Inside, the Labyrinth

“It is not just a narrow strip of ground comprising many miles of walks or rides . . . but doors are let into the walls at frequent intervals to suggest deceptively the way ahead and to force the visitor to go back upon the very same tracks that he has already followed in his wanderings.”

Pliny said, speaking to the Greeks about the Egyptian maze.

He was more interested in desire than love. An ancient mood, he said, the way he looks for women and recognizes them by the way they look at him over their shoulder with a knowing smile. He walks over to her to introduce himself, tan, bearded, and arrogantly serious. With heroic charm, he begins to describe her to herself—

“I know you—you drive a convertible, you go dancing when you can, you love to walk along the lakeshore alone, and of course, there is something else—a secret—one you may not even know—you want something you can never have. The secret you have is you never want to consummate your desire—that’s your secret, the one you don’t even know yourself. Hunger, that’s the part I’m drawn to.”

He was interested in women. I could have been any woman. I listened. Faithfulness was not what I wanted.

He seemed to read an alphabet of weaving memory in the way my body moved, to read forces beyond the human will, forces simultaneously visible and invisible, all around and in the body, like sunlight escaping through the eyes—the body a labyrinth, holding light, light rushing through all the openings, lighting its meaning.

There are men and women who see that energy as light—light that promises a way out of societal expectations, out of cultural patterns—a new way to see the world. But few of those share what they see; seeing the invisible in the visible.

It must be like seeing someone sleeping—he could see two realities, the dreamer and the one who could be awakened—both, simultaneously. That’s how he must have seen women—as dreamers. His commitment was to a reality beyond what is visible, something no eye by itself could see.

I began to understand something about my body. The body as desire is labyrinthine—we don’t know where to go to find what we want. And when we do, we get lost, mostly. Some actually see others as kinds of labyrinths, doors promising a way out, as well as the fear, doors a deception, ever promising the same door—no escape.

With labyrinths, there are two kinds: unicursal and multicursal. The first has one entry and one exit that are the same. The second has many. In the first, the walker can rely on the architect’s design of the maze to get her in and out. In the second, every turn is random and her choice alone. She may never get out.

But both have these things in common: The walker doesn’t know the pattern. Memory is a key to finding one’s way. From the moment one enters, one is lost. And finding has more to do with remembering where you last turned and then discovering your own responses in reaction to the unfamiliar.

They both have a center, a logos, a core. And when the walker finds the core, she knows half the way. If she doesn’t get to the center, she may be forever lost.

It’s memory that fails when you get lost. That’s the gift and the curse. Without memory, all is new. With memory, all is fated. At first, I didn’t know the difference.

There was only one man who got out of the labyrinth. It was Theseus. And he wouldn’t have escaped if it hadn’t been for Ariadne, who learned from Daedalus, the maker of the maze, that in order to return, Theseus would have to tie a thread to the entry and unwind it to his destination. Then he could follow it back. Without Ariadne’s thread, he might have slain the Minotaur, monstrous half-bull half-man, but he probably would never have been able to trace his way back.

If you have a thread, you don’t need memory.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily, not to dare is to lose oneself.”

I wanted to know why he saw such hunger in me—what was I hungering for? And why didn’t I want to know? His implication was sexual, and I knew that. And I knew that my body was as strange to me as the cicadas who can’t help themselves as they spring up every 17 years, whether they like it or not, and buzz, molt, sprout wings, speak sweet nothings, have sex, and die. My body seemed as alien to me as the workings of a time-driven insect.

But he was right. I was hungry to know. Are we caged by our desires, I wondered And like the labyrinth, as many different circuitous, indirect routes I took, all seemed like blind exits.

When I went to Israel, I met another man, one who had lived in and near the Negev Desert all his life. He took me into the Negev. A desert is hardly a labyrinth.

Something brighter than the sun moved inside the desert stalk he held out to me. The plant stalk held ashen-shelled fists drooping from its branches, a hollowness that would allow it to stay undisturbed in these bony groves. Splayed out in the shaming sun, it held its gray fists up and shook them when the wind whip-cracked across the sand.

I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for this man, who bent down and snapped off one of the tightly curled blooms.

“This is a flower. Do you know it?”

Shaking my head, I returned it to him, he who was intent on whetting my disbelief—and so it started.

He buried the tiny fist in his mouth, licking and sucking the seeming gray fossil with the one-armed posture of a soldier who had retreated from saving the dying for one more hour, shivering at heaven’s saving grace.

And in the dark center of his mouth, cradled in the lick of his tongue, he wet it open. Soft and petaled, it splayed wide, flaming bone white its daisy-petaled center. And he held its bouquet for me to see this wet galaxy leading into itself.

“When it rains in the desert,” he said, “it opens, and the desert blooms white as bride.”

I laughed and buried my face in its white feathered bloom.

A few minutes in the dry desert air, it curled back into itself again, withdrew, and hardened, looking like the other rocks and stones scattered in what I first perceived as a barren region.

Now something brighter than the sun split the sky open . . . open . . .

I had a dream the other night of a man made of stone parting the veil of a mountainside with his hand. I was in a canyon’s gorge when I saw him, and I stopped. He had a small black key in his hand, and he inserted it in my heart, turned it, and turned it, winding it up—my heart. Desire.

And as I left, I looked behind me. An endless line of women lined up following me, waiting for the mountain to whirl its hilltop key to cyclic revelation.

Seeing a frozen-fisted bloom made me glimpse the god that winds us up—one that gives us heartfelt direction. When I awoke, I had a foretaste of that thread of wet light winding in and out of here and there—everywhere.

What I had assumed were flashes of insight in the dark was presence, finger-pointing to a prime reality that surges and fills all that exists. Desires fitfully and in sudden glimpses and openings lead to a world lit inside out. What I didn’t know was that a primordial memory of that light, that reality, is what desire, the thread, endlessly reveals. That’s what I was after: the light thread that would lead me back home—that which is in the heart, at the core of the labyrinth, and unlocks and exposes the desert bloom.   

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