The year begins with flurries of snow and feelings. Both swirl around me with brilliance, wonder and chill. I celebrate their hard beauty even as their colder edge reaches my bones. The impending year is yet opaque, impervious to the influence of predictions; yet its wildness is already apparent. It will be a year where my true presence in the moment will be required in order to respond calmly and wisely to whatever manifests.
It’s a vital ritual for me to take reflective time near the annual calendar’s turn to adjust my inner bearings. I find it helpful to have some guiding structure to that ritual, and my habit is to draw from the meditation of labyrinth walks. I don’t have a physical labyrinth in the Oregon forests of my home, but with imagination I can make one out of the paths that lead through the trees.
There are infinite ways to walk a single labyrinth; I choose the ways I was first taught. On the walk towards the center, focus on releasing what needs to be released. While in the center, simply be open to whatever wisdom may arrive to be received in stillness and silence. On the walk out, focus on all that needs renewal inside and in outward life. It’s a powerful walking meditation; it never ceases to surprise me what it clarifies.
Every year I walk my imagined forest labyrinths a few times, to allow different aspects of insight to come forth. Out of three or four labyrinth walks, one usually stands out as central, because the wisdom and insight I receive then is very simple. Very clear.
This year, my central meditation was equally centered in two separate walks. The first emerged from a walk up an old road that once led to a saw mill, in days when this land was a pioneer homestead. In my meditation on release, the history below my feet clarified a different perspective of time. I noticed that most of what I wanted to release wasn’t due to actual events; it was due to fears of what might happen, most of which hasn’t transpired (with a couple of glaring exceptions). The historical perspective allowed me to see many previous times when I had fears—or when my ancestors or contemporaries had fears—that the world was falling apart, exactly according to our predictions. Yet our predictions were inevitably fantastically wrong. I’ve outlived the anticipated apocalypse so many times I’ve lost count. Most likely, we’ll get by again. I was able to release so many of last year’s baseless fears, and with them, embrace the knowledge that many of my new fears are baseless too.
As I walked the snowy road, taking time to look upward in awe at the canopy of oak and fir, I sensed inward to find the center of the day’s labyrinth. It’s not as apparent in a forest as it is in a labyrinth styled after the one in the Chartres Cathedral. I knew I’d reached it when a simple central question arose within me: What does it really mean to be centered? That’s a quality we so often admire or seek to achieve, yet its definition can be personal and elusive in practice.
The answer me came as simply as the question, though. To be centered simply means to live as closely as possible to the center of my soul and my service. It means working at the center of my gifts. It means living in my true home. It means bringing my imperfect best kindness to those with whom I feel my central connections—the ones who nurture my healthiest ways, as I do theirs. It means focusing on what I’m here to contribute to make this earth a slightly better place.
It wasn’t until another meditative walk a few days later that I felt renewal with the same soul clarity. Storms had iced us in for several days, and the gift within the challenge was true time to slow down, to walk and photograph and feel. When the sky itself developed cold clarity as well, I knew the icicles would be forming along our nameless creeks with a master sculptor’s endless forms. I followed deer trails along a creek where few humans walk, and I completely disappeared into the resulting ice visions. I didn’t consciously think about renewal at all; it simply rose in me as if accepting a previous invitation. I felt renewed in my commitment to the land and its conservation; to family in its ever-evolving forms of growth and disappearance; to the creative spark that often illuminates my joy and service; to offering my small place of refuge to share with loved ones along the path. Renewal continued to come forward in each element of centering, in specific and private ways. It felt effortless—just a natural result, by then, of my previous meditations of more effortful focus.
In the end, my renewal coalesced into gratitude. The Rumi quote on my basement workshop door floated into my mind: “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” I stood in the forest snow, listening to the silent echoes of history, wondering at the persistent brilliance of the new storms. This year is already a storm too, all storms will pass, and I’m grateful for every small track I make before new storms cover them. Out of the labyrinth, and into another new year.