I am a walker of labyrinths, those circular constructions made famous by their examples in Greece and France and which can now be found in chapels and green spaces, even backyards. Whenever I travel, I look to see if there will be one near my destination. As a writer, I find them to be a fascinating metaphor for the creative process, even more so for those of us who write mystery. Because nothing embodies mystery like a labyrinth.
First if all, cognitive scientists tell us that labyrinth walking provides a unique and particularly satisfying neurological experience. Our brains operate differently in a labyrinth, and we therefore become different people, even for just a few minutes, when we are walking its paths.
Because as much as we mystery writers like puzzles, a labyrinth is not one. It is not a maze. Mazes must be solved – left brain activity that involves choices and an active mind and logical, sequential, linear thinking. You can get lost in a maze. It is multicursal, many paths. Your consciousness must be engaged.
Not so with a labyrinth. It is unicursal – one way in, one way out. There are no decisions, no choices, no thinking required. The only choice is to enter. To walk one is a right brain activity involving intuition, creativity, and imagination, and it requires a receptive mindset. You must trust the path, surrender to it.
A labyrinth is not a puzzle; it is a mystery. Theologian Diogenes Allen illuminates the difference:
When a problem is solved, it is over and done with. We go on to other problems. But a mystery, once recognized, is something we are never finished with. Instead, we return to it again and again and it unfolds new levels to us. Mysteries, to be known, must be entered into. We do not solve mysteries. The deeper we enter into them, the more illumination we get. Still greater depths are revealed to us the further we go.
The labyrinth is spiral knowledge in which the getting there IS the destination. We’ve all heard that, but what does it mean? Sometimes it seems little more than an admonition to enjoy the scenery, like life is a train ride, with all the countryside of Life just flying by, so you’d better pay attention.
The labyrinth offers a different truth. It teaches that life is lived step by step. In the metaphorical labyrinth, like in real labyrinths, there is only one way in and one way out, so you can’t get lost. And unlike the labyrinth of Greek myth, you will find no monster in the middle – only yourself.
You’ll find yourself at the end too, only not the same you who went in. And likewise, the labyrinth has changed too, by your presence within it, so the only thing to do is go back inside, again and again and again.
If you have a labyrinth near you, give it a spin. You’ll experience mystery in a brand new way. I guarantee it.
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Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Lowcountry. Her novel Deeper Than the Grave is the fourth in the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series, and is available now. The fifth, Reckoning and Ruin, releases April 2016.
Visit www.tinawhittle.com to learn more.