The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, from Alice Walker’s book, “The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult”
I walked the labyrinth many times last year as part of my practice. In the year-long writing Intensive the two of us attended in Taos with Natalie Goldberg, we were encouraged to keep and log our practice. Every day – as part of the structure of our writing.
Practice included anything that anchored, grounded, or sustained us. It could be writing, slow walking, drawing, photographing, swimming, or sitting. I chose to continue my daily writing practice. And walk the grass labyrinth at The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul.
I walked in every season. I carried a pocket notebook and Space Pen and sometimes as I walked I’d jot down haiku, page after page after page. It poured out of me. I can’t explain why. Except to say that the labyrinth is an archetype. It is not unique to any one person or culture.
What makes the labyrinth so powerful is that many have walked it before me. And many will walk it to come. We all walk together. The QuoinMonkey avatar is an image of The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. But not just any image.
Many years ago, before I ever set foot on a labyrinth, I was drawn to the symbol and scanned it from the front of one of Alice Walker’s books – The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult. The book is about the challenging journey of turning her book, The Color Purple, into a blockbuster movie. It is a book about process. I recommend reading it.
I saw Alice Walker at Borders in 2004. Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart had been released. She came to speak at Block E on Hennepin Avenue in the small first floor café of the bookstore where I worked. The place was packed. I sat on the floor at her feet. I could not believe my good fortune. She is one of my mentors.
I don’t know her personally, except to shake her hand when she signed my book. But I’ve read everything she’s ever written. For over 25 years, she’s inspired me through her work. Her books were my mentors. I even had the chance to tell her that. But that’s another story.
Inside the front cover of The Same River Twice, Alice quotes another writer, Jungian psychologist, Jean Shinoda Bolen. As fate would have it, I saw Jean speak at Amazon Women’s Bookstore in Minneapolis a few weeks before I attended the last Taos Intensive in February 2007.
I told Jean I was thinking about teaching writing but I was scared. She said if it is meaningful to me, fun, and motivated from a place of love, I should do it; it would energize me and give far more than it would take. Then she smiled and signed my book. When I turned to the back cover, there was a quote from Alice Walker.
If you’re a writer, I don’t have to tell you that everything is connected. You already know.
Practice. And keep walking.
Labyrinth excerpt from Alice Walker’s book, The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult, 1996
Once we enter the labyrinth, ordinary time and distance are immaterial, we are in the midst of a ritual and a journey where transformation is possible; we do not know how far away or close we are to the center where meaning can be found until we are there; the way back is not obvious and we have no way of knowing as we emerge how or when we will take the experience back into the world until we do. There are no blind ends in a labyrinth, the path often doubles back on itself, the direction toward which we are facing is continually changing, and if we do not turn back or give up we will reach the center to find the rose, the Goddess, the Grail, a symbol representing the sacred feminine. To return to ordinary life, we must again travel the labyrinth to get out, which is also a complex journey for it involves integrating the experience into consciousness, which is what changes us.
Journal excerpt from The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult, 1996
It is a blustery partly sunny day in the country. It rained all night, which should be good for the trees. I’ve still got a dozen trees and shrubs to plant. But I spent four hours weeding the garden yesterday; after feeling depressed and as if I had no support. But really, I have the support of the Universe. And if I meditated more, I would feel less alone.
-from Alice Walker journal entry, March/April 1984, a “strong” period
Saturday, March 17th, 2007