Getting Lost in a ‘Labyrinth of Solitude’

The other evening whilst I was sitting quietly in a circle with friends (see entry for 19th September), into my head popped the image of a labyrinth.  The strange thing is, it was imprinted onto the right side of my forehead and this seemed to be important for some reason.  With it came a long line of black chevrons closely spaced together.  The chevrons were the ones you get on the road to indicate a bend ahead and point in the direction you need to go, although these ones were not pointing in any particular direction.  It seemed perfectly logical to marry the chevrons with the image of a labyrinth which after all, is all to do with going round in circles.

I'itol: The Man in the Maze, comes from the tradition of the O'odham people who reside in the Tohono O'odham (Native American) Nation of Southern Arizona.  This symbol (actually a a unicursal figure) is said to represent a person's journey through life with it's many twists and turns that represent choices we face.  The journey is one from darkness to light and the man at the top depicts birth and a guide for your journey until you reach the centre where you die where you are transported to the afterlife.

The I’itol symbol: The Man in the Maze, comes from the tradition of the O’odham people who reside in the Tohono O’odham (Native American) Nation of Southern Arizona. This symbol (actually a unicursal figure) is said to represent a person’s journey through life with its many twists and turns that represent the many choices we face along the way. The journey is one from darkness towards enlightenment and the man at the top depicts your guide who is with you on your journey from your birth until you reach your death at the centre from where you will be transported to the afterlife.  I wonder where I am / you are on that journey?

The next day in my studio, I open the page in the book I am currently working on (about my St. Michael’s Way Walk), which is all about getting lost.  Getting lost is only a problem and a cause for anxiety when there are constraints on time, such as reaching your destination within a calculated time-span or arranging to meet someone at a specified time and not being able to make it.  Then it struck me that getting lost is very much like being in a labyrinth.  And I am reminded of a quote by the Mexican writer, Octavio Paz, in his book of essays, ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude‘ in which he delves into the minds of his countrymen, describing them as ‘hidden behind masks of solitude’:

“Man is nostalgia and (in) a search for communion.  Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude.”

'Stop, Look, Listen, work in progress

Stop, Look, Listen’, work in progress

And the more I think about it the more I realise that getting lost is in fact getting found!   It is only in that solitude that I am able to find my true voice.  Far from being fearful of finding my way back to the path, I am beginning, more and more to relish the peace that being alone brings: a space in which I can commune with my creative urges.  Perhaps we should learn to cherish those moments of getting lost more: how else might we stumble upon the unexpected, discover new directions or see a familiar thing from a different angle?  Often, getting lost, forces us to ask for help, something a lot of us are not very good at doing.

Stop, Look, Listen, (paths over underlying bedrock)  work in progress

Stop, Look, Listen, (paths over underlying bedrock) work in progress

Although this post doesn’t strictly speaking, fit into a conventional ‘photo challenge’ I felt it was appropriate.  For other ideas on this weeks Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns, see here.

P.S.  23rd September.  Walking the dogs today I notice that someone has been out flaying the edges of the paths (as they are wont to do).  In the debris lying on the ground, I rescued a few sprigs of purple heather (Cornish Heath) which I decided to take home and put in a little pot vase.  Being mildly aware that ‘someone’ has prompted me to do this (I often get this feeling), when I got home I went on-line to find out what the flower meaning for heather is, only to discover that it is ‘Solitude’.  What a lovely poetic endorsement.  Thank you!



Filed under Dpchallenge, Mandalas, my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, St. Michael's Way, The Artist as Pilgrim, Wordpress Photo Challenge

10 responses to “Getting Lost in a ‘Labyrinth of Solitude’

  1. Anja Kersten

    This is really beautiful Caro! Love the drawings! Yes, let’s get lost and found! 🙂


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  8. Hi Caro, I can’t find the words to match the subtle beauty in your observations but I hope you’ll find that Rebecca Solnit in her Field Guide to Getting Lost – mentioned at the weekend with Bram – will! And within a few pages she’s already citing Keats’s Negative Capability too (also like Bram). Each chapter in that book is a remarkable essay and the final chapter on Yves Klein and a closing observation on running almost as a form of flight (because there is a moment of suspension in the gait) are truly sublime…

    ANYWAY, your blog post caught my attention because quite by accident I stumbled into the world of labyrinths this year. This summer, I walked a 28 mile round trip (because I was – inconveniently! – doing another walking performance at the time with a specific set of rules) to meet with the staff at the church and cafe where my installation was due to be in October, they wanted to be reassured that, as a contemporary performance artist (!) I wasn’t going to do anything unsuitably radical for the space. I reassured them that we weren’t going to get naked and wee on the floor or anything but that I wasn’t quite sure as yet exactly quite what the installation would be. At which Jackie (who works for the church), knowing the (outdoor) performance alongside the installation involved walking exclaimed ‘oh! I thought you were going to be doing a labyrinth’… It had not occurred to me but it was the perfect metaphor for or mirror of the circular walks that would be radiating out from the church each day (as well as a univerisal symbol that is at once secular, pagan, Christian and respects all of those simultaneously). They are also visually so beautiful, and, in having only one path, allow the walker to let go and be lost in a more profound way (I think). We ended using the labyrinth as a space to allow participants to perform an indoor audio walk, with a soundscape that could be listened to within it. (There are photos at

    Synchronicitously, driving back from Bath this weekend, I was listening to some ‘Talking Walking’ podcasts and came across this interview with a ‘labyrinth facilitator’ Initially, I was a bit sceptical that such a thing was necessary (it all sounded a bit sort of interventionist, or worse, corporate management speak!) but as I listened, I realised the importance of this kind of working in transforming what is ultimately a pictorial/geometric ‘shape on the ground’ into the place of spiritual practice, pilgrimage or exploration that it becomes, and ‘holding’ that space.

    I know you are super busy with lots of change happening at present, so I’m just sending these thoughts or links or references to be with you for when you have more time. But I also hope that you are still managing to find time to be ‘lost’ (in a good way)

    Much love,


    • Dear Jess….what a wonderful, timely set of ideas! Bram’s weekend still lives with me and seems to be re-kindling many half-abandoned ideas back into life. Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost’ is already top of my Christmas list, and many thanks for the talking-walking link. Daniella Wilson’s website about community labyrinths labyrinths was a lovely find. Thank you. And I loved your description of how your ‘drop in the ocean’ project came about. dropintheocean with many beautiful images (not to mention the ideas and images in the ‘all in a days walk’ also, with a glimpse of Merlin’s mane).
      Listening to Daniella’s podcast about her ‘labyrinth’ work and looking at your performance at All Saints Church has made me revisit the draft of a blog post I began a couple of weeks ago which I titled ‘A coiled Spring’ and which now needs to be ‘put out there’! So thank you for that. Synchronicity indeed. As this line of enquiry gains momentum I believe it has more significance for me than I had first supposed and has strong connections with my interest in Mandalas. (I have spoken briefly to Mas about this before and his ideas about ‘coming home’). Coming full circle, perhaps?
      Now, instead of getting wonderfully lost with you Jess, I really must go and clear out the attic. Too much stuff! Must re-read ‘Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence’! Lots of love, Caro x


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