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Labyrinths

Rocks friends.

labyrinth_opt-tn Last Saturday morning a friend took me out to walk a labyrinth: not a hedge maze, but a Celtic spiral assembled from reclaimed bluestone and laid down in an out-of-the-way place by the banks of the Merri Creek.

For much of last year the only way I could keep my head clear was to keep my feet moving.*  Most often through Brunswick back alleys in the middle of the night. There's a certain poetic confluence to the labyrinth being made from the same centuries-old stone blocks as those laneways.

My friend left me at the entrance, off to read beneath a tree while I walked.

After waiting weeks for this I was finally standing there, looking at someone's overgrown-yet-tended labour of love, one telltale wax puddle near the centre. I considered how to approach it, feeling suddenly on-the-spot, underprepared and a little foolish about just standing there.  Wondering if it’s possible to have performance anxiety about something like this I remembered something that happened to me years ago.

I was sitting in the Cairns city place, on a green incline, waiting for a friend.  I was working on my peripheral vision, making a game of seeing her coming before she saw me.  I waited for a few minutes, scanning back and forth just quietly, rows and lines the way search teams scan pegged out crime scenes, trying to be aware of every detail in the crowd, letting myself be open to the aggregate of it all and waiting for something familiar to snag my attention.  And then something like the voice of R. Lee Ermey bellowed in my head:

"IF SHE WAS A SNIPER, YOU'D BE DEAD!”

I realised I hadn't considered she might be entering the place from behind me.  I turned around and sure enough, there she was, twenty feet away and smiling.

And I stood there looking at that labyrinth, and told myself to shut the hell up and stop overthinking.  Click.  Freedom.  And I walked in.

Rough ground trodden bare, green grass and weeds reaching up in and around the bluestone rubble.  Dew on the legs of my jeans, my GPs shining black, the space behind my sunglasses feeling snug like a cockpit, a good place for thinking, one foot in front of the other.

It started the way it always does: raw frag shouldering each other around, ordering, falling into place and dissolving.  Opening up space for actual, clear thought.  One foot in front of the other.  Realised I was probably a quarter done already.  Realised I liked being in here, and at this rate I'd be out before I knew it.  Told myself to slow down.  Did it right on one of so many tight corners.  Slowed, almost to a stop, placed the next step square and sure ninety degrees to the right, felt everything breathe a sigh of relief, took it easy.  Realised then and there that the metaphor was obvious.  For as long as I'm away, I swore, I'd cut no corners, I'd rush nothing, I'd be in each and every moment.  One. Step. At a time.  Enjoy every single raising and lowering, every sunrise and sunset, every new face, every new person, every new life, every new place, every gust of wind, every lap of the ocean, every kilometre, every heartbeat.  One foot in front of the other.  Thought of Shinto monks and it all made sense.  One foot in front of the other.  Steady, and sure, and utterly in the moment.

I've spent a long time running code.  Glad that's over.  I reached the middle, poured out a splash of black Salmiakki Koskenkorva, and made my way back.

I'll go back there again, later in the year, when all's said and done.

My perception of time changed last year.  Past and present began to share the same space, like I could feel everything happening at once. A detail becomes a strong hand reaching down to lift me out of the torrent that is moment-after-moment and place me somewhere constant.  An obscure detail of clothing summons an aluminium perfume scent and I'm eight years old in the yellow light of my grandmother's house on Christmas morning. Things that felt so terrible at the time felt less terrible because they share the same space with the moments in time when things had been less catastrophic.  The fact that things had once been a certain way mean that, in a very real way, some part of them will always be that way.  It isn't a changing; it's the acquisition of a new aspect.  All things in one thing.  A daughter may grow up, but she'll always be his little girl.  A man may grow old, but the one who loves him always sees the boy they fell in love with.  Cleopatra's Needle is pocked with shrapnel from German bombs, but is also a thing that lay beneath a desert for 2000 years, and one day I leaned against it.  I tell her even if everything falls apart some part of us will always be kissing by the river.

And then something from another moment gets my attention, and I'm back with the sun on my face, and the air is cool.  And I'm getting on a plane, listening to Motorhead, and savouring every footstep.

*:  It worked really well, and persuades me yet again that astrology is bollocks: I'm Taurean and am seriously considering tattooing the words 'Stasis Is Death' somewhere on my body.

Melbourne to London

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