The day before my husband died I held my first retreat day at Tofte Manor in Bedfordshire, a beautiful retreat venue with the unique feature of a large and rather spectacular grass labyrinth.
I felt so alive that day. I felt my body humming with the vibration of the universe. This was what I was meant to do with my life. I was meant to be running these wellbeing retreats, but more than that, I was meant to be there, at Tofte Manor, walking and sharing that labyrinth. I had seen the effect on the participants, and felt it in myself. Everything in my life had lead me to this.
The next day I was exhausted, but happy. I spent the morning reflecting on the awesome day. My husband was at his friend’s in London for the weekend, photographing his band’s gig. I wasn’t expecting him back till later. The doorbell went. It was my brother-in-law. My world fell apart. Our world fell apart. I was broken.
In the early hours of the morning my husband and his friend had been chatting and looking through the photos. My husband had fallen asleep on the bed. The friend had covered him, and left him. Late morning he’d gone to wake him, and found him dead. He was 49. We have five children; the youngest was 6 years old when this happened.
With the help of family and friends we somehow got through the next few weeks. At the time I felt overwhelmed, but leaned back on to what I knew. I told myself grief would be a journey, life after this loss would be a journey for the whole family. I told myself to let the journey take me; to be patient, curious, and go with it. To see where it would take me. Where would it drop me down? Where would I find myself?
As a doula I was used to holding space; to counselling people to do things their way; to listen to their body, their instincts; and to take a step at a time. I took my own counsel. I determined to follow the flow, like with birth; follow my instincts.
I slept, a lot. I wrote. I cried. I walked. And I used and created labyrinths. I bought a wooden finger labyrinth. I made labyrinths to walk, using scarves in the garden. I made labyrinths on the beach, and drew them on stones. Each one bringing me a little calm; a pause for reflection; a moment to remember.
A labyrinth is not like a maze. It is a journey, an experience; not a puzzle nor an achievement. It is a mindful walk, and then some. A labyrinth has just one path, albeit a twisty one. You just put one foot in front of the other. It was like a metaphor for my life. That was all I could do. One foot in front of the other. The culmination of these single steps becomes the journey, taking you on a path you don’t know where you are going, where the destination is not relevant.
The thing with a labyrinth is it is not about finding the centre. It is about the journey. Not just the physical journey either, but the internal journey too. There is a saying, “The aim of a maze is to find its centre; the aim of labyrinth is to find your centre.”
Each turn gives you reflection, a new perspective. The paths between turns can be long or short, taking you towards the centre, or back around the edge again. The paths guide you, confuse you, lead you. The centre is a place to pause, to contemplate, to pray, to gather, to stand with others, or to just be. And then you return, retracing your steps, unwinding the path you had taken. The labyrinth takes you in, and back out again.
Over the years since that awful day, I have run many more retreat days at Tofte Manor, and have walked the labyrinth over and over. Sometimes when I walked the labyrinth I thought about my children. Sometimes I thought about my husband, and our relationship. Eventually I thought about myself, my grief. Each time I walked the labyrinth I felt healing and resolution. The labyrinth took me in to my grief, and back out again. It contained and held me, then released me back.
The labyrinth holds you, contains you. Giving you a time and space to turn in. I have seen the movement in my clients, watching them taking each deliberate step, each turn, seeing them pause in the centre, some briefly and others staying for a while, watching them turn back, see them leave the labyrinth, deep in thought, deep in themselves.
This grief journey has opened my eyes and my heart to the hurt and sadness that so many people are carrying around. Labyrinths have given me a tool to share with people to heal, to relax, to contemplate life, to meet them where they are. Labyrinths connect us to nature, they connect us to ourselves, to our inner soul, and they connect us to each other.
I am full of gratitude to the universe for guiding me to Tofte Manor and giving me that first retreat, to walk the labyrinth and find myself, before my life changed the very next day. My experience with labyrinths, especially the one at Tofte Manor has brought me a healing, a framework, a reference point, a way to be and to accept myself.
It is a reminder that it is okay to be slow and deliberate with my footsteps, and that every so often I will be still, to pause, reflect, or just be. I don’t need to know where I am going. It is okay to have my head in the clouds, or my heart in my boots. I will create my own way. I may feel broken, locked, and facing down the shadows of my widowhood, but I can be grateful for the blessings and the small joys. I look up. I look around. I ground myself in the here and now, in connection with nature, with my children. My place in the universe is changing but secure.
All I need to do is to listen up, to be mindful to the lessons and messages all around me. My life is a mindful walk. This is where I am. On the path. Putting one foot in front of the other.
If this resonates with you in anyway, or if you'd like to know more about labyrinths, where to find one to walk or how to get a finger labyrinth, please get in touch.
I am a Veriditas trained Labyrinth Facilitator. I help people, mostly parents, to relax and follow their own path. I run online and in person retreats and wellbeing sessions, with labyrinths as a key tool. I would love to share them with you.