It sits innocuously in a park in front of the Clearlake Oaks Senior Center, just a patch of different colored pavers surrounding a central rock, but in that small space an adventure awaits. There lies a labyrinth, an elementary school’s spelling bee nightmare of a word. I’m going to be honest, David Bowie and Jack Nicholson for many years defined my idea of labyrinths. However, that isn’t quite how they work. Labyrinths are ancient, having been around for at least 3,500 years, and designed to help you take an inward journey.
According to Jeff Saward, editor of Caerdroia — the Journal of Mazes & Labyrinths, “The archetypal labyrinth design consists of a single pathway that loops back and forth to form seven circuits, bounded by eight walls, surrounding the central goal.” But honestly, that doesn’t accurately describe the experience of wandering around in circles on purpose.
Now I’ve spent plenty of time in corn mazes getting lost, but that’s just a good time. A labyrinth works differently. It’s designed to simulate a journey, one to the center of ourselves and back. It’s not about speed, time, or actually getting anywhere. It’s a way to check out of life for a bit, clear the head, and take a trek inward.
I had heard about labyrinths from a friend, so I took my children to the Oaks one afternoon to give it a try. It all started nicely as I stepped into the circle, meditatively moving one foot in front of the other. It felt good to slow down and focus on inward things after the hectic rush of the day. My kids started at a brisk pace. It’s okay, I told myself self-righteously, They’re young and aren’t as meditative as me. Let them go fast.” Then I slowly moved two feet further. Ahh, quiet meditativeness. After five minutes, the kids had made it halfway to the center while I still worked my way around the first quarter.
“This is long!” they shouted at me from ten feet away, but a quarter mile ahead in labyrinth land. So they sped up a bit more, taking longer strides. Still feeling contemplative, I moved another couple feet, then a few more, meditating on the slow journey to my inner consciousness. Ten or so minutes in, the kids reached the center.
“We made it, Dad!” they hollered, interrupting me from my musings. What? It took them ten minutes at a decent walk to get there? I’m only a few hundred feet in. “Well, now you’ve got to head back,” I told them, making sure they understood how they had now reached the center of themselves. I heard a sigh from my eldest before she left the circle, then sped up my pace ever so slightly. Not long after that, they passed me on their way out. As I finally reached the middle of the labyrinth, I felt a sense of relief. Here I was, at the top of the mountain, at the center of the maze and the center of my soul. I breathed in and relaxed a bit. But the midwinter day hit dusk quickly, and already I could see the darkness settling in for the night.
“Hey, Dad! We’re done!”
Crap. Now I’ve got to walk all the way back. I sighed, realizing that the day was ending. It’s the dilemma of standing on top of Konocti at sunset. Sure, it’s beautiful. But it’s also a long way back down the mountain in the dark. It had taken me a half hour to get here, and the joy of the moment seemed dampened by the fact that if I took as long going out as I had taken heading in, I wouldn’t get out of the labyrinth until after dinner. I sighed and restarted my journey, this time walking much quicker and much less meditatively.
“We’re cold!” the kids complained as they sat on a bench waiting. My contemplative moment had ended long ago. I picked up the pace another notch. I wanted to cheat, to bail, to do anything to speed up the winding slowness of one turn after another. But like life, the labyrinth refused to travel in a straight line. The only thing keeping me inside the reddish colored bricks was my will. Come on, I told myself, just take a shortcut and get done. The kids are waiting. Somehow, against the growing noise in my head and the growing darkness outside, I made it back to the start without cheating, albeit at a near jog. Then, after how long I cannot say, I finally stepped off the red bricks of the labyrinth and back into the real world. I breathed deeply in relief. Dark had begun to settle, and it was time to leave. Even though I had rushed through the labyrinth at a faster pace than I had intended, I felt a sense of completion, as though I had taken a long trip and just gotten home. It runs completely contrary to the full-sprint pace of our culture and tells us to slow down, focus on the journey, and take a few minutes to be quiet. Perhaps on my next trip through the labyrinth, I thought, I’ll take my time and really get lost. But dinner was coming, and I had kids waiting.
The labyrinth in Clearlake Oaks is located across from the senior center at 12502 Foot Hill Blvd.
For more information on labyrinths, or to find some of the other ones in and around Lake County, take a look at the labyrinth locator. It’s a good time, and a chance to get lost without going anywhere.