By Vita Forest
I was looking for the labyrinth.
I had parked in Centennial Park beneath an oak tree, grinding acorns into the dirt as I walked away, past the joggers and the promenaders, the dog walkers, the horse riders, and the soccer games with their shouts and piercing whistles. I looked across the ponds, noting moor hens and ducks, and turned down the avenue of paperbark trees. The noises of Saturday sport gradually receded behind the thicket of Lachlan swamp, I checked the map on my phone, I was nearly upon it.
It is hard to see the labyrinth from a distance. At first I looked straight over it. Then I noticed the large flat disc, like a giant coin lying in the green. The stone labyrinth. It is a replica of the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, the same pathway, the same pleasing geometry. This Sydney labyrinth opened in 2014 and anyone is free to use it.
Labyrinths are different to mazes. Mazes are designed to trick and baffle, to confuse and unsettle. With their single pathways, labyrinths are instead a calming journey where you don’t need to solve problems to find your way through. Instead, by following the path, your mind calms, allowing you to see more clearly, be more present. It can be a walking meditation, a way of moving into the present moment as you move toward the centre.
I walked closer to the labyrinth. There was a group practising tai-chi further off, but apart from them, I was alone. I found the entrance and began my journey. The path looped back and forth changing direction, so unless you are constantly looking up, you lose track of your orientation in the park. I guess that is the point, you are focusing on where you are in the journey, not where you have come from or where you are going. By locating the labyrinth in a clearing, you also don’t anchor directions to particular trees or other features in the landscape. It began to rain lightly as I walked, and all I was aware of was the surface of the stone, the turns in the path and the light fall of rain on the brim of my hat. It brought the focus to a smaller and smaller point. Suddenly a couple of noisy groups descended toward me, breaking my focus. I reached the centre and left them to it.
The labyrinth had quietened my mind. I walked around the swamp in the light shower, noticing the luminous green of the ferns, the stillness of the paperbark trees. Then I came across a track going through it and entered the thick foliage. It too brought to mind the labyrinth, the sense of enclosure, the blocking out of the world outside. I watched spiders spin silent webs beneath shady leaves, I saw signage covered with splatters and realised the swamp was home to a colony of flying foxes, hanging upside down from the tallest branches like giant black seed pods. I walked on, aware of the screeching of the few creatures up past their bed times, into the centre then out again.
I emerged near the labyrinth and decided to walk it again. The gentle rain fell and the tai-chists had moved beneath the shelter of a fig tree, silently stretching, turning and bending in unison. I entered again, this time aware of the honking of a flock of geese that were pottering around the clearing. My focus came down again, to my feet, to the path, to the gradations of colour in the stone. I soon lost track of where I was, what point of the journey I was at.
You move toward the centre then away again, you travel on a familiar path but further in or further out. Like life, I suppose, you never know exactly where you are on your journey – the beginning, nearing the end, retracing something that feels familiar, but is seen slightly differently through a altered lens of time or experience. You don’t know if you are going forward or backwards, sometimes it feels like you are moving further away from your goal, only to find you swing back towards it again.
I guess sometimes we need to surrender and let things take their course. You will land in the centre where you were aiming for all along. You just have to take the journey. You just have to give it time.