Nov 15th, 2012. I was having a tough day. Week. Month. Wait… 3 months. Yes, the past 3 months have been tremendously tough on me personally, as well as the company. I realized that a lot of founders go through shit but no one talks or blogs about it until they’re somewhat successful (see my good friend Noah Kagan’s awesome post on getting fired from FB). There are great post mortems like the Plancast one and another about why founders are always unhappy by Jess Lee of Polyvore, but very very few about founder failures or those when you’re down in the dumps at rough times. That’s because it’s so raw and it hurts to write about it in the moment. It’s insane how many founders I know go through depression (they take pills or go to therapy), have serious health issues and are on the brink of losing it. But still, nobody talks about it, leaving the public to think that we’re all living superhero and glorious startup lives in the wake of our superficial happy facebook updates and press mentions. Not so much. Nobody knows the truth, but maybe they shouldn’t because the truth is ugly and may even hurt others. So we keep quiet and maintain the strong bulwark we’ve taught ourselves to front.
I was at the doctor’s office for a routine check-up when the doctor had an emergency operation and made me wait hours before she could see me. So I opted to wander downstairs to get coffee and walk around. Just a block away from the doctor’s office in FiDi was St. Paul’s Chapel. As I walked pass it, I noticed a sign that says “Walk the Labyrinth: Thursday, November 15, 2012 3pm-5pm.” Wow. What a startling coincidence! It’s amazing how I keep bumping into Labyrinths these days. I saw one at Grace Cathedral while doing a yoga hike with the AMC Magazine Media Association conference where I spoke last month, another while hiking Lands End on a photography project with Christopher Willits a few months ago, yet another one on top of Bernal Heights while running with Jae K., my best friend.
It was a calling, and a reminder. I just had to go in. I was surprised to see so many people embracing the labyrinth the right way; learning how to use it for spiritual healing, creativity, to answer questions & prayers, or simply to meditate.
For those who knew me at Cornell, I have a past with labyrinths and was known as the “Labyrinth Girl”, for my efforts to educate people about what labyrinths really are (it’s a misnomer that it’s a maze) as well as my proposal to build a permanent labyrinth at the Anabel Taylor court at Cornell.
Yeoh explains that, unlike a maze, which is meant to puzzle with dead ends and multiple paths, a labyrinth “is a specific mathematical construct in which one enters, reaches the center and exits by the same path.” A labyrinth, she notes, is an example “of a moving meditation.” ~Cornell Chronicle, April 22 2004
You can read more about the project here. Although I managed to raise a few hundred thousand for the proposed “Sept 11 Memorial Labyrinth”, unfortunately the blueprint that I and four other landscape architecture students created never came to fruition as Cornell’s VP, Susan Murphy veto’ed it over other “more important” university projects. At least I got to found the Cornell Labyrinth Society and managed to bring a large exhibit to educate the community about the psychological and health benefits of walking a labyrinth.
So today, when I walked the labyrinth at St. Paul’s Chapel, it reminded me lessons from the labyrinth that I sought to share with the world, that I myself seemed to have forgotten in my hectic life filled with daily pressures to perform, impress, exceed expectations and win. This was how I felt Freshmen year of college, and what inspired me to connect with the labyrinth in the first place.
Lessons from The Labyrinth
As I was walking the labyrinth, I noticed myself rushing through the long winding circuits, as if I was rushing through life… and it reminded me the way I rushed my startup and made decisions that weren’t necessarily right for it, just because I wanted to get to the middle (the goal) sooner. So I slowed down and tried to enjoy and learn from the journey.
While walking, I could see others walking it too, but in different directions and at paths within the labyrinth before or after me; it’s hard to tell sometimes. But you learn to appreciate the same person from different points of view. Sometimes you cross paths on the tiny circuit and it’s interesting to observe if you look and smile at those people in passing, or ignore and avoid eye contact. Are you mindful and courteous to the people you pass in your life, as you’re on your way to the center, the goal? Or are you reckless, ignorant or ungrateful?
It’s generally more effective to have a question to ponder about before walking the labyrinth. The steps are (i) releasing (as you walk into the labyrinth, you release worry and fears of the challenge), (ii) receiving (as you get to the center, listen for guidance for the question you brought in), (iii) returning (as you walk back out, symbolically, you’re taking back out into the world that which you have received).
When I finally reached the center, the goal, a stream of tears flowed down my cheeks, almost uncontrollable, in front of many others who were there. But I didn’t care. I felt overwhelmed and emotional… and all I could think of was that I was there. Finally there. I made it through this long, winding circuit, not really knowing how long it’d take or when I’d get there… but I had to learn to trust the path because eventually, I’ll get to the center, where it mattered. It’s not a maze and it’s not tricky… but it’s meant to teach us that there’s just one way to the center of the labyrinth… so we have to trust the path and enjoy (or learn from) the journey, as tiresome, confusing and long as it may be.
“I liken it to life’s journey. Sometimes you may think that you are heading in the right direction, but then suddenly life’s path changes 180 degrees and you feel apprehensive at the shift of your direction. The labyrinth invites you to trust the journey, and in doing so, you ultimately reach the center, a place of balance and peace. I find that the labyrinth teaches us to leave our single-mindedness at the entrance and embrace life from different angles and perspectives.” ~Cheryl Yeoh, Cornell ’05
I sat in the center for a good 15 minutes or so, embracing the stuggles I’m currently facing and trusting that it will lead to somewhere good because things are meant to be for a reason. It probably took me 45 minutes to finish walk the labyrinth (a good mini digital detox); I can’t tell. When I came out of the labyrinth, my phone vibrated since the doctor had just returned to the office. Perfect timing. I left the chapel feeling rejuvenated, grateful and hopeful again.
Thank you, Labyrinth, for teaching and reminding me to trust the journey.