Witness to Mystery
It was a day of ambiguity as I drove to my retreat cabin in southwest Michigan.
The sky, bright blue with winter still here in the shady places. Spring had taken its time that year, appearing with a thaw, only to change her mind, sending snow to cover the brave crocus pushing through the ground. This is Michigan, where weather patterns were made only to be broken.
I was deeply immersed in a transitional time in my life. I had entered therapy over a year and a half ago, and changes were afoot. I needed time with myself in the presence of nature to unpack my night terrors, take long walks, journal, and contemplate the path I would choose going forward.
Being on this planet, at this moment, did not feel like a random event. I no longer wanted to drift through life, bobbing with the current. I needed my choices to feel intentional.
I often turn to the symbols within nature for direction. I consider her my constant ally.
I arrived and began unpacking the simple items I brought for my stay: coffee, a bottle of wine, ingredients to make kitchari and a simple minestrone soup, a loaf of bread, two books of poetry, my laptop, journal, candles, and my favorite sweater. I would be here for five days and wanted to make the most of it. I put a candle and matches in my pocket, took a deep breath, and stepped outside.
I found myself heading for the small stone chapel a woman had built on the land in homage to her time spent here. The heavy, wooden door scraped the floor as I entered. I stepped up to the stone alter, lit my candle for light, and shut the door. Once the door was closed, I was immediately held by a deep quiet.
The simple structure felt peaceful, and the stones surrounding me gave off a sense of antiquity. How often has this gesture of solitary contemplation repeated itself over the ages? Sitting down on the stone bench, I found my ears straining for any small noise available to me. What I heard was my own blood flowing through my veins, and the ringing in my ears.
Breathing slowly, I felt tears roll down my cheeks. As an empath, I cry easily. However, these tears were not of sorrow, but from a heart broken open by possibility. You cannot be honest with others if you are not honest with yourself. Up to this point, I had lived my life for approval. Was I good enough? Did I fit in?
My formal education ended with high school, and I was ashamed of this fact. I consider myself to be a student of life. I stand thirsty for truth as if dowsing for water, taking note of my movements while looking for a connecting underground current.
I meditated in the chapel until a feeling of peace settled within me. I got up, blew out the candle, and stepped back outside. The sun was initially blinding, offering up a perfect spring day. I started circling the property, following the tree line. I headed toward the field labyrinth, about half a mile away.
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol of wholeness. Over 4,000 years old, the labyrinth represents a journey or path to our own center and back again out into the world. It is meandering, yet purposeful, allowing you to experience a walking meditation. It is also a metaphor for what we hold sacred in our lives. Through its twists and turns, its ancient spaciousness is a vessel that holds everything we experience. It touches our minds and emotions, our physical beings and our spirits, our losses and gains, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows.
The labyrinth has been walked for centuries and used by both contemplatives and lay people alike. It is a journey of discovery.
I stood at the entrance and offered a deep bow. Stepping onto the path, I walked slowly, circling around, then switching back again. The twists and turns of the path seem random at first, but as I entered deeper into its pattern, my mind began to clear. The sun on my shoulders was warm, the breeze slightly cool. It felt like I was moving from one season of my life to another, walking out of winter into spring.
When I entered the center of the labyrinth, I was compelled to lay on the ground. I lay with my limbs outstretched, feeling the warmth of the sun above me, and the coolness of the ground below me. I began feeling sleepy and realized I had dozed off. When I opened my eyes, I lifted my head and was shocked by what I saw. Roughly 100 snakes were around me, apparently sunbathing on my pants and shoes. I was not freaked out, as I am not afraid of snakes. My sense was a combination of curiosity and awe. I lay there for several minutes observing their movements. They seemed to crave the sun just as much as I did, stretching their bodies and sticking out their tongues.
I slowly stood up and watched them slither away. What a curious gift. As I walked back out of the labyrinth, I began thinking about what snakes symbolized. Many know the Christian belief of snakes representing evil or the devil. This simply did not resonate with me. In the Celtic tradition, the snake is a symbol of rebirth, healing, and wisdom, due to the cyclical shedding of its skin. It was believed that the snake held all the world’s secrets and divine wisdom.
In the eyes of the snake, everything is significant and holds spiritual meaning—everything has a purpose. I was on retreat to sit with the parts of myself that needed to transition and slough away. If I was looking for a sign, here it was.
Back at the entrance of the labyrinth, I turned to bow and thank this powerful symbol for the gift offered by nature. I walked slowly back to my cabin, contemplating my experience, when I happened to look down to find a discarded snakeskin. Bringing it into my cabin, I laid it on the writing table. My snake medicine, my talisman. The world so full of symbols, each one available for interpretation—to help or hinder.
Great events are about to happen. Our personal truth and perspective are constantly unfolding. The power of a personal sense of meaning can transform how we see the world.
We have been taught that time is linear, with a beginning, middle, and end; yet the seasons instruct that time is cyclical, allowing us opportunities to delve deeper in the patterns that form our lives. As we mine for our inner gold, we are attempting to see and make sense of our life in a more meaningful context. We are constellations floating in a vast night sky, shining our light outward and burning brightly.