Wyrdsmiths: Round the bend

Like the wyrd itself – and as an aspect of the wyrd itself – the process of learning any new skill can be so full of weird twists and turns that it can feel at times like we’re going round the bend… In which case let’s be wyrd about it, and literally go round the bend! – in this case, the bends of the traditional seven-turn labyrinth – and see what it has to show us.

The labyrinth is a kind of maze, but it’s not a maze in the traditional sense: there’s only one path, and as long as we do keep going, we’ll get there in the end (‘there’ in this case being mastery of the respective skill, or of some chosen part of that skill). Yet it’s not quite as easy as it looks… we don’t simply get better and better through practice… no, it’s a bit weirder than that…

the skills labyrinth

[Note: this is an active image-map – ‘walk’ the path with your cursor, and click anywhere for an explanation of that layer of the path. Start at ‘Beginner’s Luck’, and work your way towards the centre.]

For a start, if we try to jump over into any other path, anywhere in the labyrinth – with just one exception – we’ll actually find ourselves walking straight back out again… Reality Department doesn’t allow short-cuts where skills are concerned! And we’ll also notice that whenever we pass by someone else, walking along a next-door path, they’ll always be walking in the opposite direction if they’re going the same way as us: so it’s easy to become disheartened, and think we’re doing it all wrong… or else, in our foolishness, try to convince others that they’re the ones who are walking the ‘wrong’ way!

We can learn a lot about the process, too, by mapping the seven loops of the Labyrinth to the seven chakras ( layers of self) described in Indian tradition:

(8) (aura) Mastery
7 Crown chakra Meditation
6 Third-eye chakra Mind
5 Throat chakra Communication/community
4 Heart chakra Caring
3 Solar plexus chakra Control (power)
2 Genital chakra Self
1 Base chakra Survival (chaos)
(0) (beginnings) ‘Beginner’s luck’

Try walking the labyrinth with that in mind (perhaps print this out and follow the path on the diagram with a pencil), and see what happens. You’ll find it goes something like this:

Prelude:    Beginner’s Luck

Starting from Beginnings, we move almost immediately to a point where we have a kind of mastery – but only for a moment. We then have the choice: to back out, avoiding any commitment; or ask “How did I do this?” – and start on the Journey.

Stage 1: inward to Control (third loop)

We here experiment and analyse, and things begin to make sense: we seem quite soon to be in control, though it’s nothing like the ‘instant mastery’ we had earlier. But every now and then things break down, and it’s clear that we are part of the process. At some point we change direction, and look inwards – though as far as the labyrinth is concerned, we’re actually moving outward

Stage 2: outward to Self (second loop)

We look at how we are involved in the process. But despite knowing more – and having to face our own weaknesses which need working on – we find our mastery is even less. Looking at self seems the ‘wrong’ way: at another point, we turn toward the direction in which we first started.

Stage 3: outward to Survival (first loop)

This doesn’t do at all what we expected. Far from bringing us back to Control, it takes us to Chaos! The rules haven’t changed: but we have – so it seems nothing works. This is the worst stage of the Labyrinth, and by far the longest… Yet this is also the stage in which we do some of our most important work, building up ‘body-knowledge’ which – though we won’t know it yet – will allow us to carry out many of the skill’s actions without having to think about them. However…

A sudden stop: the Dark Night of the Soul

At some point there’s a harsh twist where we seem to face a wall, and we discover we’re actually further out than we started: a bleak place traditionally described as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. This can also be called the ‘Oh, sod it!’ point: if we give up at this point, walk straight on and break out of the Labyrinth – as the steep turn encourages us to do – we lose everything we’ve gained, except for a large dose of disillusion…

Interlude: The Cloud of Unknowing

If we can keep going, we’ll find that we go into a deep despair – but only for a while. The key is to trust – to listen to the heart. By accepting that we don’t know – surrender to the ‘cloud of unknowing’ and the ‘cloud of forgetting’ – there’s a change as fast as that at the beginning: from chaos we suddenly find ourselves at the centre. Or almost at the centre – there’s still a way to go!

Stage 4: inward to Caring (fourth loop)

To move on, we find that we have to care about what we’re doing: a commitment of the heart as well as of the head. We’ve swung away from the centre again: but we’re now in an inner space, and we now never lose what we’ve learned so far.

Stage 5: inward to Meditation (seventh loop)

Another steep swing: by ‘doing no-thing’ we find ourselves almost at the centre once more. And once more, we still aren’t quite there… we’ve reached a kind of ‘enlightenment’, but there’s still wood to chop, water to carry…

Stage 6: outward to Mind (sixth loop)

We come down out of the quiet spaces, and remember we still have practical work to do. The mind here helps us make the link, though in a way that sometimes seems quite opposite to the way we used the mind when – so long ago – we thought we were in Control.

Stage 7: outward to Communication (fifth loop)

We’re now quite some way from the centre: it again seems like we’re only getting worse. We need help from others, a community of like-minded people – especially those who don’t call us crazy! To release our worry about our failing awareness, and to help us find out what we know, we start to teach, to describe to others what we’ve done. This has surprising results…

Postlude: Mastery

… because we find we’re now at the centre! And while we discover that we’ve truly mastered this stage, we find that the Labyrinth has an even stranger twist. We thought we were going in: we now find that we were going out. Not just to a wider awareness, but to the ‘outside’ of another Labyrinth, another skill to master…

An interesting exercise in wyrdness? You may find it’s a lot more than that: try applying it to your own skills, and see what happens!

(Parts of this model were adapted from ideas originally developed by Richard ‘feather’ Anderson, Nicholas Finck, Alex Champion, Sig Lonegren and other members of the American Society of Dowsers, particularly its San Francisco chapter – credit where credit’s due!)

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