Life as a labyrinth

Metaphors and stories are part of our everyday language, we use them to make sense of the world, relate to other people’s experiences and find meaning in our lives. As humans, we are drawn to storytelling from the moment we can hear and understand words – our imaginations are limitless!

I have been thinking a lot recently about the metaphors we use for our life journeys. The concept of a journey is in itself a metaphor of course, but when I think of that word, it automatically conjures up a more-or-less straight path stretching towards the far horizon, with a few obstacles along the way and assorted shrubbery to either side of the path. Why? Frankly, that image is ridiculous, it bears no relation to most people’s experience of life, including my own, and yet the vision is one that seems to have been planted in my brain through exposure to that type of imagery depicting an ideal life journey.

For me, a more realistic and helpful metaphor is that of the maze or labyrinth. This by definition has twists and turns, lovely surprises and frightening shocks, dark corners and hidden secrets; the labyrinth can evoke fear through its uncertainty, and just when you think you are nearing your goal, an unexpected turn whisks you off in the opposite direction. You meet other travellers along your route – they might help you or hinder you, and some appear to give good advice but turn out to be masters of misdirection, and you feel betrayed and struggling to know who to trust. The labyrinth can trick you, but it is there to be conquered if you take up its amazing challenge.

As a woman, and through talking with many other women about their life journeys, I wonder also whether the labyrinth concept resonates even more for us than perhaps it does for many men. White middle-class heterosexual, able-bodied men walk their path with a lot of advantage and privilege, whether they realise this or not, and so elements of their path will appear straight, smooth and easily traversed.  For those of us who differ from any of those identities, there are more complex routes to be figured out, more darkness in the corners, more bumps, fewer doors automatically opening for us as we wend our way through our labyrinth.

Viewing my life as a unique labyrinth, with no map provided, could create fear and anxiety for me. Instead, I embrace the exciting, positive aspects of the labyrinth – the adventure and thrill of embarking on a puzzle, with curiosity leading me round new corners and an acceptance that backtracking may be a necessary way of reinforcing my learning and making even more progress on the next attempt. Sometimes I look upwards for clues, not just down or sideways, sometimes I feel it’s right to wait in a quiet corner until danger passes, at other times I leap blindly and joyfully around the next corner, knowing I am being safely guided by a companion or my own trusted instincts.

If you have ever felt worried or frustrated that you are going round in circles with your life, repeating patterns that may be unhelpful for you or others, try transforming that circular metaphor into that of the labyrinth, relate your unique experiences to that analogy, and see what it could be like for you if you were to replace anxiety and self-doubt with curiosity and excitement for your next steps.

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