“Release, receive, and return.” That’s what the labyrinth invites us to do.
Yesterday, I needed to release, receive, and return. I was stressing out about the ongoing tension between “do the thing that brings in money” and “do the thing that’s calling you next” – the ever-present question of all soulful entrepreneurs.
I wanted to go to the labyrinth, but it’s covered in snow, so I did the next best thing… I made a finger labyrinth. It turns out that making a labyrinth is almost as good as walking one for that whole “release, receive, and return thing.”
Since I use labyrinths a lot in my work (especially The Spiral Path, which is a 21 lesson journey through the labyrinth to your authentic heart), I thought I’d share the steps in making my finger labyrinth in case you’d like to make one too.
a square canvas or piece of wood (I used an 11X11″ canvas)
a print out of your favourite labyrinth design, printed to the scale of the canvas (For an 11X11 canvas in the 7 path Chartres design that I made, here’s a pdf that prints on two 8.5X11 pieces of paper. If you prefer a different design, just Google “labyrinth template”)
glue (I used a hot glue gun and white glue, but if you don’t have a glue gun, white glue is fine)
newsprint or other paper (whatever you use should be fairly thin)
mod podge (or just use gel medium)
Step 1. Print the labyrinth design and glue it onto the canvas or board. I used ordinary white glue, spread thin with a spreader (any straight plastic edge, like an old credit card) will work. Use the spreader to work out any bubbles in the paper (though it doesn’t have to be too fussy, since you’ll cover it).
Step #2. Glue heavy string onto all of the black lines. I used the hot glue gun for this because it dries faster, but it would work fine with white glue.
Step #3.Cut lots of short strips of newsprint. I used blank newsprint, because it’s easier to paint over, but you could use newspaper. You could also use coloured paper if you don’t want to paint it. Tissue paper would also work, but you’d need a few layers to make sure the black is covered. The strips I used were approx. .75″ by 3″. You don’t have to be fussy about it, but you’ll want them wide enough to cover the string and adhere to the surface without covering two lines of string at the same time.
Step #4. Slather mod podge (or gel medium) generously on a section of string. Add a strip of paper and cover the paper with more mod podge (or gel medium). The best way to do this is with your fingers, so be prepared to get a little messy.
Step #5.Keep going until you have the whole labyrinth and canvas covered with strips of paper. Some spots are tricky (especially if you decide to do the flower pattern at the centre, like I did), so you’ll have to let go of your inner perfectionist and let it be a little imperfect. Make sure it’s all well coated with mod podge (or gel medium). Let it dry.
Step #6.If you want to paint it, add a layer of gel medium once it’s dry (this time you can do it with a paint brush) to smooth out some of the rough edges and to make sure the paint adheres to the surface.
Step #7.Paint it however you like. I used three tones of acrylic paint for the ombre effect (crimson, burnt sienna and ochre.
Step #8.If you want to give it a more textured, aged effect, rub a glaze over it. I used a brown glaze (acrylic paint mixed with gel medium) and rubbed it on with your fingers. Because I’d layered on the gel medium a little too thick, there were some cracks and the dark glazed picked these up, giving it a bit more of an aged look.
Step #9. Hang it on your wall or keep it in your studio, bedroom, or sanctuary where you can use it as a meditation tool.
Here are some tips for using your finger labyrinth…
Before you start, take some time to settle in to a position in which you’re comfortable. Take some slow deep breaths to centre you in your practice.
You may want to journal before and/or after the practice.
Before you begin, you may wish to set an intention or ask a question that you will carry with you into the labyrinth, but be careful to keep it open-ended so that you’re open to surprise.
Say a prayer, if you like, for support, healing, and guidance.
Place a finger at the entrance of the labyrinth. Some people suggest that you use your non-dominant hand, as research suggests that our non-dominant hand has easier access to our intuition.
As you follow the path with your finger inward, be conscious and intentional about releasing whatever stresses, worries, or distractions you might be feeling. Breathe deeply and slowly.
Pause whenever you want, but don’t lift your finger off the labyrinth.
When distracting thoughts come up, simply let them pass and wish them well as they leave your mind.
When you reach the centre, pause for awhile and receive. Be open to whatever guidance and wisdom you may need, even if it’s not what you expected.
When you’re ready, follow the path outward, consciously returning and bringing the wisdom of the centre out into your life with you.
In your journal, write or sketch anything that came to you while you made the journey.
Don’t try too hard. Sometimes the wisdom of the labyrinth is simply the pause that it forces you to take. Sometimes nothing obvious shows up, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t time well spent. Stay open and receptive.
Starting February 1, 2015, you can join me in a 21 lesson journey through the labyrinth, back to your authentic heart in The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself. In the first seven lessons, you’ll release what no longer serves you. In the next seven lessons, you’ll open yourself to receiving. In the final seven lessons, you’ll return from the journey.
I knew I couldn’t spend the whole evening there. I needed green space. I needed fresh air. I needed some mindful wandering to help me process all of the wonderful things that had happened on my trip before returning home early the next morning.
So I did what I often do – I opened Google maps and looked for the nearest green patch on the map. About a quarter mile away, past the industrial wasteland, across a freeway, and at the edge of the suburbs, there was a strip of green along what looked like a tiny creek. Hmmm… it looked promising.
What a delightful surprise I found when I crossed that freeway and climbed the embankment! There was a protected greenbelt running along the creek, with a beautiful walking/biking path that stretched out for seemingly miles.
I’m happy for groomed trails when I’m on my bike, but when I’m walking, I always look for the “path less traveled”. Sure enough, closer to the creek was a rugged path made for adventurers like me. Everyone else took the easy path – I climbed through the underbrush to find the one closer to nature.
For the next two hours, I wandered wherever my curiosity would take me. I climbed under bridges, I knelt on the damp ground to get closer to the violets, I scampered after bunnies, and tried (unsuccessfully) to take pictures of an elusive red bird. I scratched myself on low-hanging branches, and I nearly got stuck in the mud.
I was my 10 year old self again, finding secret hideaways in the woods on our farm.
It was heavenly. It was like a deep exhale after an exciting but full and intense week.
Wandering is my meditation, my therapy, my brainstorming session, my stress-reliever, my playtime, and my teacher. It fills me up in a way that few other activities do.
What about you? Do you love to wander? Or perhaps you haven’t discovered the beauty of wandering yet. Check out my e-book on the topic. It’s full of goodness, including interviews with a dozen other people who know the power of wandering.
Sometimes, I forget how to pray. No… scratch that – not just SOMETIMES, but OFTEN. Almost every single day.
I have a lousy memory. I forget what it takes to tap into God’s power. I forget that there is something bigger than me at work in the world. I forget that I don’t have to do all of this work alone. I forget that often the most valuable use of my time is to just SHUT UP and LISTEN.
As my last post suggests, I have too often fallen victim to the cult of productivity. We value “busy” in our culture. We don’t value sitting quietly and listening to the wisdom of the God of our understanding. Even in our prayers we think we have to be DOING something all the time. Like maybe we have to fill our prayer time with a whole lot of talking, reeling off a long list of things we think God should be doing in our lives and the lives of the people around us.
It’s not that God doesn’t want to hear from us, but often I think what God wants is just for us to sit quietly, submit our will and our thoughts, and just listen.
The book I’m writing is causing me to think a lot about the day to day presence of God. I have never had such a strong sense of the presence of God in my life as I did during those three weeks in the hospital waiting for my son to arrive. Yesterday I caught myself thinking “I wonder what I could do to go back to that place – to once again sense God’s presence in that way.”
God has a sneaky way of responding when we ask questions like that. Yesterday I read two books that, ostensibly, have nothing to do with prayer, and yet the topic of prayer showed up in both of them. First I was reading Lit, a memoir by Mary Karr that tells the story of her journey from alcoholic agnostic to sober Catholic. When she joins her first twelve step program, she has great difficulty submitting to a Higher Power. It just doesn’t make sense to her. Gradually, she learns to get down on her knees and submit. Gradually, she is transformed and she no longer has to fight the battle of addiction alone.
After finishing Lit, I picked up A World Waiting to Be Born by one of my favourite writers, M. Scott Peck. It’s a book about civility, but lo and behold, there’s a whole chapter on prayer. Peck says that when people ask him how he manages to be so productive in his life, his answer is “I spend 2 hours every day doing nothing.” Three times a day, for 40 minutes, he sets aside all other distractions and spends dedicated time in prayer/meditation. He credits his success as a psychologist and author to the fact that he submits to his Higher Power for direction and wisdom.
Two books in one evening telling me I needed to pray more. I got the message.
This morning, after the house was empty, I climbed into the bathtub and decided that would be my prayer time. Lying there, taking deep breaths, I said “God, I open my mind to your presence.” And then I lay there, open and waiting. Well, these things don’t come naturally, and just like my running practice, I know that I have to put in the day to day effort before something becomes natural.
Here’s a little how my thought process went. “God, I open my mind to your presence. Hmmm… perhaps if I picture setting a lovely table, complete with flowers and pretty dishes, and invite God to sit with me…. oooh… I like that… wouldn’t that make a lovely blog idea? I could prepare a guided meditation for people about how to invite God’s presence…. oops… I’m slipping into meta-praying – thinking about praying instead of doing it… Okay, let’s try this again… God, I open my mind to your presence. Come sit at my table and dine with me…. Hmmm… I better make this quick. I’ve got lots of work to do. I have to prep my teaching notes and mark all those papers and…”
Yeah, you know how these things go.
But at least I’m trying. And maybe tomorrow I’ll get a few extra seconds in before my mind wanders again.
There are few things that nourish my spirit more than a meditative wander through nature with my camera.
Mindful photography is for me what prayer or meditation is for others – a time to connect with the Creator through the tiniest of details on a leaf or the grandeur of the waves crashing on the coastline.
Unfortunately, in winter, I too often forget to do what I know will nourish me.
Yesterday, I remembered.
(Note: Video includes music from my friend Steve Bell.)
From an ad for meditation cushions, it jumped out at me.
Don’t just do something. Sit there.
Hmmm. Clever. I liked it enough to clip it out and add it to my vision board for 2011.
Yesterday, after dropping my niece off at the airport, I brought a chai latte and my journal to my son’s grave. It’s the place I often go when I need a little quiet contemplation, and it seemed right to visit on the first day of a new year.
As much as I speak with some bravado about letting joy direct my path this year, there’s a piece of me that’s still hanging onto some “oh my gosh I quit my job and I have no idea how to build a business” stress. I often wake up in the morning with a vague feeling of panic. I’m navigating a whole new world without a map, and that’s scary.
Those are the things I was thinking as I sat at Matthew’s grave. When I quit my job, I knew I’d need some transition time, and I took it. That’s what the month of October was for. I thought I could put it in a neat little box, and then on November 1st I’d be rarin’ to go. But it didn’t quite happen that way. Transition took longer than I expected. I jumped into my teaching role, but when it came to the other stuff I was planning to do, I just wasn’t finding a lot of momentum.
“Okay then, give yourself a little longer,” I thought. “Teaching is taking a lot of energy. Perhaps that’s enough for now, and then on January 1st you’ll be ready to rush full speed into a myriad of projects.”
So it was that, on January 1st, I sat at my son’s grave. “Now is the time,” I thought. “Today is the day that the momentum needs to kick into high gear.”
Sadly, though, there is still so much that isn’t clear. No lightening bolts have flashed words across the sky “this is your path, follow it and don’t deviate. Here are your ten easy steps to success.” Almost every day I think up a new project or a new direction (there is no shortage of inspiration). But after the ideas comes… nothing. No momentum, very few accomplishments, and no knock-your-socks-off clarity of direction.
I have to admit, a niggling fear keeps eating at me that I need to get better at writing business plans, and action plans, and marketing plans and goals and objectives and … well, maybe THEN – if there were an artificially constructed linear path laid out in front of me – I’d kick myself into full gear and follow it.
Into the cold wind at the grave, I whispered “Sophia God, show me some direction. Give me clarity in what I should do. I am confident that I am following a path I’ve been called to follow, and yet it still feels so unclear.”
In a moment, the wind whipped a whirlwind of snow around the grave. A spiral. Not a linear path.
After the whirlwind, the stillness. The blank slate of fresh snow like frozen waves drifting across rows and rows of graves.
And in the stillness, these words came back to me “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”
Really? That’s it? That’s the wisdom I came here to find? That’s the brave new world that January 1 is ushering in?
Inside the warmth of my vehicle, I scribbled my questions in my journal. Stillness? Is that the path I’m supposed to take?
“Yes, stillness. Stop the scurrying and worrying and hurrying. Stop the wheel-spinning and the trying too hard. Stop the striving. Stop. And wait. And listen. Pray. Meditate.”
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” (Isaiah 30)
Wisdom won’t be tied up in little boxes to be reached for and plucked along artificially constructed linear paths. Wisdom comes to us in spirals. In whirlwinds. In whispers. At gravesides. On labyrinth paths. Wisdom appears in a heart that is ready for it. In a heart that is still. In a heart that listens. A heart that waits.
And so, despite the part of me that stubbornly insists I have to be BUSY to have value, I claim this mantra. Don’t just do something. Sit there.
Not exactly a business plan. But it’s the lesson that Sophia God wants me to learn. And relearn. I will try to be a patient student.
* * *
Today, a friend shared this video of David Whyte speaking about the place of poetry in the corporate world, and this poem found me…
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.