One of the things with walking a labyrinth, is its disorientating nature. You can never see into the distance. Your sight is constrained by the next bend in the path. When you do get to the bend and look right and left both views seem to the same, leading to the quandary do I turn right or left?
Robert Frost captures this perplexity in his poem, The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
Even Frost’s roads had corners he could not see beyond.
We often fall into the habit of seeing life as a straight line. If we are in college or university, we see our life as a trajectory of finishing our degree, gaining employment in the area we have studied, settling down into a relationship. If we are older and have children, we see our children establishing themselves in relationships, having their own children and we, being able to enjoy retirement.
Yet for many of us, COVID-19 has been a major bend in our life’s trajectory that we did not anticipate. Anxiety gnaws at our mental health; financial insecurity breathes down our neck and for many employment is a scare resource. When we look right or left both options seem fraught.
How do we live with serenity when we don’t know what life has in store around the bend?
Some of the things I have found helpful for myself is to remember, life has destinations I can’t yet imagine. I married at 19, had 4 children by the time I was 25 and a Minister of Religion by 24. As far as I was concerned my life trajectory was set. Some nearly 40 years later, I am a divorcee, grandfather, in a same sex relationship and with no affiliation to any church. Were the “bends” in my road difficult to navigate? Definitely, yet I am immensely grateful to where life has brought me.
Let me be clear, I am grateful now, however gratitude is often both an activity we chose to engage in and an end product. The teaching or belief we should simply be grateful for everything, even the crappy things life throws at us is both bollocks and detrimental to our mental health. We may learn to be grateful for the crappy things in life once we are through them but sometimes, we have to scream, swear and vent our frustration at the universe. The universe is big enough to handle it! And while we are venting our pain and frustration, as we draw breath, we need to notice the sunlight breaking through the clouds. We need to hear the song of the bird; we need to see the beauty of a flower before the next wave of pain assaults us.
I am still not grateful, or thankful my son died 10 years ago. I am grateful he was spared more suffering and now I am immensely grateful to the Divine for gifting him to us for those 24 years. But where I am now, is not where I was 10 years ago, and my gratitude is more nuanced and reflective. When you are going through intense pain and suffering it needs to be honoured with honest expression rather than trying to put a veneer of gratitude over it.
Dealing with the bends in the path is also the courage to take the next step. That is all that is asked of us, to take the next step. I always laugh when people ask me what my five-year plan is. I don’t do five-year plans because all life asks of me is to take the next step and that is enough. Those of us who experience or have experienced depression and anxiety, know that taking the next step is enough in itself.
So, as we walk the labyrinth of this life with all the bent paths remember, the destination you are planning for yourself, is not necessarily the one life has for you. When the next bend throws something unexpected at you and you are in pain, honour your pain with expressing it and find something small to be grateful for at the same time. Remember, all you are asked, is to take the next step.