Awareness of the nature of life as a labyrinth is one which is present at birth, but fades into the oblivion of infant amnesia as one grows older. It often - perhaps even usually - has to be discovered very painfully after one has become an adult. By then, the pressing concerns of issues to be faced involving work, love and knowledge (to use Wilhelm Reich's dictum) have taken over, And one somehow fails to recognize the labyrinth when it makes its appearance in hidden forms. By then, we are so immersed in the matrices of circumstance and relationship that, very often, the "ultimate" concerns - those involving birth and death - only come to the fore under conditions of great stress, particularly when our primary relationships are not working well, and we are thrown back on our own - usually inadequate - inner resources. Only then do we begin to wonder how we got ourselves so enmeshed in an apparently irreversible process, insoluble puzzle or unyielding trap! It is only then that one may begin to search for some particular person who has "gone missing," one whose absence until then might not even have been noticed, but whose presence is now somehow essential if one is to thread successfully the maze one's life has become!
I have a belief that everyone has a special person for whom we are searching, to be with or to find whom we will risk, strive, suffer, even give up everything else. This person is the central metaphor, the organizing principle, of our life. For Freud it was perhaps his father - hence the Oedipus Complex - for Jung it was possibly his mother - hence his awareness of significance of the Great Mother, more fully developed by his Israeli follower Erich Neumann; - to say nothing of Jung's apparently needing both his wife Emma and Tony Wolf as women in his life. For me it is my lost twin.
It is finally clear to me that most of my life's thrust has in some way been involved with my preoccupation with my lost twin. There was another Mary Macomber (my "maiden" name) who, according to my mother, was born at the Faulkner Hospital at the same time as I was. She speculated once or twice, jokingly, whether we, this other Mary and I, had in fact been given to the right mothers. I fantasized occasionally that one day I would meet her, but it never happened.
What did happen, however, when I was perhaps seven, was that I actually met my soul twin - or so close an approximation that I certainly never detected the difference. The moment of our meeting is forever in my mind's eye. She comes walking toward me on the school playground on a warm, sunny October day, her hands in her coat pockets holding the coat wide open, a smile on her round, lightly freckled Irish-Polish face, a wide open-mouth smile that shows her square white teeth with a gap between the two central ones, her round, wide-set eyes smiling right at me. It was love at first glance.
Everything about her was somehow just right - and I knew that we would be - were, in fact - best friends, twins. Everything about her was indeed just right. And in fact we did become inseparable, racing together through fields; jumping from barn rafters to the hay twenty feet below; running along its ridgepole, one sneakered or bare foot on either side of the peak; crawling on hands and knees through ripe oats (at peril from her farmer father's rage for spoiling his crop) to make a winding tunnel which ended in a round nest in which we would lie together concealed from all but the blue sky in which puffball clouds sailed past while we chewed milky raw oats and laughed together; walking with careful balance along the top of the stone wall which edged the road home from school or, better still, climbing precariously down the twenty-five-foot wall which it became on the other side at the low point of the ground below to reach a dark, square opening some fifteen feet down into which we crawled until we came, in semi-darkness, to an apparently bottomless hole leading straight down. Such riches we enjoyed together!
All the mysteries and the wonder of life itself, it seems, are bound up inextricably with a kind of melodic flow which simply starts - or stops - when one's world is as it should be or when one merely endures until the song begins again. One KNOWS how it is meant to be. Nothing can change or obscure this fact. How did so many of us lose this knowing when we "grew up"? I still ponder this question and find no answer. A few of us are lucky enough to hear the sound occasionally, even now. I count myself in this number. Ken Kesey, in Sometimes a Great Notion, remarks from time to time throughout the story, "This is Hank's bell ringing." For me it is "Nelly's bell," a connection I have explored more fully in The Flying Bird Brings the Message. Suffice it to say here that its origin lies in the music hall song from the world of traditional melodrama:
Asked what I wished to name my hard disk, without hesitation I answered, "Nelly" - my LC was called "Nelly too - i.e., 2," the Power Mac was "Tall Nelly," my first IMac was "Red Nelly," and my current IMac disk is "Blue Nelly." My inner knowing was in charge of that choice, since what I really wanted the new computer with this huge storage capacity for was to allow me to gain easy access to my inner musings - and that is "Nelly's bell" space! It is this "space," and the thematic melodies which tell me of its presence that I return to periodically, and of which I write.
I find it remarkable that there are only a few themes which evoke this melody, and that they have spontaneously emerged and re-emerged throughout my life, and, even more interestingly, have begun to merge into one another. One such is my cosmic twin - another, the subject of this étude, is the laby-rinth, archetypal symbol of the mystery and sacredness of life. The labyrinth appears throughout the history of the human race, from the triple spirals carved into the rocks at Newgrange, the prehistoric passage-grave in County Meath in Ireland, to cite one famous example, to the purely recreational mazes which appear in amusement parks, especially in Britain. The two most famous labyrinths would seem to be the Cretan labyrinth ("The Palace of King Minos," according to Sir Arthur Evans) - and the great pavement labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.
The Chartres labyrinth is laid out in stone on the floor of the cathedral in such a way that pilgrims to this ancient Goddess site, turned into a shrine to the Mother of God, could trace its twistings and turnings, usually on their knees, as a kind of devotional or penitential way to the holy city of Jerusalem, Mary's city, which could represent an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land made for penitential purposes. According to Coate, Fisher and Burgess (A Celebration of Mazes, 1986), the circular form of this maze may also represent the protection of pilgrims to Jerusalem by the Knights Templar, whose temple was circular.
The Center is represented by a perfect flower, one which more resembles a lotus than a rose, Mary's flower, but is clearly hers, in terms of the energy to be evoked there. I know, because I have evoked it. There is something about this labyrinth which inspires love and awe, and the evoked feeling has perhaps less to do with historical Christianity than one might suppose. Dowsing it allows its truly sacred nature to emerge. It may be for this reason that the Church fathers have chosen to cover the transcendent central flower - the female energy at the perimeter of which is strong and deeply moving! - with an iron-rimmed, spike-studded circlet which resembles nothing so much as a manhole cover. This horrifying dénouement to a moving ritual journey one might make - as I discovered in 1984 - is in perfect keeping with the tone of a diocesan bulletin I picked up in the Church bookstore denouncing the popularity among visitors to the church of the seeking out of "si-disant" [so-called] church mysteries - the chiefest being, of course, that of the labyrinth. In Rushing to Eva, my account of that trip, I described my experience thus of dowsing the great labyrinth:
True it is, at any rate, that on the two occasions when I have dowsed the great circular maze, the energy has manifested itself like that of a stone circle - i.e., in concentric rings, "male" (clockwise) on the outermost rim alternating with "female" (counter-clockwise) as one moves steadily toward the center - male, female, male, and so on, until one reaches the center. And there, at the very edge of the last circle is a strong female current setting the pendulum swinging fully, and then, nothing! The cap has totally shut down the energy of the flower - of the Mother! It is very sad, and never fails to move me to tears. On the last occasion, I shared this grief - through the meeting of our eyes - with two other young women who, it was very clear to me, had also some understanding of what had happened.
The Cretan labyrinth is of quite a different order altogether. Its origin and function are shrouded in the mists of prehistory, but it is likely that the inspiration for its construction on the island of Crete, at least in its architectural form, came from a now vanished building at Fayum in Egypt. This huge Egyptian building, according to Herodotus and other ancient writers, was apparently completed around 1800 B.C., and contained 3000 rooms. The building was two stories in height, supported by acres of pillars, and said to have been "greater than the Pyramids." Its upper story was used to house the twelve regional royal courts of Egypt, the lower for royal burials, to house sacred crocodiles, and perhaps for other sacramental purposes.
The "labyrinth" of King Minos, traditionally said to have been designed and built by the architect and builder Daedalus in 1600 B.C.(although actually, it was built and re-built many times over a period of 600 years, between the years 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C.), is still partly intact, and can be visited, as I have done. Sir Arthur Evans, the nineteenth century gentleman archaeologist who first excavated the ruins of this colossal structure, named it as King Minos' palace, and did a lot of reconstruction based on his theories of its usage which are now being brought into some doubt.
Evans' image of Minoan civilization leaves out of the account much that is vividly depicted in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur as being quite grisly in nature and as intimately involved with human sacrifice, focusing instead on the delicacy and gaiety of the frescoes and artifacts of Minoan court life, the celebratory processions with both men and women gorgeously attired and be-jeweled, with elaborately coiffed hair, the plentiful use of ingeniously wrought gold in much of that jewelry, the vividly painted statuary and elaborately decorated pithoi and sarcophagi - which latter objects Evans dubbed "bathtubs".
The Cretan labyrinth is a differently patterned maze from the later Christian one, and its symbolism is equally "other" in nature. The theme of the bull predominates in Minoan life during the Age of Taurus - and the labyrinthine palace at Knossos is replete with images of sacrifice both of and to the bull. As a latter-day visitor to the site, it was impossible for me not to reconstruct a mental bridge between the bloody myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the visual evidence of the palace itself.
Evans' inability to make this connection and his idealistic fantasy which would reduce the "bull-leaping" activity by teams of young men and women to a mere spectator sport more humanistic than Spanish bullfighting - since the bull does not get killed as a result of this activity - is anachronistically near-sighted in the best aristocratic manner of the Victorian period - but perhaps it is clearer now as a result of Evans' elaborate restorations than it was then as to what the actual situation was. Suffice it to say that subsequent excavation in at least one other Minoan site has uncovered explicit evidence of human sacrifice, complete with priest, intended victim and sacrificial blade all lying near to one another, the process having been interrupted by the sudden, severe earthquake emanating from the island ofThera which devastated so much of the Cretan civilization.
Turning from the physical "labyrinth" of the palace to its depiction in maze form, the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur immediately begins to "work" in the subconscious as a universal symbol or archetype of the human condition. I described my experience and subsequent speculations about this symbolism in an Appendix to a book I wrote in 1985 entitled Rushing to Eva, as follows:
And from my description of the Knossos experience, I quote the following:
It's strange but true - at least, from my perspective - that in the modern artifact-based culture of acquisition with which we have surrounded ourselves, the real nature of the "poles" of life - birth and death - have been buried very deeply indeed in the darkness of unconsciousness. We have created whole professions dedicated to the regulating and depersonalizing of these experiences by every possible technological means available. The hidden compulsion to enforce our societal taboos against direct experience emerges only when one attempts to violate one of them - as any midwife will tell you who is struggling to assist women to give birth at home! We operate as a society by institutionally enforced denial of our human propensity for violence and bloody murder! It takes the reports most of us receive of mass slaughter at a distance - whether in wartime or as a result of the demonic intentionality of a Hitler or a Stalin - or even more banally, as the result of human folly on a monstrous scale like that which led to the appalling excesses of the Inquisition - or more recently, to the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl! - to awaken us once more to the reality of our human potential for such horror.
We do really understand this potential, as the experiments of some psychologists who have tricked their subjects into displaying it, have testified. Yet it is equally true that inwardly, each of us, almost without exception, sets up very early in life an elaborate unacknowledged system of inner mental categories of semantic labeling for the exigencies of our lives in relationship which allows us to make exceptions to this general rule concerning human nature where it might apply to ourselves! And such denial is as true of most of our socially appointed "healers" as it is to our mass murderers! In fact, we expend so much "monkey mind" creative ingenuity in these constructs that disassembling them usually takes quite a long time and a depth of commitment to the task which few of us are either willing or able to take on! In a very real sense, commitment to a life spent in pursuit of the grace which the sense of God's omnipresence evokes makes perfect sense - and yet, it is equally clear that it is this variety of one-pointedness which has led throughout history to the horrifying excesses I have cited above - and continues to do so! Truly, the labyrinth is a symbol for an inner space, in the spirit of both Chartres and Knossos, which one ignores at one's peril - at least, in the soul's terms.
Perhaps all of one's "vital themes" are of this nature. I am looking, for example, at my "twin" theme. A few summers ago, I had the great good fortune to have attended a workshop conducted by the eminent Australian psychiatrist Graham Farrant at a conference organized by the international Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Association of North America. The workshop, which he calls "Cellular Consciousness," was based on Graham's own version of Janov's Primal therapy, and came out of his own experience of its use in evoking, not only the living presence of one's birth but of the immediacy of consciousness itself, carried within the body's cellular structure, for as far back as one might choose to explore it.
Four members of our small community attended this workshop, and afterwards agreed that what we had uncovered was only a glimpse into a realm which invited much deeper investigation. We decided to invite Graham to return to our community to give us that opportunity. What I wish to describe here is what emerged for me in this second weekend of exploration, which constituted the "shadow" side of my "twin" theme, because I believe it is the double nature, as both heaven and hell, of these "vital themes" which governs our human process throughout our lives.
In my case, what happened with this one was that I got to bring back into consciousness the double poignancy and horror of discovering that I had actually had a twin in my mother's womb, and that, knowing - as the intrauterine womb-self knows with total cellular immediacy, the inmost heart-consciousness of the encapsulating mother-matrix - that my mother would not be able to accept the reality of giving birth to twins, I had shut off with my tiny hand the life-giving blood stream flowing through the umbilicus of my twin! - and she had died, with a kind of soul-smile on her tiny face which had burned itself into my own soul's awareness - as a source of both ecstatic inner knowing and heart-wrenching grief, at the loss of my womb-mate - of my twin soul.
Looking back, it is clear that I have always both "known" and "not known" the inner truth of this event, which has emerged throughout my life in indirect ways - in dreams and reveries, in my responses to literary themes and in deep, otherwise inexplicably powerful feelings of grief and ecstasy, by turns, in relationships! Graham told us that actually, his experience has been that twinship is much commoner than the statistics of surviving twins would suggest, and that many twins are reabsorbed in the uterus during the early stages of development - and not too uncommonly, are eliminated through the act of one twin against the other as I had done. It doesn't "help" to know that I am not the only murderer of the one being I love best in life - but it does seem to be true. And it is truth which allows - and is the only condition which does thus allow - one to move along the sacred pathway of the labyrinth, as Theseus moved, led by the "red thread of truth" given him by Ariadne - as the pilgrim moved, from one spiralling pathway to the next, each one representing the next level of his life's spiral trajectory - and as the swirling energy rings within the circles of ancient standing stones allow one to move from "male" to "female" and back again, within the temenos of its ambience.
Aldous Huxley is right about life after death when he says, in his essay entitled "Heaven and Hell," that there is a real heaven and a real hell, and that that hell can be defined as a state of being in which fear and hatred bar one from the experience of the bliss of union with the Heavenly Ground which is reality.
In his related essay of the same name included in his book,The Doors of Perception, he says of the mescalin experience,
I do know that the schizophrenic experience - and many other experiences we can have during our lifetimes - bring us close, sometimes too close, to a state which borders on hellishness. Huxley's description of this state as he experienced it under the influence of the drug is very vivid:
David Boadella has characterized the plight of the schizophrenic as one of living in a house (the body) in which the windows (the eyes being the "windows of the soul") are all wide open but the doors (one's access to the life of purpose, of activity) are shut. Most of us are fortunate enough not to have to live in this horrifying madhouse, except at moments of extreme stress, but are able to find ways to "walk out of" our nightmares. This holds us safe until the next episode - or until we can begin to learn what goes wrong, and what to do about it.
How is the schizophrenic experience relevant to the rest of us, the "normal neurotics" who merely operate throughout their lives in self-defeating patterns which allow us to function but not to enjoy our lives? Wilhelm Reich's elaboration of the Freudian concepts of developmental stages, oral, anal and genital, based on the primacy of different aspects of the body as organized, attitudinally dysfunctional character structures - a model still used today by psychoanalysts - is based on his discovery that the main problem to be resolved in therapy through "analysis of the resistance" to changing one's ways can be short-circuited by working directly with the body itself. The segmental nature of these organized characterological structures becomes very apparent as one works in this way. Attitudes arising out of these organized responses to conflict are "held in place" by what Reich called "armoring" - chronic tension of muscle groups in those areas which were historically involved in the developmental conflicts of the individual. Thus, inhibiting the impulse to scream or to become enraged could be held in check by unconscious tightening of the muscles of the throat, of the belly, and so on, depending on the developmental stage involved at the time the conflict arose, and the nature of the inhibition.
Releasing these tensions through breathing deeply and expressing the held-in emotions brings one direct experience with the truth of the origins of one's attitudes and offers an opportunity to rethink the attitudes arising from these early experiences. But discovering the truth about one's "character neurosis" is no guarantee that one will make fundamental changes in one's ways of relating to other people. What it brings is new information and the opening of a "window of opportunity." It is still up to us to choose whether or not to go through it. And this involves relationship, what one might call "the hell of other people." Having been through Reichian therapy may make life harder, not easier! The illusion of "otherness" remains untouched by the therapy - the patterns return, restimulated by one's partner, by one's family, by one's colleagues. One has not yet learned to be "in the world but not of it." Taking this step involves a real jumping-off place - and all too often we do not dare to take that step, because it means losing one's identity, being willing to live in emptiness. In terms of the labyrinth model, one might ask the question, "What is my life to be, now that the Minotaur has been slain? Who am I now?" Or: "OK, I've written the Great American Novel. Now what do I do?"
Perhaps it might help to be reminded of the monkey trap, which consists of a narrow-necked jar with a piece of succulent fruit inside. The monkey inserts his little hand through the neck and grasps the fruit, and then attempts to draw it out of the jar to eat it. But the neck is too narrow, and he cannot do so. He traps himself inside because his greed is such that he will not let go of the fruit, yet he cannot bring it out - and so he becomes a prisoner of his own desire!
In terms of the Cretan labyrinth, we might say that our particular labyrinths seem to hold us as fast as the monkey trap does the greedy little primate. It's like the woman whose problem is that her husband thinks he is a chicken. Her psychiatrist asks her why she doesn't tell him he isn't. "Oh, no," she answers, "I can't. I need the eggs." What answers can we give to the human puzzle box or labyrinth of relationship in which we keep finding ourselves stuck, again and again? Well, to the extent to which I have been able to keep from periodically losing myself in mine, perhaps I have learned a few things. At least, until the next one comes up! We abandon our greed very gradually, if at all - and each occasion feels like death while it is occurring. For this process, we as human beings need one another. Huxley's way of expressing it feels right to me:
"The way to get it together," says Stephen Levine, "is together." What we did as a community - in Albany, New York - was to be there with and for each other both formally, for four hours once a week, and informally as we worked and lived side by side. Each time the darkness in our souls threatened to take over or a crisis of some sort was occurring, we were able to "be there" for one another. Such an event inevitably happened from time to time in connection with our couples relationships, and in our lives as individuals, whether or not we were living together as couples. It is part of living in the world, it seems to me, and life would not make sense to me if it was not. In between crises we worked together to discover - uncover - whatever obstacles each of us unconsciously threw up in the path we were treading along the way of the sacred labyrinth of intimacy - with our lovers - with God in ourselves, and in each other. ...
My sense of connection with the community has faded since I found myself suddenly thrust outside of its warm embrace, but the truth of the generalization remains for me. Each time a wrong turn or blockage like the ones I have described above brings us to a dead end in the maze and keeps us from completing our "lost will," the wholeness or at-onement mandated by God's design for humankind, I still believe that we can learn to accept whatever comes and to support others in doing so, knowing that acceptance of "what is" is God! Each time we allow ourselves to undergo the experience of suffering (the root meaning of the word "suffer" comes from the Latin verb subire, to "go under" or "undergo"), we are also allowing ourselves to experience the commonality that undergirds relationship and to let in a sense of "twinship" with God in the being of another person. "Namaste," says the Indian greeting - the God in me recognizes the God in you. I am your lost twin - and you are mine, in this shared temenos. Our Being is in our centers, which we share as our Center!
It is the will to face and conquer the Minotaur of self we each hold within our beings - and to which we return, time after time, to our utter dismay! - which ultimately brings us closer and closer to our true Centers. Each of us holds within our selfhood two patterns - two images of life - to be negotiated from moment to moment, just as it comes to us to make our choices. Both are mazes. Life, in the sense of which I am speaking, could be thought of as "what happens to you while you are making other plans," as the saying goes. One's mother dies suddenly. A downpour rains out the picnic. One's spouse has an extra-marital affair. One's dearest friend dies in spite of everything we can do. And so on. Both patterns represent a-mazing occurrences, properly speaking - mysteries to be experienced. The existence of two such mazes may not be as apparent as the mere fact of unpredictability as such. I believe there are two, however, one sacred, the other profane.
The word "profane" means "in front of ("pro") or outside the temple" (the "fanum") - i.e., unholy, desacrative. This, to me, is the Cretan laybrinth, based on the fear and hatred - the separateness of which Huxley is speaking. It can be penetrated to its core, in which dwells the Minotaur who is half man, half beast - but it is of its very nature merely a pattern of duality - a template for the world of splitness, of combat against evil, of self-conquest - of separateness from the Source. It is a necessary journey, but it is not the true path one is really intended to follow - and one can become totally lost within its labyrinthine, dark passages - even after slaying the beast at its center.
Coming "out again" requires the aid of an ally - a twin soul - willing to supply the "red thread of truth" by which those passages may be safely negotiated. I believe it is the feminine which plays that crucial role, whether that feminine principle is a part of one's own being or is embodied in an actual woman. In either case, it is negotiated by the trust we are willing to place in each other as holding onto that "red thread of truth" in negotiating each twist and turn of the labyrinth as it comes to us. It is, thus, only to be negotiated through the auspices of empathic love from one who has her/himself undergone a similar experience and is willing to risk sharing that inner truth. Coming out of that dark inner space again to the realm of the light in this manner is what allows us to put our feet once more on the true path - the sacred path - which brings us gradually closer to reaching the flower at its Center, the thousand-petalled lotus or Mary's mystical rose.
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