more than the bridge can bear and have to be removed. The fence at Third Street invites Love Locks for Lexington, a sign of commitment to this city.

The image of all those locks, the public statement that the love they represent matters, has power. The symbol of commitment, locked together in love, has power as well. An outward manifestation of an inward grace—that’s the definition of a sacrament. Perhaps that’s the best way to think of this expanse of chain link. It’s a structure that supports something sacramental, an organically arising symbol of devotion. The practice hasn’t been handed down through the ages, but is something rising up, like blades of grass.

Prayer Flags at Third Street Coffee

Prayer Flags at Third Street Coffee

Also on the fence is a line of brightly colored squares of cloth, embellished with simple designs. What can they be but prayer flags, sending prayers and blessings into the world with every passing breeze, through every fleeting glance.

Some devout Buddhists turn small cylinders they carry with the words of a prayer tucked inside, or spin larger wheels built into the walls of a monastery or placed in the river and powered by water. Each spin of the prayer wheel sends the words into the universe, an act of merit for the one who offers the prayer. Prayer flags work the same way, releasing blessings into the air as they flutter in the wind, the air filled with prayer, thick with blessing, a palpable presence, the people changed by breathing power and grace, day and night.

Appropriately enough, there are coffee mugs on the fence at Third Street, too. There are more, of course, inside the café where it’s noisy with talk and laughter and music. The air is filled with the aroma of coffee, and bustles with the delivery of fresh Peruvian beans in a cardboard box, the opening of doors and scraping of chairs, the sounds of connection, conversation, the exchanges that change a day, change a life, change everything.

 

 

Learning to Change My Ways

I recently committed to a three-week experiment in following a vegan diet—a way of eating I had long regarded as extreme. No cheese? No eggs? No milk? Along with no meat? It seemed a lot like no food.

But I was intrigued when my brother, whose favorite meals include Wendy’s double cheeseburgers, said he was trying it. And less than a week later when he said he felt more energetic than in a long while, I ordered the book he had been reading. By the time I had read most of 21-Day Weight Loss Kick Start: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health, by Neal D. Barnard, MD, I decided to give it a try.

To take on that kind of change, even for just three weeks, is a major undertaking. It means learning to cook with strange ingredients from unfamiliar grocery store aisles. It means bringing new lenses to reading a restaurant menu. If nothing else, it’s gratifying to now know I can take on something new and make it work. But more importantly, I feel better for the changes I’ve made.

Given what I had read and heard, I wasn’t entirely surprised by that. The unexpected part of the experience has been the help I received from friends, which was an unanticipated pleasure.

As I first considered this three-week trial, I mentioned to a few people what I was thinking about. Not only were they supportive and interested in how things were going, those with more experience in this way of eating have shared books, recipes, tips, ideas for menus, and a great deal of encouragement. A dear friend even walked with me through the Good Foods Co-op, pointing out some of the items that would help me prepare satisfying meals.

I could not have anticipated the warmth, encouragement, and practical help offered by many different people in my life. Some I knew well, some were acquaintances. But all were eager to talk about the positive results of switching to a plant-based diet. I came home from a conversation at my hairdresser’s with a recipe carefully written by someone glad to offer help in learning a new way to eat. Even the owner of our favorite Chinese restaurant noticed the change when my family ordered all tofu dishes. He was happy to hear about the diet we were trying and urged us to stick with the vegetarian way.

I’m struck by the generosity and goodwill of those who have helped me learn a better way to nourish the body. All the people who care enough to offer their experience and knowledge have made this challenge so much easier. In their help and support for what they have found to be a better way of life, they have offered a kind of hospitality that reminds me of what churches try to cultivate. Change is hard and we all need help when it’s time to make a transformation in our lives, no matter what kind it may be.

This experience will certainly shape the way I eat from now on. It also has me considering how communities naturally arise when people find something so good that it’s worth sharing, and want to help others along the way.

Is there a community that helps you through the transformations that life asks you to make?