Every weekday Alicia and I walk to the post office around lunchtime. Sometimes we pick up slices of pizza from Antonio’s—makers of the best pie anywhere. We like to eat our lunch on the benches of a nearby church courtyard.
Alicia and I have admired the labyrinth many times, but we had never walked it, and therefore had never really experienced it.
Two weeks ago, on a whim, while Alicia was finishing her pizza slice, I decided to remedy that.
As I began my trip into the circle, following the path of red stones, I asked, “What’s the difference between a maze and a labyrinth again?”
Alicia said, “A maze is designed to confuse you and keep you from exiting easily. A labyrinth is designed to guide you through a journey that leads to the center, and then back out again. It’s meditative.”
I nodded, but did not answer.
I was busy twisting and turning through the many winding intricacies of the labyrinth. I’d walk toward the center only to be turned around and led sharply away by the red bricks. I realized that I was going to twist and turn through every inch of the circle, but I found it hard to predict which way would be next—the pattern was not obvious, especially while I was in the labyrinth. But as I moved further along, following the red bricks, trusting in the path, letting go, I began to forget about my worries and simply concentrated on following, remaining in motion.
The journey took a lot longer than I thought it would, but I was determined to see where the path leads, even though I knew that by definition the labyrinth would take me to the center.
When I reached the red flower at the heart I looked up and smiled.
We had sat in the church courtyard hundred of times, but this was my first attempt to navigate the labyrinth.
Perhaps I had always been too busy or maybe I was simply uninterested. Many times, I had walked across the labyrinth absentmindedly in just a few strides, paying no attention to the path. But on that day I gave myself to the labyrinth fully, and I enjoyed it.
As I retraced my steps, following the red path out, I thought about how walking the labyrinth is a good metaphor for the writing life. You have to follow a writing project where it leads you and resist the temptation to hop directly to the middle before you have taken the necessary journey, which will always be full of many twists and turns.
I remember being a frustrated MFA student, hungry for answers, shortcuts, and the secrets I thought other wiser writers were guarding. Many of the students at Goddard were so eager to be respected storytellers. We’d ask our published advisors, “What do we have to do to get published? Just tell us! What are the answers?” And the reply was always some version of this: you need to write and write and write (and read and read and read and live and live and live) and see what happens. You need to endure. You need to follow your own red path even though you cannot see the center yet. You need to resist the urge to hop to the middle without taking the journey, and you also need to resist the urge to walk away from it all.
During the MFA experience I heard the phrase ‘trust the process’ so many times. I suspect it was our program director, Paul Selig, who championed the “trust the process” mantra. Regardless, I heard many advisors and students use the phrase whenever one of our fellow MFAers got frustrated.
Trust the process.
Trust the process.
Trust the process.
Follow the thread.
Stay the course.
One foot in front of the other and then repeat indefinitely.
Back when I was earning my MFA I thought publishing a novel was surely at the center of my own personal labyrinth, but then I published a novel and the red path continued, and so I continued to follow it.
There have been times lately when I forget to be meditative, to realize that there is joy in the journey itself, that the act of writing is not necessarily a means to an end, but a way to heighten the importance of the present moment.
So I have been trying to think of my daily writing practice as practice—simply what I do.
And as the cacophony of sales numbers, Twitter and Facebook buzz, publishing doomsday prophecies, and Internet reviews jostles my thoughts, I am trying very hard to believe I can choose between two mentalities.
Am I lost, trapped in a maze?
Or am I simply moving forward, always toward the heart, no matter how many twists and turns the labyrinth presents?
I’m thinking the difference has to do with faith.
And so like always, like all storytellers should, we need to believe as we journey onward.
I think I’ll be walking the labyrinth more often.
Q4K publishes every Tuesday & Thursday. Check back Thursday, July 8, for a kindness essay by Roland Merullo.