Some 15 of us, part of the 40-person hikers’ retreat from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, were standing or sitting around the entrance to the labyrinth. Mother Lucy, a retired priest in our diocese and now a member of our parish, was enlightening us on the history of labyrinths. Few of us knew that these mysterious circular pathways went back thousands of years, had been found all over the world, and whose origin was still to be discovered. By the time she had finished her presentation, it was nearly lunchtime. So most of our group left. My wife and I, however, stuck around, with me the first to enter the sacred circle.
Those of you who know me are aware of my longtime affiliation with the Indonesian spiritual practice called Subud. What you probably don’t know is that this particular day, May 22, 2023, our first full day of four at the New Mexican retreat center where the painter Georgia O’Keefe had once lived and worked, was also my 62nd Subud birthday, making me one of the oldest living American Subud members. (Subud, loosely a moving-meditation practice based on getting in touch with one’s true self or the divine spirit within, has followers scattered in 100 countries. It reached the West in 1957, and I was initiated—we say “opened”—at age 21 in 1961.) So, as I slowly walked the narrow, stone-bordered pathway, stopping every half dozen paces, I spontaneously raised and lowered by arms while chanting words that sounded like Arabic, which I don’t understand, or Indonesian, which I do. I was aware that Cedar, my wife, was maybe five minutes behind me. We two were the only “pilgrims” enroute. Since I had walked labyrinths before, I knew how early on one would be brought tantalizingly close to the central circle before being moved away to the periphery. This sequence happened three times, perhaps symbolizing the vicissitudes of life, where it is rare to achieve a major goal on the first or even second try. Then, back on the outermost circle again, beyond your expectations, the path takes you straight to the center. But perhaps the most fascinating thing was the red ants that I found myself sharing the way with. On some stretches they were all over the place, on others I counted 14 steps before I saw even one. Sometimes they were zooming around, and sometimes they even seemed like they were going my way. Once I found four of them—I couldn’t count them at first—in what looked like a rugby scrum. In fact, I thought what I was seeing was a red-ant-colored blob until two of them disentangled themselves, and I could make out four squirming red-ant bodies.
Once I reached the center, I sat one a nice, flat rock. At this point I realized I was in an altered, thought-free state. Even the natural beauty all around me left me to myself. When Cedar showed up, I whispered that I would go back now without completing the reverse walk. Lunch was a good thirty minutes old by then. Yet during my solo walk to the dining hall, I realized I was still “in another place.” Even my half labyrinth with the red ants had done its job.