Tomorrow I will start to write about my Alexander Technique journey, but today I wanted to tell a story about something that happened to me about a year ago in San Francisco; it goes some way to explaining why I began to write, and now to 'blog' and become public....
Whilst I was visiting San Francisco last year to see my son sail in there during his circumnavigation of the world, I planned a visit to Grace Cathedral to see the labyrinths there - replica labyrinths of the great one in Chartres Cathedral in France. I was also blessed to be meeting my dear pen-friend from Canada for the first time ever; she came down to San Francisco in order for us to meet. That first evening we went along together to the Candlelight Labyrinth Walk which is held in Grace Cathedral on the second Friday of every month. The timing was perfect!
These walks are always accompanied by live music and that evening saw a group consisting of harp, violin, and cello, and an extraordinary female singer who's voice floated through the great space like velvet. With the only light being from the hundreds of candles flickering around the walls, it was a beautiful setting.
I had long been drawn to the labyrinth - the ancient pattern being one that puts the walker's brain into altered wave states and opens the way for clarity - but had never had the chance to walk one as large as the Chartres Cathedral design. These are 31 feet in diameter and have a path of about 250m - plenty of time to allow my brain to let go! (And a labyrinth is not the same as a maze; the latter is designed to get you lost, whereas the labyrinth is a continuous path from edge to centre and back.)
We entered the candle-lit space at the rear of the cathedral and sat, with about 30 others, in a circle of chairs around the edge. We were offered a simple explanation about the labyrinth and directions as to how to walk.
One by one, about a minute apart, we entered the pattern at the 'mouth' - the singing and music uplifting us even more. We were using the simple 'Three R's' method of walking - Release, Receive, Return. Walk in with something in mind that you would like to let go of. Even if it is a question, it's best to release it into the space and await the answer. Then when you reach the middle, you receive - maybe comfort, maybe an answer, maybe an idea. Then you return with your clarity of purpose.
I walked in thinking I would release some (more!) fear.... And continued to walk around - enjoying the analogy for life with the passing back and forth of people walking with me, and passing my dear friend who I had only met that day, yet knew so well. With labyrinth etiquette, when we came to someone moving more slowly, we would wait until a turn and then 'overtake' on the inside so as not to disturb their journey, or vice versa.
So, I was walking gently and peacefully thinking about releasing fear when, after just about 2 circuits - there are 11 in these labyrinths - out of nowhere I 'heard' a very assertive question..... "Why are you being so selfish?" And extraordinarily I just knew what it meant in my heart... But inside my head I said, "Pardon?" "Why are you being so selfish?" the 'voice' insisted... And as I walked I 'heard' so clearly the words, gentle and firm but a certain exasperation, "Why are you not sharing your work fully? Why are you withholding so much?" On I walked, 'listening', spellbound... And then the question that nailed me.... "Where would you be now if all those who's teachings you have heard, who's books, who's articles you have read over the years, had listened to their doubts and not published them, had not stood up and shared their wisdom, had not stepped out from behind the self-same fears as you have? When are you going to join in and start really giving?"
I continued to walk, but I think my eyes might well have been out on stalks with the clarity of what I was, or rather wasn't, doing. It looks so obvious, and yet so strange to put this message into words, because although it was given in words, it also wasn't - the soul's words being so much clearer than normal ones, and going so much deeper so much quicker. Those sudden, "I truly get it!" moments. And I had not expected this as I walked my first labyrinth!
I arrived in the centre of the labyrinth and found a 'petal' to stand in - there were about 6 of us in the centre at any one time, each on their own journey, some smiling, some peaceful, some weeping. I spent a few minutes 'receiving', allowing the message to sink in, standing beside a young man who appeared very troubled. I offered him a simple smile, already stepping out from behind the doubts that I was 'stepping out of line'.
Then it was time to walk back out along the path - to almost run back out with the excitement of what awaited me.... Yes! Of course! Why was I holding on to all those stories, all those gems of love, support, teaching, wisdom, guidance that had got me to where I was now, for the simple fear of being laughed at, of being considered 'too big for my boots'. Of being seen to be too bold and of 'standing in my power'. I knew I never intended to stand up and say "This is the way, do it my way", but I was afraid it would look like that. I was afraid that to stand up and share, to 'companion' others on their journey, would mean becoming transparent, sharing openly and with utter honesty, and not cryptically as before. In my effort to care about people 'properly', I suspect they had not felt cared for at all!
So I 'returned' back down the labyrinth path - and with such energy... And with even more similarities to life; people still coming in had to be negotiated and respected. There was much pausing with patience, waiting my turn to pass with the sharing of encouraging smiles. And at the 'mouth' I turned clockwise as instructed to face the centre, waited and thanked the labyrinth, and turned clockwise once more (to complete the circle of closure) and walked out of the labyrinth to my seat.
I felt really quite breathless with ideas - such clarity, such realisation, such desire to come home and begin! Begin what? I had no idea, and yet I did, but I didn't want to be this inadvertent and covert 'selfish through being so fearful' Annie any more. I wanted to begin to share my journey, to share the things that had happened to me, and what had helped me - not because I thought I knew something that another 'should' know as well, but because those so un-selfish people who had dared to put pen to paper, digit to keyboard, mouth to microphone, had shared their stories and thus accompanied me with such incredible love and belief as I went on my way. They had stopped thinking about themselves and their fears and had begun to think of others, and indirectly, even me. And without them, no, I don't know where I would be, I really, really don't. And I want to offer my companionship to others along the way, again just as we all do in the labyrinth. Now I could see a purpose for everything that had happened on my life journey to date - it wasn't something to hide, to be ashamed of... Those who had helped me most were the ones who had dared to share their journey, however messy. (And I love that word; yes, we humans are delightfully and adorably messy!)
And as the young man walked back out along the labyrinth path to the end, he passed by my chair. He stopped, turned to me, and simply mouthed a 'thank you' before walking on. I had done nothing more than 'been there' with him in the centre, open to the possibilities of giving without hint of doubt or shame. I am grateful to that young man beyond measure - he will never know that gift he gave me. By seeing how I had been protecting my heart, and by being able to soften away that protection, I had been kind to my self by dropping the endless self-judgement, and thus I was able to be kind to him by nothing more than just being.
And that was already a year ago in April. But now I have begun. Much has changed, and much goes on delightfully changing. And this is the story of why.... I hope you have enjoyed it.