Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

At breakfast a few days into my 2009 summer experience at the HERS Institute, the conversation buzz was about the labyrinth on the beautiful Bryn Mawr campus. Cut into the grass of a gently rolling hill, this labyrinth seems to have been designed and situated for serendipitous discovery. As more of my HERS “sisters” came to delight in this landscape gem, walking the labyrinth became a shared experience which bonded many of us, a metaphor for our respective personal journeys.

The labyrinth has its roots in Greek mythology with the maze, supposedly first built for Minos, King of Crete, to hold the Minotaur. Whereas a maze is meant to confuse and trap with a puzzle of path choices, a labyrinth is meant soothe and calm, providing a singular way to guide one to the center and back. They can be found in cathedrals and back yards, gardens and courtyards. The pattern could be laid out or marked with any material: marble or tile, gravel or sand, even flowers or string. As a meditative means, walking the labyrinth is meant to slow down life’s hectic pace, clear out the daily noise, and allow individual inspiration to bubble up.

As I joined my HERS sisters in that picturesque spot for after-dinner exercise, returning on my own after early-morning runs, I found that walking the labyrinth could be a metaphor for life. The first few times require concentration on one’s feet, becoming familiar with the path’s twists and turns; putting one foot in front of the other to stay on course is the initial priority. After getting used to the seeming unpredictability of the pathway, one’s gaze can venture upward and take in the ever-changing perspective of the surrounding scenery. Approaching the labyrinth’s center, the turns become sharper. All too soon, one reaches the core and realizes what felt like a long road when starting out was not really that long after all. But reaching the center is not the end: one must continue back to the beginning, the return filled with questions about what one should make of the experience. Some answers come—and more questions are posed—in the companionship of others; some come in the solitude of one’s own thoughts and emotions.

The Bryn Mawr experience, even with its rigorous schedule, allowed me the chance for contemplation and personal devotions. Removed from freeway commutes, office politics, housekeeping, and even single parenthood (Akemi was backpacking through Europe with classmates on her own high school graduation trip), it was a sustained break, a real break, from the daily grind. With excuses removed, I had time for plentiful prayer, scripture reading, journal writing. . .and the Sunday New York Times. In this regard, I came home from Bryn Mawr both reinforced in these good habits and reminded in the need for rejuvenation.

In his address last October “Of Things That Matter Most,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.” I’ve been thinking of the lesson of the labyrinth and of this Uchtdorf advice as I start to feel better. I want to make the most of what window of energy this may be, but I know I’m not doing myself any good by overdoing it. I keep studying to understand the bioscience complexities of Waldenstrom’s, but I’m tired, really tired, of thinking about it. Somehow I still want life to be “normal” again, but what is the “new normal”? I’m taking advantage of this next week with USC on spring break to lift up my eyes—think about work without having to fly from one meeting to the next, construct some “personal retreat” time at the temple and in other regenerating activities, and get ready to have Akemi home the following week for her spring break week.

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