Otis & Friends 4I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

In July 2012, a couple from Milwaukee who introduced themselves as LoriLee and Jeff explored the woods and prairie that make up Prairiewoods’ 70 acres. When they returned home to our neighbor to the north, LoriLee wrote a short essay about their experience and shared it with those of us who love Prairiewoods …

A charming and fragrant pine chip trail wound softly through the sun-dappled woods on the grounds of a spiritual center in Hiawatha, Iowa. As Jeff and I wandered along, we came upon a warm and worn, sand and brick labyrinth at the edge of the woods. I had read about labyrinths serving as meditation devices and was excited to try it out.

I hopped straightaway into the labyrinth at the closest random point. I felt a bit uneasy as I began to navigate this maze. The concentric and winding path led me at times closer to and then farther from the center of the network. Surprisingly, after 10 minutes of what I imagined was movement toward the heart of all the circles, I found my self standing at an outermost spot, the farthest arc from the middle point goal. It was a dead end and yet, coincidentally, the only true entrance to the labyrinth. The only available next move was to step out or to turn around and step back in.

It was clear that I had to start all over again. Apparently my arbitrary entry point choice led me not to the core, but rather directed me back to the proper place to start. I laughed and was tempted to call it quits, but I was committed to being present and fully engaged on this day of exploration. My thoughts at this moment were—no matter what my ego chooses as the easiest, safest or “good enough” starting point in this “game” (as in life) God apparently will lead me back to where I need to begin. There is only one “true” place to start—at the source. In this moment I chose to experience this “sporting” event not in my typical fashion (as a spectator rather than a full participant) and I jumped back in—mind, body and soul.

Labyrinth_LoriLee Villwock_smallAs I began, I fretted about the humidity and the length the labyrinth trek might take. Did I appear foolish by playing this silly maze-game? Was my incessant chatter a bit bizarre? Was Jeff inconvenienced by the amount of time this going around in circles was taking? Did I seem odd or egotistic, as I felt compelled to relay every little insecure and/or insightful impression? I was in a constant state of analysis and commentary feeling alternating periods of stress and peace. I literally talked to myself out loud, trying to discern the cause of both the anxiety and the calm.

While this walk was slow moving, it was equally engrossing. I had to constantly observe my feet without distraction so as not to stumble or trip off the path. The turns were apparent and sharp. I concentrated on the effort, but continued to stress about the extent and orientation of the path. It clearly must lead to the center, yet just when I thought I was close to the goal, the path steered me back toward the outer arcs of the labyrinth. I began to see the spiritual significance of this winding walk. The path was purposefully designed and thus, must be followed purposefully despite how uncomfortable and unproductive it felt to move forward only to turn another corner and fall back. This was an “aha” moment, and although I accepted this truth, I still hoped that I could soon be done with this winding up and away.

Have I mentioned that this little trek around this labyrinth was seriously slow? I couldn’t look ahead to predict how much farther I had to go because in taking my eyes off the path I would risk losing my balance. It was not possible to continue to move ahead sure-footed while simultaneously looking down and around the distant turns. I had to stay focused in the present and be mindful of my feet. Trudging ahead, I admit, I had fleeting moments of doubt. Would this path actually reach that solitary little seat waiting patiently in the middle? Ridiculous. I was certain I was on the only available route and it simply had to lead to the center. In that awareness I discovered something about my faith nature. Faith keeps me moving and steady. Faith assures the conviction in my plans and gives me clarity of purpose. I had to be ever faithful and attentive to stay steady on this path. I began to feel more at ease as I simply surrendered to the experience. I no longer saw value in the analyzing or predicting. Moving ahead became less about navigating and more about going with the flow. This concept I knew to be true on the labyrinth trail and on the walk of life.

Eventually, the path came to an end and I approached the wooden bench in the center of the labyrinth. As I sat down, it dawned on me that the trek itself far outweighed the achievement of sitting in the center and claiming the prize. Thus, this is what the labyrinth revealed—life is in the journey, not the circumstances, perils or milestones that pop up along the way. In the end, it wasn’t the arrival at the center that seemed most satisfying. I felt accomplishment in the actual walking of the labyrinth despite all the things I endured that went against my nature: the absolute, non-negotiable, non-creative start point; the need to recognize the truth of that and acquiesce in the start-over directive; the slow, methodical progress that forced me to accept and appreciate equally the forward and backward procession; the focus on one task without distraction; and the faith to know that there was an achievable end point, a true purpose to the journey in spite of my occasional and very human doubt and discomfort. Most of all, I had to acknowledge that the “prize” at the end meant far less to me than the journey experience itself.

At the end of the path I felt a wave of gratitude. I was grateful that while I started the labyrinth according to the needs of my personality/ego (just jump in and figure it out as you go), the call of my soul won the day by sending me back to the authentic starting point, the truth as it were. This allowed the full journey experience to unfold. I was grateful that I was with my husband who kept the conversation going, asked me to consider other wonders and possibilities and, I think, learned something about his own personality and spirit in the process.

It is a wonder and revelation to clearly see why my personality occasionally causes me to lose my way. In that awareness, I can trust that I will proceed on my life’s path however God directs me—one foot in front of the other. My faith and resolve to move ahead is fortified. I weathered the labyrinth, and it was good, really good.

—LoriLee Villwock, labyrinth lover from Milwaukee