Friday, January 08, 2010

Walking the Labyrinth

A labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoImage via Wikipedia

Tonight E. and I accompanied Big Pat Daugherty to "labyrinth Friday" at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to listen to Karma Moffet play his 24 Tibetan singing bowls, his Tibetan longhorns, handbells, Tingsha Cymbals, conch drums and bone horn trumpet while we walked the labyrinth.

The music was variety in monotony, a pattern of long, low weirdly beautiful harmonic droning, and nothing about it I have the slightest qualification to be able to adequately describe. I will attest to my deep enjoyment of it, shrug and shut up.

The labyrinth is a design on the floor at the base of the cathedral's nave. It's a circle 40 or 50 feet wide containing a passage perhaps a foot wide that bends back on itself again and again and again until it arrives at the center of the design. At that point, it is customary for walkers to turn around and wind back out, negotiating your way past those who are still winding in.

After the music begins, people line up and are released onto the floor by a starter, as the starter might at a Tour de France time trial or a Winter Olympics slalom. As an experienced Buddhist meditation walker, Big Pat was somewhat critical of those walkers who "walked" -- if you get the drift of my quotation marks. They styled, as it were, somewhat self-conscious -- somewhat to very, it seemed.

But E. was indulgent. She said it looked as if people were finding what they needed to find, and if their third eye had drifted off 10 or 15 feet and was staring back in admiration, E. found pleasure in their self-satisfaction.

It's all metaphor, of course -- the idiosyncratic pace, the silence, the contemplation even as you focus on pace and the avoidance of collisions, the act of gracefully sliding by the slow walkers, and, of course, the slow walkers themselves, content to create a bottleneck for those behind them, leaving the decision of what to do in your hands (or feet).

E. and I waited a while to hit the floor, as we would at a dance, perhaps feeling a bit like spiritual wallflowers. But after 45 minutes or so I decided to get out there and get some before it was all gone -- the line certainly wasn't getting any shorter. And then we stood patiently in that line, as one might for a thrill ride at an amusement park, the thrill here being a willingness to dispense with thrills and go ten rounds (hah!) with introspection.

I quickly found my metaphor: balance. I had a very hard time keeping my balance as I walked because E. and I quickly found ourselves bogged down behind a pause-and-stare type, and so we had to pause and stay paused. I was not vexed by this. It was what it was, and, because I was not able to move continuously, the challenge not to totter was great.

I suppose I became what might appear a bit mannered, bending at the knee, making slow and elaborate movements with my arms, just trying to stay steady. Writing this I realize I may have looked quite foolish, but I was aware only of myself and of my concentration. I didn't feel foolish, and I didn't feel interesting. I felt involved. I'm not saying I didn't look foolish to myself, that I escaped self-consciousness -- I'm saying I was involved, not evolved. I say only that I did not assume others were looking or that their judgment mattered if they were.

Then we walked down to North Beach and had an Italian meal at an out-of-the-way restaurant and talked and drank and laughed. It was all the same journey.

Editor's Note: This contemporary business of walking medieval mazes is pretty interesting. If you're interested, I assume you'll Google it, as I did.

Editor's Note to Editor's Note: The blogshark keeps linking or it dies. Here's a very nice description of the Meaning of Labyrinth.

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