One recent Sunday morning I went walking on a familiar hillside trail with panoramic views of the whole Bay Area as well as enclosed, wooded segments. The weather had turned hot so I went early.
I was weighed down by an old emotional wound that can feel like a heavy mantle, something I am literally wearing on my shoulders and want to shrug off. On some inscrutable schedule, this wound transits to and from the psychic basement where we store things we’re unable to deal with but cannot resolve or let go. I hadn’t slept well the night before and needed the walk to shift the energy, and as I began walking I began talking to my guides and allies and ancestors — the whole spirit-entourage — asking for help in shedding the mantle, lifting the pall. I rattled on for a while with this prayerful plea, and as I crested a small rise and looked out over the hillside and the bay and city beyond, I saw, or thought I saw, something startling close to the trail on the downslope side. I slowed my pace and peered intently at the land. And sure enough: in the dusty, browned-out grass someone had built a labyrinth.
It was a simple spiral. The stones varied in size and their placement was rough, but the pathway was clear and I began walking it, knowing this form on the land was a gift of the spirits I had been praying to, was still praying to. It was as if the labyrinth had arisen spontaneously from the deeper Earth in response to my need.
At the center was a stone larger than any other, an altar. Someone had placed a penny on it, and close by on the ground was a string of silvered plastic beads. I offered water from my water bottle, wetting the altar stone with a gentle stream that trickled over the sides. I spoke, I know, but cannot recall what I said. Several runners showed up on the trail but seemed oblivious to me or what I was doing. Perhaps I was in a protective bubble…that has happened before. Then I walked out of the labyrinth as deliberately as I had walked into it. I left the heavy mantle at the center, the altar, the heart of the spirit-journey, where the energies would be transmuted. I continued on my hillside circuit. Less burdened. The spirit connection — being heard and responded to in such a magical way — had in itself been a healing balm.
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Several years ago, a land-whispering client of mine told me she felt a significant emotional shift after the work completed. She cried on and off for 2 weeks, a level of release she hadn’t experienced in a long time. The reset energy on the land allowed her to cease holding for fear of breaking down and let down so she could let go. It had been evident to me when I did the assessment before the clearing that she had been stuck in loops for years — loops that didn’t benefit her emotional well-being and may have contributed to illness (cancer) — and it was equally evident that, after clearing, at least some of those loops were no longer operative because no longer was there energy to feed them. They had dissipated or, said another way, morphed into spirals. Loops are closed, spirals open. And that which is open allows for change and growth.
Around the same time I did that land work I watched “Loopdiver,” one of the most unusual dance pieces I’ve ever seen, not so much for its choreography as for its emotional power. Each dancer repeated a different movement loop for 6 minutes; then specially developed software expanded the piece to an hour’s length. The program presented only segments, not the entire piece. Even so, the loops and their execution made me keenly, almost painfully, aware of my own internal loops, especially the most tightly wound (that is, compulsive). Watching was uncomfortable. That was surprising.
Later I free-associated about loops: loop (> spiral?); habit; routine; stagnation (> movement/growth?). What is the tipping point at which a loop morphs into a spiral? At which stagnation shifts to movement? Loops/habits/routines can be beneficial as well as harmful, so at what point does a beneficial loop become a harmful one? The first step in shifting a loop to a spiral is, naturally, to become aware of it. But the shift doesn’t have to be arduous or a long, drawn-out affair, though it often is: Changing even one small piece of a loop alters it utterly.
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Celtic shaman R J Stewart uses the spiral as a graphic representation of the initiatory journey in the Underworld realm. In Power Within The Land, he writes (pp. 43-45):
“Because the Underworld is often experienced in terms of what seems to be the past…we may relive old and powerful patterns. In some people this takes the form of memories of what seem to be past lives, which will, after their arousal, work through phases of apparent present life, until they finally come up to date and coalesce with the apparent present. This process is what I have termed revision…”
In this spiraling process we also experience what Stewart calls reversions — intense, transient occurrences of ‘time travel’. “Reversions can untie knots within us, unravelling energy that has been convoluted into repetitive and self-reiterating patterns,” he explains. But the Underworld journey is far more than personal, it is not psychological, and it is not necessarily a journey through linear time as a traveler may ‘jump’ from one level of the spiral to the next if those levels are harmonically aligned. Stewart makes clear that “[e]ntering the Underworld involves merging our spiritual reality with that of the planet…”
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I’ve asked around but so far I don’t know who built the labyrinth I discovered that Sunday. I have walked it twice now and will continue to walk it and, to the degree possible, care for it. It was a gift not only to me and other people but to the land itself: a consecration. And an invitation to transform to any walker whose awareness and Earth connection are one.