Finding Joy in the Center of Pain
My labyrinth meditation on grief.
Ellie always hated summer. Well, not really. In truth, that little red pony of mine was the epitome of joy where you are. Regardless of circumstances she remained wholly present and fully content. Summers were however, undeniably hard on her physical body.
After living a majority of her life in the barren sandy deserts of Southern Nevada and California, it was difficult to transition to the humid, high pollen summers of North Georgia and Tennessee. Mild allergies progressively became worse each year as I worked with my vet to keep her comfortable through the challenge of those sweltering months. We managed Summers, but those first cool winds of Autumn always brought with them such sweet relief for both of us.
During one particularly challenging summer, her eyes became so swollen and itchy that she relentlessly scratched them on anything she could find. So much so that she nearly tore her eyelid clean off. I received a call from my barn owner one afternoon that an emergency vet call was needed and I immediately set off on the hour-long drive to be with her.
When I arrived the vet had already begun the procedure to reattach her eyelid. A fellow boarder had graciously volunteered to hold her until I could be there. I thanked him and held out my hand to take the lead but he hesitated, pulling the slack rope against his chest. His mouth opened and for a moment nothing could come but his eyes were soft and smiling.
“This pony” he managed to spit out, “She’s so good. I feel like she’s apologizing to me for having to hold her! She’s incredible.”
I thanked him again. This time not for the task he was fulfilling but for seeing her – truly seeing her, and sharing that with me. I wasn’t surprised in the least but I did feel affirmed, proud, and extremely grateful that for some reason she had chosen me as her person.
I share this particular story to illustrate her abiding sense of peace, presence, and joy in the midst of discomfort and hardship. Truly there are dozens of stories I keep stowed away in my heart of people that were taken aback, or taken over, by emotion. Moments where people felt something they thought they’d lost, or shared something they never thought they could say out loud. So many stories of everyday miracles in the presence of this once wild and now wise mustang. ‘Incredible’ hardly does her justice, but it’s a decent start in an attempt to describe the indescribable moments she facilitated, and eff the ineffable sense of wonder she placed in the hearts of those that met her.
Entering the Labyrinth
I’ve been thinking a lot about the harshness of our most recent summer. Triple digit temps dragged into September and even the first days of October saw our horses foaming with sweat and nagged by insects. I spent much of those hottest summer afternoons at Ellie’s grave creating a labyrinth as a memorial to honor her and the gifts she bestowed here. For weeks on end my skin burned, my body ached, sweat drenched my clothes and stung my eyes. And yet in all this discomfort, I found solace. I would often gaze to the center of the labyrinth and be comforted with gratitude that at last Ellie was sheltered by the Earth from the Fire of the sun. I knew that despite the drought that had snuffed out the green in the grass, the Waters still moved below the surface. I was content with the grief and gratitude that she was here without having to experience the physical discomfort of being here.
We are now in mid-October and as the season changed, so did my grief. The leaves have turned the same rusty orange color as Ellie’s roan speckled coat. The cooler winds have ushered out the thick humid air. The rains are now cleansing and clearing dust and pollen. And I’m missing her so very much.
I’m no longer comforted by this mound of Earth beneath me. It feels more like a dungeon than a shelter. I want so badly for it to crack wide open and return her to me. I miss her sweet pony breath and fuzzy muzzle snuzzles. I feel sad and empty and unsure. I sit in the center with her, lie upon the grass, and let all those feelings flood forward and pour forth through tears and tension, and longed for release.
These things pass through me and I notice how quiet this corner of the world has become. My body is still. My eyes are closed. And more than ever I can feel you beneath me. This Earth now offers me the same exact sense of grounded security and stability I felt on our countless bareback trail rides. The fire of the sun now kisses me gently. It is warm and welcoming and I can almost taste the sweetness of your breath on my cheek. The Autumn winds carry me into memories of galloping through deserts and meadows with no real destination other than ‘away’. And while my heart still breaks in the physical realm and my tears still fall, I know you’re here catching them in that flaxen mane just as you’ve been doing for years.
Most of all I feel your generosity of spirit and the deeply comforting quality of your heartspace. Receiving your gifts of Presence as I open my eyes and return to the world, I feel filled with gratitude and joy. I still grieve the loss of your physical body but I know that by leaving us with these gifts, you’ve made sure you’ll never leave us. I return to this time and space with a greater sense of empathy, presence, awareness, and healing. These gifts are eternal and I vow to honor you by sharing them joyfully within this pain. Thank you sweet mare. You are here and you are loved.
The Gift of the Labyrinth
The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. Labyrinths have been used since ancient times, serving as a pilgrimage, penance, meditation, and spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, labyrinths are unicursal meaning they have only one path. The way in is the way out. It serves as a metaphor for the journey to the deepest part of yourself and it’s spiraling path reminds us of the many layers we must explore to get to our center, and that sometimes what looks like a turn away from your “goal” is indeed bringing you closer to center. It supports us in determining our right path and in trusting the journey.
No matter the intention of your walk, there is always the rhythmic flow of Centering, Entering, Releasing, Receiving, and Returning. I invite you to experience what gifts the labyrinth holds for you by walking with us here. Our newly remodeled 70’ earth and grass Chartres labyrinth is now being integrated into our events, workshops, and retreats. View these programs and join our communities to access early registration and exclusive offers. Our members are always notified of events first and receive 20% off all “in the Presence of Horse” events.
If you’re unable to get to the farm, you can find a labyrinth near you by visiting the Labyrinth Society.
Thank you for being.
Download a mobile version of our Chartres Labyrinth and a simple guide to the 4 step labyrinth meditation: