Untainted by conjecture
Journeying without goal
Steps that seek no ground to rest
Breath following breath
life moving through life
Make love with unknowing and birth the child of true knowledge
Confusion is rain on the fields of knowledge
Let it pour down to dampen the ground
And water the roots of uncertainty and mystery
Sail down the river without thought of where it goes.
Trust that the water knows.
Sometimes I surprise myself with the extent of my naivety. Far from being something that evokes shame, remembering just how naïve I can be brings me a great sense of joy. I’m reminded of an innocence lying just behind the mask of the academic, rational professor that no amount of erudition can extinguish.
I walked the labyrinth slowly and mindfully, relishing the sensation of the grass against my bare feet. I had some vague notion of the spiritual significance of labyrinths, thinking that it was a metaphor getting to the center of yourself. But I had never actually used one as a means of meditation.
I enjoyed the understandings that arose. I realized I was moving toward the center even though I couldn’t see exactly how the path would get me there. I paused and smiled at the turns, as I had to reorient and redirect my motion, remembering how I must do this at certain stages along the Way.
As my steps took me progressively toward the center, I began thinking how valuable this experience was, how it had helped me remember some key truths about the journey toward Truth. I had started writing the story of the lessons.
So it came as some surprise when I realized that reaching the center was not, as I assumed, the goal of the exercise.
I was under the mistaken impression that when I reached the center, I would just “walk out.” I hadn’t noticed that the only way out was to retrace my steps. To an outside observer, this may have seemed obvious; all I would have had to do was look carefully and trace out the path in my mind, and I would have seen this right away.
But here, rather than it being a source of humiliation, my failure was a source of humility.
As I chuckled at my blindness and happily started on the “way out,” I realized that if I could miss something as obvious as a basic shape drawn on the ground, I might be overlooking a whole lot else in my life.
Had I read a book about labyrinths beforehand, or spoken with someone else who walks them, I would have anticipated certain outcomes. My knowledge would have robbed me of this beautiful moment of reversal when, like Oedipus and other tragic figures, my assumptions were turned upside down.
How telling is it that just when I think I’m “getting somewhere” on the path, boom! I’m reminded that I’ve still got a long way to go.
Being the ego-based creature that I am, I need of constant reminders that my knowledge of the world and myself is paltry. The trouble arises because I usually do not put myself in situations that force me to confront the scope of my ignorance. I know, for instance, that I have no idea about engineering, but how often do I go to a lecture to remind myself of this? I prefer to keep the unknown at a distance: I know it’s out there, but I’m not going to take the time to go and remind myself of just how vast that terrain is.
Of course, I must now be on guard that this new recognition of ignorance does not turn into a new understanding to hold on to. “Oh, know I know that the labyrinth shows us that arriving at the center is just the beginning of the journey. I have learned the labyrinth’s lesson.” Saying this would demonstrate that I hadn’t learned the labyrinth’s lesson, which is that there is no lesson to be learned.
The labyrinth isn’t “supposed” to evoke any one thing. Any understanding it evokes in us will evolve over time, because we are evolving. The lessons we think we know today may seem completely different in the light of future experiences.
I started off by calling my ignorance naivety, but perhaps this isn’t really the right word to describe what’s at work. Perhaps we don’t even have a word in English at all. What I mean is something akin to the Beginner’s Mind, but without the awareness that it’s Beginner’s Mind. Wouldn’t the truest expression of Beginner’s Mind be without consciousness that it is Beginner’s Mind? The Beginner’s Mind only exists in contrast to the Expert Mind, a distinction that is only present in the Expert Mind.