Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Labyrinth of Grief

I read an article recently by Sandra Howlett, grief specialist, who talked about walking through a labyrinth, like a maze that eventually leads to the center if the right path is chosen. In a labyrinth, there is but one choice to make—to enter or not. The labyrinth is a metaphor of the journey inside oneself to gain understanding for living in the world. In this case, Sandra became increasingly aware of the parallels between walking the labyrinth and the journey of grief. I found the comparisons she makes startingly familiar for myself. I thought of my friends who have gone through this and even those I don’t know personally who are on a grief journey. I hope everyone reading this gets a personal insight into this particular labyrinth: the labyrinth of grief.

Some of the points Sandra makes:

She saw a single way in and out but no quick way to get from here to there. As you walk in a labyrinth you can lose sense of how long you have been there. Grief time can get convoluted…from standing still to totally losing track of time.

Other’s footprints were in the sand reminding her that she was not the first nor would she be the last who would walk this path. It was a comfort to know someone else had been there. At other times there have been others in the labyrinth with her, each on his own journey at his own pace, silently stepping aside to allow each other to pass if they meet in the same "lane." It is possible to be in the same lane and going in opposite directions. Such is grief, as everyone does it a little bit differently.

The design of the labyrinth includes what appears to be backtracking switchbacks on the way to the center as well as to the exit. Grief often feels like two steps forward, one step backtaking a lot of time or effort with indiscernible results. There were moments of impatience and frustration that she wasn’t moving ahead (aka healing) as fast as she wanted to, meeting switchbacks on the path and wondering when she would get to the end. She reminded herself to simply put one foot in front of the other and trust that she was going to get to where she was going. The faith in that simple strategy helped her squash other worries, concerns and distractions…just one step at a time.

A couple of times she stumbled and almost fell, but caught her balance. Her first thought was to look around to see if anyone saw her. Why do we concern ourselves with what others might think when we are struggling and doing the best we can?

At the ‘halfway’ point of the labyrinth is the center, an open area. For some reason, the walk out seems faster than the journey inward much like returning from a trip. One recognizes some of the terrain and feels a little bit clearer in the navigation. Familiarity of knowing the way or an eagerness to find ways to integrate any insights gained may be the reason.

There are no ‘dead ends’ in a labyrinth, only switchbacks and changes of direction moving closer or further from the center. There are no dead ends in grief work either, only paths than move us closer or further from a peaceful heart and healing.

After lots of back and forth, going over the same roads and finally making progress, the opening to exit always seems to come up quickly. While the entrance and the exit are one, it is the experience and wisdom of the journey that makes all the difference.

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