Murphy: What are you, Picasso?
McManus: No, it's not art. It's a maze. It's a meditative maze. Murphy: Oh, okay. What's a meditative maze?
McManus: Well, if you got a problem that you're trying to figure out, you enter the maze. And as you make your way through, you concentrate on finding the right path, which stimulates your powers of reason. And by the time you reach the end, hopefully you'll have figured the problem out.
Murphy: Oh, yeah, I forgot. You went to that New Age seminar last weekend.
McManus: A maze is kind of dumb, but who's to say, right? I mean, if it works ... but we gotta try it, right?
Murphy: Sure, Tim. Only, you know, without real walls, these dinks are just gonna step over the line.
In the first episode of the final season of HBO's Oz, Tim McManus, administrator of the fictional prison's experimental unit paints a labyrinth in the prison's gymnasium floor, and, as he explains to his head Correctional Officer, Sean Murphy, by the time someone exits the maze, they'll have had insights about whatever brought them there. Given the heights the show had reached in previous seasons, I was suprised how low it was falling with such an implausible and dumb idea. Throughout the season, various characters walk the "maze," during emotionally heavy moments of their lives, and every time, I thought to myself how ridiculous it was.
Perhaps in the context of television it is, but less than a month after I had watched the final episodes on DVD, I was trying to come up with a spiritual activity for New Year's Eve or Day. In years past, I've gone to the ocean or gone to a church. One year I went to a Zen Buddhist Temple. Looking for ideas, I got online and somehow I stumbled onto the website for Nob Hill's Grace Cathedral Church, where the word "labyrinth" jumped out at me. Suddenly I found myself staring at an image that looked familiar, except this was no maze. The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, President and Founder of Veriditas, The Voice of the Labyrinth Movement explains: "The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn." Grace Cathedral has two. I was intrigued. Wallah! A New Year's Day ritual.
My experience was incredible and more than I could ever have expected. I'd had only five hours of sleep after a long night surveying the the dreck of 2006, and all that I hope to leave behind. I set off for my walking meditation with absolutely nothing to lose. Arriving at the church, I stumbled upon the terrazzo labyrinth. It was smaller than I expected. The skies were a bit grey. I was alone, but happy to be so. I plugged in my iPod, selecting music for meditation. Just as I was about to enter, a group of four or five little Russian kids in ethnic garb came from nowhere and entered the "maze," laughing, running and disrupting my solitude. I was grossly disappointed but prepared to do what I came to do. They skipped and danced. I kept my head down and settled into a steady, contemplative pace. The moment my feet had crossed the entrance, the sun beamed upon us all. Within seconds I had my first revelation, which was that having the kids scamper and cavort was kind of "delightful," and that though they were not the company I might have chosen, I enjoyed their presence. I thought about how often this is the case in life, that although I don't always have the luxury of choosing my companions, it's often my attitude about their presence that makes the difference between enjoying myself and being bothered.
Two adults, an older man and a woman about my age joined in, and I was very aware of the contrast between the adult furrowed brows and frolic manuvers of the kids. I noticed also that each time it seemed like any of us were about to collide, the labyrinth would suddenly turn back on itself; all that was required was faith. Without it, we might have strayed, trying to avoid a danger that revealed itself as only the appearance of danger. I saw also that even though the labyrinth switched directions, I was always on "the right path," always headed toward the center even after I'd lost my bearings. My walk was filled with revelation after revelation of this kind, so that by the time I did reach the center I thought I'd be overflowing, too full. But at the center, I found quiet. The others continued circling and switching back around me, oblivious, as if I were a proton in the nucleus and they were electrons. Life was going on all around me as I stared out at the park across the street full of children on swings, dogs and their owners and strolling couples.
After some moments of silent prayer and meditation, I set about reversing my trip inward. I was reluctant to go back, but soon I was lost in the movement itself, and it became irrrelevant whether I was journeying inward or outward. The spiral drew me back to my start point, though I felt changed; the others who'd been with me had already left. A young couple stood still for a moment as if on the edge of a precipice, undecided. Then they began, the same as me, one foot after the other.
I felt incredible. Nearby a man was playing with his son, a toddler. I smiled at both of them as I passed by to explore the rest of the grounds; the father eyed me suspiciously. I passed a homeless man muttering to himself. I came upon a locked gate beyond which lay a garden. I held the bars, like the men in Oz, and contemplated all that had just happened. I thought about what I would like to manifest in this lifetime. I wondered, among other things, if I'll ever have a real relationship. Just as I asked where this womanly creature for me might be, a silver balloon bounded gracefully towards me. Where it came from, I had no idea but I opened my hands and arms and it floated right to my heart. I was comforted by its message and presence. Then I looked up and noticed that the clouds were rolling in, a nip was returning to the air. I felt it was time for me to go home. I gave the balloon to the toddler, and his father stammered a thank you. For a moment the sun peeked out again. And then I went home.