Pilgrimage as a Labyrinth Walk

Very aptly my pilgrimage unfolded like a labyrinth walk:

  • There were sharp, unexpected turns: brain tumours and surgery, disintegration of relationship with friend who accompanied me some of the way, family member’s illness
  • Couldn’t see too far ahead
  • Couldn’t see the beginning, end or middle when focusing on my feet
  • There were helpers along the way: we would come together then part again much like the rhythm that establishes itself when people are walking a labyrinth

I have come to realise that my original intention was what put me on the road. What actually unfolded was the pilgrimage.

Australian Labyrinth Network

The second annual gathering of the Australian Labyrinth Network was held in Sydney in April. It was an opportunity to connect with members of my tribe from the USA and around Australia. Their love and acknowledgement were very nourishing.

This network will be a valuable way for people to spark off each other’s experience in taking the labyrinth to rich and varied communities. Two areas that interest me (in addition to health care settings) are prisons and indigenous communities. Unfortunately there’s a lot of overlap between these two categories.

A key member of the network, Geoff Rodda, is in the process of developing an interactive map that locates labyrinths right throughout Australia. When it’s completed you will be able to click on the location of any travel that you are planning to do and see what labyrinths are in the vicinity. It also lends itself to the potential of developing labyrinth trails where can journey from one to the next.

World Labyrinth Day

World Labyrinth Day  (WLD) on May 5 marked the end of my 12 month pilgrimage, my intention to walk a different labyrinth every day for a year. Whilst for really significant reasons that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to disclose I didn’t manage to do exactly that: some days it was way more than one, others were none except finger labyrinths, I did physically walk 400 different labyrinths in that time. They were varied in their character and location, nestled within interesting communities. They took me to baking hot deserts, shaded forests and sandy beaches. Some were modern, others ancient. Their habitat ranged from churchyards, school grounds, parks and hospitals to private homes. Each and every one had something to teach me as did the people who had birthed them, walked them, created ritual upon them.

Obviously one of the things that I learnt is that we may set out to do one thing and it either quietly or abruptly turns in to something else. I think that what is important is to honour and learn from everything that has shown up in the space of that commitment.

WLD was a day of glorious autumn weather, delicious food and heartwarming company and enriching conversation. It was also an opportunity reflect upon friends around the globe who would be walking the labyrinth at 1pm in their time zone. Although the relationships that formed as I travelled were by their nature brief each person was sharing an intense experience with me and an intimacy and closeness developed very quickly.

Sydney Writers’ Festival

I know I keep banging on about this topic but one of the highlights for me of the Sydney Writer’s Festival was a talk by Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections. Having suffered from depression since he was a teenager and derived limited benefit from medication he became interested in the social factors that contribute to the concerning prevalence of anxiety and depression in our times. He identifies nine different things we have been disconnected from including nature, community, meaningful work and a sense of the future. The material in the book is widely researched and includes fascinating stories ranging from a democratically run bike shop in Boston, to a South American city that has banned advertising to a housing commission community that came together in Berlin in response to a Muslim woman’s sign in her apartment window that she was going to commit suicide.

I was also seeking sessions featuring aboriginal writers. One panel was headed by Anita Heiss who was accompanied by contributors to the anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia.

Another included Marcia Langton who has just released Welcome to Country: a really beautiful and informative book that goes into Aboriginal history and culture whilst outlining places throughout Australia that one can visit and learn more of Aboriginal culture. In discussion with her was Kim Scott whose beautifully written and evocative book, Taboo, explores the conflicted experience of both aboriginal and white people in an area where a massacre of aboriginal people occurred.

Early last year I learnt that I have two female aboriginal ancestors. My next spirit quest will be bringing as much about them to light as I can. Another road trip in the making. Watch this space. In the meantime I’m learning as much as I can through literature, film and radio about aboriginal life both past and present. The more I learn the harder I find it to continue to swallow the Australian history that I was taught.