We say we are “going in circles” when we are busy, busy being ineffective and feeling stressed. We don’t get things done because we are going in circles and looping back over some problem or issue. Often we experience this when we are anxious and worried.
Anxiety seems to have a power of its own that keeps us going over the same thing in our mind. We know we shouldn’t, but this knowledge doesn’t help because we find ourselves ruminating, worrying about whatever it is we are anxious about. Our friends and family members tell us we should ‘just let it go” but that is as helpful as an umbrella in a cyclone.
Western thinking values linear, logical thought processes, where we go in a straight line to the heart of the problem, solve it and move on. I remember as a young teenager my father telling me with disgust, I was not a logical thinker. My father was not one for understanding that often it is an oxymoron for logic and the adolescent brain to be in the same sentence, until that brain develops and matures. I did a law degree, in part to prove to myself that my father’s assessment of me was wrong, only to find that while legal thinking assists with legal problems it does not necessarily translate in the same way to life’s problems where often other intelligences are required.
So, we seem caught between being ineffective and going in circles or going in a straight line to the centre of the problem. For those of us who have anxiety and depression in our circle of friends both options can increase our anxiety and despair. We feel trapped going in circles and feel helpless to think in a straight line.
Is there a third way?
I think the labyrinth provides us with a third alternative. In the labyrinth we circle to the centre rather than circling in a loop. I used to get frustrated in counselling sessions and say to the counsellor, “I am fed up with dealing with the same problem yet again”. The counsellor would say to me, but “you aren’t in the same place you were when you dealt with it last time”. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. In life we often return to the issues we are dealing with but from a different stage in the circle of life. To become frustrated because we are dealing …again…with a particular issue is to think in a logical linear fashion, that we should have solved the “problem” whatever it is, let it go and moved on. We are always wanting to move ever onwards and upwards.
Labyrinths allow us the grace of circling to the centre rather than the pressure of having to things fixed immediately. The other lesson we learn in the labyrinth is the importance of timing. Again, we often think problems should be solved when we want them solved. We go for counselling, we go on retreats, we read books, we mediate, burn incense, do yoga and because we are doing all the right things, we think the “problem” should be solved. Yet, the soul has its own seasons which are not bound by the right things we do.
Grief is often an example of this. We feel if we work through the stages of grief in an orderly and consistent manner our grief will heal, yet in my experience grief has its own timing of healing and to rush that timing is neither useful nor healthful.
In the labyrinth, circling to the centre reminds us healing has its season.
In this third way, rather than getting caught up in opposites of looping around or trying to sort things out in a linear way, we learn in walking the labyrinth of life to trust. We learn to trust life, that it will bring us to the same or similar problems from different angles not because we are failures but because there are still rich lessons we need to learn.
We learn to trust the timing of life and know that in time we will reach the centre. That place where we know ourselves and are known and in that knowing we are at peace. Being known and at peace, we return, circling back to our daily lives.