I know you feel stuck and frightened. I can see it in your face. You don’t understand how you got here, or what on earth you’re doing in this place. You woke up one day and found yourself inside this strange labyrinth, without any explanation. But let me tell you a secret: you are not alone. There are many of us in here, also struggling to find a way forward, though we may seem to be nothing more than shadows. I don’t know how or why I ended up here either and I definitely haven’t found the way out yet, but I’ve been wandering around for some time already. Perhaps the following guide might help you. I found it a while ago in one of the many dark dead-ends I have stumbled into during my time here. Some other kind soul had scribbled it onto a wall in sharpie pen. I shone my torch on it and copied it down in my battered old notebook and, so far, it’s not done me wrong. Here it is then: A Procedure for Moving Through Labyrinths.
Step 1: Before you even think about moving, look around. Open your eyes as wide as possible and cast them around you in every direction. What can you see? What is the labyrinth made of? How bright is it in the strange passageway in which you find yourself? What does the ground feel like beneath your feet? Can you hear any noises from beyond the walls? Are there walls? Or hedges? Or is this a hall of mirrors where you can see your own body reflected a hundred times or more? Do you seem to be surrounded by infinite versions of yourself, a series of reflections that you don’t really recognize anymore who are all moving exactly in time with you? It is disconcerting, isn’t it? Notice the illusions but try not to be too perturbed by them. Use your senses but do not trust them. The winding passages of a labyrinth are deliberately laid out to trick and deceive you. It is normal to feel lost.
Step 2: Now that you’ve got your bearings it is time to think about what to do next. Do you want to wait a while or are you keen to find your way out as quickly as possible? Are there any limitations—time pressures, things your body needs like food or water? Are you warm enough? Take a few deep breaths. Turn your attention inward. What is your body telling you? Pay attention, and as with the outside signs, be aware that even the things inside you may not be as they seem anymore. I know this seems a little perturbing, but remember that when things change, all kinds of new opportunities can arise.
Step 3: Perhaps by now, having evaluated the conditions, it is time to take your first step? If there is more than one direction to choose from, choose carefully, but know that you cannot possibly be certain which way is the right way to turn. Be prepared to take the wrong course. Be prepared for the possibility that you might need to turn back and try a different way at some later point, retracing your steps so many times that the ground is worn away beneath you and the soles of your feet ache. Be prepared to get it wrong and step boldly forwards in your chosen direction anyway.
Other people will pass you in the labyrinth. They may be faster than you are, may move more recklessly than you do. They might push past you aggressively and not turn back to look when you stumble in their wake. Pay them no heed. Their path through the labyrinth will take a very different course to the one you are tracing. Only you will walk your way. Look out for the friendly faces that you pass on the way too. Take the time to smile back at anyone who looks upon you with kind eyes. We’re all just muddling through.
As you walk, try to notice how you feel along the way and how those feelings change and shift. Take regular breaks. Pay attention to anything you find along the way: places where the path splits in two, cracks in the walls, birds in the hedges, your ever-shifting reflection in those magic mirrors that may or may not line the route. Go gently. Tell yourself kind things, things like “Look how far you’ve come.” Say them when you find yourself circling back along a path you have already taken. Even if you go round in seemingly endless circles. Even if you need to sit down and rest for a very long time. Even if you give up completely and sit there curled up in a ball for days. Say kind things to yourself especially at those moments.
The further you go, the more you may come to realize that it is not just about finding the way out of the labyrinth. Perhaps you will discover that there is no exit. Maybe you will come to enjoy the mystery of the winding path. To become comfortable—even tentatively happy—to keep wandering along it. It may be a good time to start helping other lost souls who cross your path. Remember that they might not need your help. Offer it anyway.
Onwards then, into the unknown. It will get more and more familiar with every twist and turn, you’ll see.
Sara Collie is a writer, language tutor and wandering soul living in Cambridge, England. She has a PhD in Contemporary French Literature and loves playing with words, gardening, wild swimming and walking in the mountains. Her writing explores the wild, uncertain spaces of nature, the ups and downs of mental health, and the mysteries of the creative process. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various online and print anthologies. She is currently writing a memoir about her experiences hiking across the Pyrenees.