“Is this the right choice?” “What will I do next?” “What do I want to do with my life?” These big questions frequently come up during sessions with my clients. Sitting with this uncomfortable uncertainty can feel overwhelming. Many of us want to reach an answer quickly or be told that a choice we’re making will turn out well. I experienced this a lot over the past two years as I decided to start a coaching business. "Is this my purpose?" "Will someone please tell me I'm doing it right?"
There is one activity I have been introduced to that translates that inner journey of not-knowing into a physical contemplative practice: walking a labyrinth. People have been building labyrinths for over 3500 years across multiple continents and cultures. Moving along a labyrinth combines the mindful practice of walking meditation with a surrender to the twists and turns of the path. There is only one way in and one way out. You may find yourself trying to puzzle out how soon you will get to the center or what the overall design is. Letting go of your need to predict the journey is a powerful metaphor for exploring uncertainty in life. Another metaphor within the practice is that as you move towards the center it is as if you are coming closer to your Inner Knowing or True Essence or the Divine. In this way, it is also a practice in developing trust.
I have been introduced to several ways to frame the labyrinth experience. The one that most speaks to me is as follows.
- Opening up and letting go: As you walk the path towards the center of the labyrinth, think of a question you have or a belief you would like to release.
- Pausing to receive: In the center, pause and allow yourself to receive any insight, response or new question that arises.
- Bringing your gift back to the world: As you walk out, integrate what you have received.
Having had the opportunity to walk seven labyrinths this year, I can share that each one offered me something different. Sometimes there was a very clear message or image that came to me. During one walk, I felt the absence of guidance. I sometimes experienced agitation and needed to move my arms like I was shaking water off of them. Most often, I felt very calm and centered. Without exception, I noticed something about where my attention wandered or the judgments that came up about myself or the other people walking that mirrored patterns in my life.
There is one especially humorous example that comes to mind. In the Santa Cruz mountains, I walked a labyrinth with my mom and my daughters. I felt tired and had some weighty issues on my mind. As I walked purposefully along the twists and turns, my 4 year old ran, skipped, and danced across the lines, yelling "Waaaahoooooo!" over and over again. She was in a completely present, euphoric state, enjoying the bliss of running and shouting. I immediately responded with envy. "I wish I was that carefree," I thought. Well, why not? I believe that my daughters are some of my wisest teachers. As I walked, I noticed that my hips swayed a little more and there was a lightness in my step. I started grinning and dance-walking, feeling playful like my girls. Not surprisingly, the insight I had related to how I could bring more fun to the question I was curious about. Did I come to a clear conclusion about how to proceed? No. But that, in itself, was a gift. Sitting with uncertainty is like strengthening a muscle. Through practice, I increase my capacity to stay with it and become more attuned to my intuition. I learn to trust that the next step will be revealed precisely when and how it should be.