I have spent the last few months in a grief fog. Navigating the first death day of my Mom, the second death day of my Dad, and all of the details associated with finalizing their estate and selling my childhood home was draining. It was emotionally exhausting. It shook me up in so many ways.
And even though I was consistently using all of my tools in my mental health toolkit (prioritizing sleep and exercise, spending time in nature, connecting with people who build me up, therapy, coaching, and writing), I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I was struggling to discover myself again. My desire to thrive.
Then I had an A-ha! moment in a coaching session. I remembered solo travel often gives me a jumpstart. Traveling alone, navigating new environments, exploring new places and ideas, and spending time focusing on myself often gives me that much needed kick in the pants to start taking charge of my life again.
So immediately after my coaching session ended, I started researching wellness retreats and found the perfect spot outside of Austin, Texas. I booked my flight the next day and was off on my adventure eight days later. I am not typically a spontaneous person so it already felt like a jolt in the right direction to regain control.
The retreat offered an abundance of guided classes and activities. I participated in a few, but spent most of the time honoring my introverted side and finding ways to replenish my soul on my own.
I pushed myself to participate in a few things that I knew I was unlikely to have the opportunity to do again soon, like kayaking on Lake Austin. It was beautiful and I always find being on the water so peaceful. I also participated in a floating meditation lounging in aerial silks hanging from the ceiling. This was less successful as another member of the group fell asleep four times and was snoring loudly within the 45 minutes session. Each time the instructor gently woke him, yet, he was asleep and snoring again within minutes. I was honestly jealous he was so relaxed!
Some of my favorite solo activities were hiking and reading poolside. I had time to both be in my own thoughts and also get wrapped up in the stories of the characters in my books. In my ongoing effort to learn and grow, I almost always read self-help, books about organizational culture, or DEI-related materials. But this time I only brought fiction and devoured three books in four days. The Sleeping Patient, The Five Star Weekend, and Lessons in Chemistry (my favorite of the bunch!) were all enjoyable and entertaining in their own way and reminded me of the joyful feeling of not wanting to put a book down because you can’t wait to know what happens next.
Maybe the most transformative experience of my trip was walking a labyrinth. I was intrigued by the idea, but knew little about how it worked, what you do, or the mindset I should have going into the experience. So I asked my trusty friend, Google, for some insight and found this video detailing the history of labyrinths and a few bullet points to get me started.
A labyrinth is an intricate, geometrically designed path leading to a central point. Unlike a maze, which is a puzzle meant to confuse or challenge you, a labyrinth has only one path guiding you in and out. A labyrinth is sometimes described as a metaphorical journey mirroring the twists and turns of life, allowing you to let go of distractions and enter a state of focused awareness.
Being a relative newbie to meditation overall, I thought I’d begin the journey with my Airpods and a guided meditation on my Calm app. But I quickly learned that I wanted to be more present in my surroundings. So I unplugged and focused on watching the path unfold beneath my feet. Dodging a stray rock or stick on the ground. Seeing where my mind went when I allowed it to go where it wanted.
I was struck by how unadorned the labyrinth was. It was plain with a rock-lined path and sticks and twigs littered almost everywhere. The marked path was obviously intentional but also unkempt in some ways. It twisted and turned in ways that seemed odd and oftentimes left me wondering how I would reach the center. At times it felt as though I was going backwards or retracing a path I had already walked.
Walking the labyrinth reminded me of the slinky, or spiral, metaphor sometimes used to understand growth. When we are changing patterns of behavior, setting boundaries in relationships, or trying to get ourselves unstuck in some way, it is common to feel like you’ve fallen backwards in your growth. In reality, we know more about ourselves, our wants and needs, and resiliency than before so we are making progress. Growth is not linear. It is an upward spiral with challenges and failures along the way. But each revolution of your spiral takes you closer to your goal. Much like how each step of the labyrinth moved me closer and closer to the center despite feeling like I was making little progress at times.
As I continued to walk and allowed my thoughts to flow freely without self-judgment and letting go of my fundamental desire to control my surroundings, I felt myself lean into the idea of trusting the path. I needed and wanted to trust the path and believe it would take me where I needed to go.
This was my reminder to trust my gut instincts and have confidence I wouldl find my way. My most fulfilling and rewarding things in life have been a direct result of trusting my gut. Becoming a mother, leaving my marriage, starting my own business, and managing end of life care for my parents required a deep level of trust within myself and confidence that I can, and will, make the right decisions. My gut has never led me astray. I know–we all know–what we need for ourselves. If we honor our truths and are honest with ourselves in our life journeys, our guts will not lead us adrift. The ability to trust ourselves to make the right decision, as well as recover from hardships, is one of our greatest gifts. It’s hard. It’s scary. But it has immense rewards if we are courageous enough to lean into our truth.
When I finally reached the center of the labyrinth, it was honestly anticlimactic. I was simply in the middle of a circle. It wasn’t the summit of a tall mountain and there was no tape to tear through at a finish line. It was just the center of a circle. Yet this is the perfect metaphor for my company name, Journey Well.
When I left my 15-year marriage and began letting go of the idea of perfectionism and the dream of what my life should be, I started focusing on the pieces of life between birth and death. Life stopped being about the fairy tale of longevity in a marriage and displaying a happy family to the outside world. It started becoming about daily moments of joy, peace, and balance. This is my idea of how to Journey Well. And what I still strive to do every day.
Walking the labyrinth brought feelings of peace and much needed clarity. It reminded me that I’m in control of my life, the direction I travel, and how I navigate obstacles. Sometimes, the journey feels like you’ve gotten off of your path or you’ve landed in the same place you were before, but in the wise words of Terry Pratchet, “Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Journey well, my friends.