There are those who tell us that our adoption was meant to be, that already having three sons, we needed a daughter to complete our family; that we were destined to adopt Ruthie because our family was prepared to support a transgender child, and so we found each other. I am not a believer. In my book fate does not exist, stuff happens. Okay I don't write books, but if I did they wouldn't endorse the concept of fate. Call me a curmudgeon, a skeptic, or Scully (from The X Files). That is who I am.
And yet, one day I walked the labyrinth. I was taking a course based on a popular book that tries to help people overcome creative blocks. While I was inspired by the class, I was not thrilled by the superstitious concepts proposed in the book. Say I'm looking for a couch and I find a perfect one somebody left on the curb. I don't thank the gods. Serendipity is just a happy coincidence, not a message from above, nor from the universe for that matter.
Still, I took my teacher up on her challenge: walk a labyrinth and find answers or enlightenment or something groovy like that. The labyrinth I visited is located in one of my favorite places, an arboretum which opens up into a wide expanse of meadow. Despite my skepticism, the walk became a journey of peaceful meditation.
Being designed for all ages, the labyrinth is full of short cuts so children won't get frustrated. This made staying on track more complicated. I started out on a path which I immediately suspected was wrong. Although I was temporarily agitated, I soon realized that going the "wrong" way isn't always a bad thing. I had indeed ended up on a path that was not even connected to the labyrinth, but made it back without any scratches.
The second time I was surely on the right path, yet predictably it wasn't long before I began fretting. With so many short cuts, might I stray from the path I'd finally found? The idea popped into my head that veering onto a tangent path could offer a new perspective. I stopped to look around. Remembering to breathe I took in the blue sky, green conifers, reeling raptors and yellow-beige meadow, stubby from it's spring mow.
The Chinese tell a tale. A farmer's horse runs away and all his neighbors tell him what bad luck he has. "Maybe," he replies. Later his horse comes back with a mate and a foal. This time they congratulate him on his luck. "Maybe," he repeats. Within a few months his son breaks his leg falling off the new horse and again the neighbors curse his bad luck. The farmer is still skeptical. When the military scouts come to town rounding up all the young men, they leave his son behind. And the story goes on.
In the sunny meadow I was getting too warm and thought grumpily, "I knew I'd get hot in this extra jacket, I should have left it in the car." A moment later it dawned on me that discomfort early on, such as cold arms would end in later comfort, a perfect temperature. Early comfort, a warm jacket, would make me too warm farther down the walk as I got moving. My only real choices were to stay at home and be bored or to endure a little discomfort with either choice. It made me realize that I often quit when the going gets tough, or even just uncomfortable. For maybe the first time I realized that discomfort could be taken as a given, trying to avoid it would backfire, and accepting it's inevitability would help me take it in stride.
It's hard for me to walk alone for any length of time before my inner critic berates me, "Remember when you were so dumb? You made that stupid choice and everything ended up a big mess!" This time I tried to let the words enter, scroll through my mind, then leave. A zen story came to mind.
Two monks walk through a town, an elder man and a youth. A wealthy lady calls to the old monk from her palanquin. Won't he carry her across the mud so she doesn't dirty her pretty slippers? As he carries her she yells at him for walking too slowly. Next she complains he has let her down too abruptly. Without saying thank you she scurries away in a huff. The two monks leave the village, walking silently through the woods. The younger monk is fuming until he can no longer hold it in. "You helped that lady and she yelled at you and didn't even thank you! Aren't you furious?" Says the older monk, "I only carried her for a minute, you have carried her these past several hours."
Maybe I was prepared to be more aware because I knew I was supposed to be. Perhaps the weaving movement of walking back and forth through the winding path really did shift my mind into a different state of awareness. Maybe life is just a story we tell ourselves.