Yesterday afternoon, I showed Anastasia where the labyrinth can be found at The Bield, in Blackruthven. She had just spent two hours exploring meditatively – questioning her self on paper, via Proprioceptive Writing. It was the first time she had considered that there might be two of her – her, and her self, a realisation that has set at least one great spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, on his path to awakening. Now, with the labyrinth, I was introducing another route to discovery…
I had been at The Bield the previous weekend for the annual SOLAS festival. It was a gentle affair, with music, discussion groups, dance, poetry… and straw bales to sit on, rest against and – in the case of the many children having a wonderful free experience of countryside – pulling them to pieces in the last few hours to roll in and throw around. My husband, who being Japanese remembers the film if not the actual event in August 1969, said it reminded him of a micro-Woodstock. Creativity in abundance, wrapped in laid back love and peace, also on a working farm on a warm midsummer day.
Quite apart from the established orchard labyrinth, there was another temporary structure, laid out with rope on the floor of the tennis court. The design was geometric rather than curvaceous, the path wide, the corners gently rounded. Yet twice I fell off… lost my balance. But then it had been rather odd couple of days, swallowing pride (as in placating ego) to walk around with a placard front and back reading “WRITE YOUR MIND ALIVE” and a hand full of fliers for further illumination.
Well I had to do something. Lovely as it is, The Bield (meaning ‘to nurture’ or ‘to succour’) is the other side of Perth towards Crieff, 25 miles from where I live. And no-one around here has heard of it, so hard work to promote.
Despite handing out 100 handbills, only one brave soul turned up for yesterday’s WRITE – Anastasia – and she had completed the first 8-week course of Drawing on the Writer Within (DOTWW) back in early 2013, so was quite the old hand. Not that old though. Seems she is 19, which means that she was just 17 when she did the course. This makes me all the more admiring; she really is a remarkable young woman.
She showed no inclination to walk the walk, however, maybe because we were so busy talking the talk. But in time, maybe. In time…
This morning’s task in walking our own labyrinth here at Burnside – spiralling ever inwards – was to carry any lingering dregs of disappointment about lack of interest and leave it at the central standing stone, there to dissolve in sunshine, wind and rain. Walking back I felt light and resolved; I often employ that comforting old adage, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink’, and it never felt more apt.
Sometimes my walks are quiet, empty of both past and future. Often they are throw up images, words and messages, and even clearly answer questions. At worst, the chattering monkey mind offers no relief, but that is rare these days.
I remember walking a labyrinth at the Orchard retreat, Kilkgraston, soon after arriving here in late 2012. I was pretty shattered, devastated to have left my beloved Japan. The path was tight and narrow; I was cold and shivering. I was not a happy bunny.
I walked The Bield’s far more open and meandering trail in September 2014 for a very different experience.
I sent what I wrote as a gift to the Danish founders of the retreat, Robin and Marianne, and they liked it enough to share with staff and visitors.
So here it is again. Make of it what you will:
WALKING THE LABYRINTH AT THE BIELD
It is a mellow Sunday in late September, a classic Indian summer day. At the entrance, I look in the basket of what The Bield calls ‘cushions’ – rounded wooden blocks carved with Celtic crosses – and nothing appeals. Then a small roughly rounded ball catches my eye, and I pick it up to carry to the centre. Interestingly I can no longer remember what it represented, yet at the time it was quite clear… how odd is that? I only remember thinking that it did not need to be large, because I knew the problem was not… ah, doubt! It represented a niggling doubt about my writing and the programme of writing I offer, and to which Scotland feels so resistant. Niggling because I know deep down that it is transitional and not to be taken too seriously.
Apple trees are symbolic of wisdom and guidance.
As I begin to walk, I find myself ducking branches laden with fast ripening apples. Unlike our own at Burnside, this labyrinth is wonderfully organic, wending its way between the fruit trees of an ancient orchard. Do I duck a lot, I wonder? Do I tend to duck those things in life that get in my way, interfere with intention? What do I mean by duck? Dictionary definition: Moving my head and body quickly downward to avoid being seen or to dodge a blow; to plunge suddenly underwater (as ducks do); informal dodge (a duty or responsibility).
The duck is generally thought to be a symbol of resourcefulness.
There is a lot to think about here, and I am preoccupied until I reach the centre, where I find an apple in my hand. I have no memory of picking it up. Or did I pluck it in passing? It smells divine, and I hold it in both hands, like a gift to be passed on.
I love reaching the middle if this labyrinth, where a hideaway has been created by sticking branches of willow in the ground, and weaving new growth along the sides and overhead. The ground is soft with bark and leaves, and at the far end, a globe of wood large enough to sit on. Today, however, because a day of blessings is underway in the main buildings, there are three large pillows, laid by previous walkers. I wedge my mini-pillow in between two of them, but the apple adamantly refuses to stay put, rolling off first this way and then the other.
Light filters between the twigs and leaves. I feel safe and happy. A surge of energy. And yes, it’s great to be alive in the moment. Ah, I say to the apple… yes, I talk to every thing. Ah, you are life, alive and nurturing. I need to carry you with me, the slightest doubt assuaged and laid to rest. And so I do…
The chicken has been seen as a mythical symbol of courage throughout many civilisations in world history.
But what is this? One of the brown hens that live free as part of the Bield’s organic smallholding, steps onto the path. I ask it three times to move aside, and so it does. But then another bars my way and refuses to budge . Finally, I take a small step forward and it gives way with grace.
Well set up with wisdom, guidance, resourcefulness and courage, I complete the circuit in good humour. I’m not tempted to eat the apple, shiny and rosily aromatic though it be, but rather carry it with me for the rest of the day. Come to think of it, 24 hours later it is still in my jacket pocket.
The apple is the symbol of the divine.