Yesterday, I took a much needed break from the grind of work to go to the Garfield Park Conservatory. My curiosity had been piqued when, riding the Green Line to the TOTEM Oak Park space, I would notice the sudden burst of green, of silence, and what looked to be a very peaceful place nestled between two of the most chaotic and challenging neighborhoods in the city. Finally taking the time to visit the conservatory yesterday did not disappoint: rooms upon rooms of deep green ferns and mosses and various plants, with an outdoor area of wildflowers and migratory red winged blackbirds.
What an incredible reminder of the grounding, clearing and healing properties of nature.
But I saw something else while I was there- something that kind of shocked and amazed me. In a sensory garden just outside of the buildings, there was a small labyrinth or maze. It wasn't built up with topiaries or plants or walls, but was rather just simply drawn on the ground.
Now, the maze wasn't the shocking part. It was kind of a beautiful garden feature, all graphic and swirly and, frankly, metaphorical (or so I thought). We quickly noticed two women (who were not together) individually walking the lines of the labyrinth, looking down the whole time, working their way slowly through the maze.
My mouth dropped open. And, at the risk of sounding a bit harsh and judgmental, I looked at my husband and said, "This is all you need to know about the human species." My brain could not believe just how completely programmable we are. How much our species loves coloring- and walking- literally in the lines. Following inferred instructions. Monkey see, monkey do. Taking direction. Doing what we assume is expected of us, even when no one is around and there are no rules and what we're doing seems to flout common sense? What are these women expecting to find by walking these lines? Can't they just see thee center of the maze from where they are? Don't they know that the real maze is within them, ready to be discovered at any moment?
Yah, I'm not great at small talk or dinner parties or otherwise enjoyable social activities. I'm a bit "problematic" when out in public. But, to be fair, I was gobsmacked. Sure, they may have just been having a moment or trying to relax, but given the state of the world, the metaphor of these women looking down and staying in the lines was just way too loud for me to ignore.
And it got me thinking about real mazes. Labyrinths. The process of self-discovery. And the practice of Shamanism.
In the incredible HBO show "Westworld", there is a key theme of the Maze, or what they call "the game within the game". Check out this great clip explaining this complex metaphor of human consciousness and spiritual awakening here: https://youtu.be/RRIt9cQdScA
Essentially, the maze is a metaphor for self-discovering and self-knowledge. One does not go outward to solve the maze; rather, the goal is to find the innermost truths of self, right at the center of the maze.
And just like with Shamanism, this journey along the maze of spiritual development can send you outward, to the edges of madness. It's risky. You don't always fit in. You have hard days and weeks and months as you pull at the thread and seek out your innermost self. It's exhausting and frustrating, and you don't get a lot of credit for navigating it.
But this is the only way to get to the center.
And to understand yourself is to understand everything.
That may seem trite, but it's a very deep spiritual truth. Once we peel back the layers of the onion and get to the heart of the matter, we can start to understand who we are at a soul level. Once we gain this insight, we quickly understand why we're here and what we should be doing. In understanding that, we can extrapolate out to see the broader order within existence- as well as know our place in it. And then the societal expectations placed on us start to melt away, giving way to a deeper, more poignant truth: you're not here to work at a job or get married or buy a house or acquire a new car. You're not here to get social media followers or likes to posts or money in the bank. These are the traps and false paths along the maze.
You're here to do something, something really deep and so meaningful to you that you decided to suit up and dive into a physical body, enduring the slings and arrows of material existence in the service of your eternal, existential goal.
This is shamanism. It's nonlinear. It's asymmetric. It's iterative and redundant. It's frequently unpleasant, even maddening. You can't get complacent or take an easy way out, because in shamanism the only way out of the maze is through the very center of it: the knowledge of self. There are no shortcuts and, while we may be able to stand on our tip toes to get a momentary glance at what's around the corner, we just need to trust that, with effort and time, we will find our way there by doing the work.
My favorite thing about TOTEM is that I get to support all of you in your individual journeys of self-discovery. It's a perpetual reminder to stay focused on my own. Your experiences give me strength to endure my own process, regardless of how "in the dark" I may feel at a given moment.
I have a feeling a lot of you are at an interesting, if not critical, juncture of your spiritual journey. Hang in there. It's a scavenger hunt. Look for the Easter eggs. And reach out anytime for insights or assistance.
And remember to look up and look inward from time to time. Staring at your feet- metaphorically or otherwise- is a great way to get nowhere fast;)