It happens rarely
that one of us really sees the other;
a person shows himself for an instant
as in a photograph but clearer
and in the background
something that is bigger than his shadow.
He's standing full-length before a mountain.
It's more a snail's shell than a mountain.
It's more a house than a snail's shell.
It's not a house but has many rooms.
It's indistinct but overwhelming.
He grows out of it, it out of him.
It's his life, it's his labyrinth.
(from: The Gallery)
"Who hears you? To have something to say is one thing; to have someone who hears it is another. To be heard literally is to have the vibrations of the air travel through the labyrinth of the listener's ear to the mind, but more must unfold in that darkness. You choose to hear what corresponds to your desire, needs, and interests, and there are dangers in a world that corresponds too well, with curating your life into a mirror that reflects only the comfortable and familiar, and dangers in the opposite direction as well.
To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it. It's not passive but active, this listening. It's as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you. To empathize is to reach out to meet the data that comes through the labyrinths of senses, to embrace it and incorporate it. To enter into, we say, as though another person's life was also a place you could travel to."
(from: The Faraway Nearby)
Almost five years ago, when I was in Sweden in a project about pilgrimage, working with snails, I wrote this:
Next to the cathedral in Lund they built a labyrinth. The priests use it to do labyrinth walks, every morning at 7.15, sometimes in the afternoon as well. After our presentation in the Visitor Centre we were invited to join the priests in a walk. It was the second time I walked the labyrinth.
The first time, a few weeks ago, was with pilgrim priest Anna. Before she entered it, she told us how she usually walked the labyrinth. She took a stone, carried it with her while walking and with every step she thought about something she was dealing with in her life, big things and small things, trying to let them go. In the centre she would leave her stone behind and with it all her worries.
The first time I walked the labyrinth my mind stopped the moment I took my first step. I didn’t think of anything. I just walked with an empty head. Even though I tried to bring things to mind I should concentrate on, nothing entered my head. Only when I stepped into the centre my brain started working again and I wondered how long I could stay in there. The second time the same thing happened. I just put one foot in front of the other. No thoughts. Nothing to struggle with. Emptiness. Until I reached the centre. And the moment the thoughts came back, I automatically stepped out of the labyrinth.
There was a man in our company who didn’t do the walk with us. He said he was too impatient to walk slowly through a labyrinth. He sat at the bench on the side and watched us. Afterwards he said that everybody had been looking so serious and troubled. “You were the only one smiling,” he told me.
I hadn’t realised it. And his words made me sad. And the sadness made me smile again.
It isn’t that difficult to get to the centre. But staying in the middle is the most difficult thing there is. A lifetime usually isn’t long enough to learn the skill. And there is nobody who can teach you how to do it. You can only be your own teacher.