Labyrinth opens a hidden maze inside me

Walked a Labyrinth and stepped into Vietnam last night. 

Trouble is . . . I liked it. Did not want to leave the maze despite what lay ahead. Strangely, I felt “safe” there. Secure in my “skills.” Didn’t want to come home. Just like years earlier. 

The good news: I should be able to put this behind me. Bad news is that I’ll have the memories where ever I go. 

Didn’t expect a flashback to occur when I entered the grasslands surrounding the Labyrinth in Lansdale, PA, 20 miles out of Philadelphia. I walked several before, only to find release and calm in the walk itself, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment in reaching an end point, the center of the maze. In this case, it was a huge gray boulder in the middle of a field of high grass mixed with small flowers growing wild in Stony Creek Park. 

Six of us met prior to the walk, as our spiritual leader, Tracie Nichols, gathered us in a circle, her facing the setting sun, asking us to “listen” to the Earth call to us. I felt a tug, and chose to go first. Walked point sometimes while leading a combat platoon decades ago. Could do it again. 

I began the trek, slowly moving one foot after another, dragging the toe as my leg swept the earth beneath before placing it squarely in front of me. It’s part of a “walking meditation” I learned from my Zen teacher two years earlier, and from a Buddhist monk I made offerings with at Omega Institute, upstate New York. He served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner and dedicated his life to helping veterans with post traumatic stress (PTSD, but without the “disorder” part.) 

My thoughts slowed and I walked peacefully on the path bordered by grass patches two to three-feet high in some areas. I saw worn spots in the path. Lines of trodden dirt where others had walked before. Birds called from nearby trees, and you could hear the cascading of water from a “fountain” that spewed water into the air and onto a pond less than 20 feet away. 

Insects greeted me some 15 to 20 feet into the walk. Took little notice of ’em, remembering them from the “boonies” in Vietnam. Plus, I’m practicing Buddhism now, and we revere all life, including those of a mosquito world. 

Hadn’t walked more than 10 steps when a member of our group passed me. The path was wide enough for two to walk abreast, with a little squeezing here and there. Did not mind. Tracie instructed us to walk our own pace and to walk by another if we so felt drawn. 

What Maze Lies Hidden Within?

Soon, I realized all others had walked by me. It was then that I “returned” to Vietnam. I remembered walking paths just like this one. High grass on one side and wooded area all around you. My focus was on the ground, like I normally did while meditating this way. Hands held together and across my chest had morphed into an M-16  semi-automatic rifle across the chest, like the one I carried as a First Lieutenant. A 21-year-old who discovered peace in that world despite the “firefights”  he — I should say, I —  knew would occur. You learned to appreciate the moment more. Feel Life like you never felt it before . . . and rarely since. 

It was serene. Comfortable. Secure to know skills I developed and learned would serve me well. To always be on guard. Be hyper alert. Hyper vigilant. Trusting my instincts to take quick action, any action and not freeze or, worse yet, flee. Airborne! All the Way, Sir! Fleeing’s not in my make-up. Face the challenge head-on and deal with it, accomplishing the mission while also looking out for the welfare of your men

You don’t know how simple it made life, there in the “‘ ‘bush.” Things were black or white, with few if any shades of gray. We were the good guys. The others, the bad. You believed, if needed, you’d give your own life to save that of your buddy. Nothing to do with patriotism or “my country right or wrong.” I guess you could say it was out of love and compassion for a guy who might end up saving your life. He always protected your back as you did his. 

Too soon, those beliefs would be tested on returning home. There’s no “buddy system” in civilian life. No need to quickly fire on an enemy at the least provocation. No market for ex GIs trained to use “killing force” to bring battles to an end. 

But all of that remains inside of you, doesn’t it, LT? That’s the name my troops called me, “LT,” short for lieutenant. Learned some leadership traits, thanks to Vietnam. Found I couldn’t shake ’em back here in the States and — looking back — I see where I tried to continue using them in some career choices: union organizer and activist, college newspaper editor and finally attorney leading a defendant through a maze we call the practice of law. 

It all came back to me while walking the Labyrinth. All my men. None killed under my command, thank God. Proud of that fact, but what rears its ugly head is a reminder not everyone was as lucky. Like two guys in Second Platoon who were killed when setting up an ambush only to walk into trip wire that exploded a claymore mine. And themselves. I fell to the ground when I saw some small wild flowers in the maze. I picked some, as tears poured out mixed with the messy stuff I felt coming out the nose. Sobbing, I remembered Lt. Vic Ellinger, Third Platoon leader, whose killing by the Viet Cong haunts me today. 

Getting up, I wipe my nose. To hell with my eyes. 

Finish this God damn walk, I say, determined to push on like I did when the hurt first came and I could not show the emotion or the pain because I was in charge and had to show a “good example,” to bear up under such circumstances. I walk the maze with more vigor, more purpose with my head held a little higher, seeing the “finish line” and the main goal, the center of the maze, where I fall to the ground again, throwing  my arms around the boulder and crying, only this time with a smile stretched across my face. 

You made it, Michael J. You’re going to live and tell your story. You’ll Eat pepperoni pizza and see beautiful women of all shapes and sizes in flowing summer dresses whom you’ll fall in love with because of a love you share . . . 

Tracie Nichols tells us that we can leave behind what we experienced in the Labyrinth. Had something to do with the Solar Eclipse and the New Moon. Yet, the seeds we planted — the hopes we raised — will continue to flourish when the Full Moon appears two weeks from now, she said. I’ll be back. Sans these Vietnam souvenirs. And with a new resolve to continue on this journey with a lighter heart and more compassion for what seekers find within their maze.

15 comments on “Labyrinth opens a hidden maze inside me

  1. travellindaze says:

    this post reminds me of the legends of labyrinths of ancient days. they were symbolic of a quest, of a metaphysical experience made manifest on Earth. it seems like this labyrinth opened doors for you. very powerful! i would like to experience this labyrinth for myself one day.
    your blog is beautiful and insightful. i have added you to my blogroll!
    love and light!


    • contoveros says:

      Come to Lansdale, PA — walk beneath the full moon July 25th — and the maze just might amaze you!
      Thanks for your insight, Andrea. I can say the same about your beauty without batting an eyelash. The acts of Love can be contageous . . .

      michael j


    • Andrea, et al,
      You needn’t wait to walk THIS one, as powerfully transforming as it was for Michael J.
      you can find a labyrinth near where YOU are (or where you may be traveling), on The World Wide labyrinbth Locator @

      Great to see this post and you who are desiring to find your way to the myriad of healing benefits which walking labyrinths can bring to your lives!

      …Judy Hopen, Vocation:”Labyrintiste` extraordinaire”; maker of, presenter, facilitator, educator of all things labyrinth!


      • contoveros says:

        “The World-Wide Labyrinth Locator has been designed to be an easy-to-use database of labyrinths around the world. Information about labyrinths you can visit, including their locations, pictures, and contact details, are accessible here, along with information about the many types of labyrinths found worldwide. Labyrinths occur in many forms, shapes, and sizes, and the Locator contains both historic and modern examples. At the current time the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator database contains around 3400 labyrinths in over 70 countries.”

        — This is a direct quote from the Labyrinth Locator service, which I hope to use and share with others, thanks to Judy Hopen, where ever she may be walking now between our worlds . . .


        michael j


  2. Snædís says:

    Sending you a big warm (((hug))) michael j and all my love in return for all the love you’ve always carried in your heart…



  3. I have never actually heard such impressions from a Vietnam Vet, from someone I “know”, as opposed to tv or a movie. Most servicemen I’ve found, would rather not recount their experiences. I can’t even imagine such a thing as being in a warzone and all that entails. Thank you for sharing your healing of memories amidst the sacred backdrop of the labyrinth. Intense visceral experiences need to be released through our body-mind in some way. This sounds like it was a beautiful and supportive catalyst for you to do so.


    • My “Spirited Soul,”

      Releasing the taint is a life-long endeavor. But, I want to hold onto the sense of community and fellowship imprinted on me at a young age under a such trying circumstances.

      Good things came out of the experience, although you could not tell on seeing the rage of anger that sometimes surfaces when I least expect it. I’d like to think the episodes are subsiding. But under extreme stress, without proper rest and meditation, I need patience to see I’m no longer facing a life and death situation.

      Thanks for understanding and being here with me. It really helps to let it out every now and then.

      michael j


  4. Helen T says:

    All of us have memorable bad experience. The most important fact are conclusions we come to. War is one of the most terrible things that can ever happen. You learned your lesson well. You chose love and compassion instead of anger and fear.


    • I wonder if I had as much to do with it as the need inside of me did for love and compassion?

      I knew anger and fear as an enemy. Making life-long friends with the others must have been my ambition all of these years and was hidden from me until seeing it in the “reality” of a Labyrinth.


  5. JOY says:

    Wow, thank you for taking me on a journey. there I was, walking with you, through the maze.

    I’ve never experienced war, nor want to, but I was touched by your story and your compassion.


    • contoveros says:

      Thank you, Joy. Still can’t believe how the Labyrinth opened me so much to things I haven’t thought of — or surpressed — so many years. It was good to see it come out. I felt cleansed and more purified.

      michael j


  6. tobeme says:

    Thanks for sharing the experience of your walk and the memories of Nam. There are paths we walk in life that we walk again and again because the path had such an impact on our journey. You learned much in the bush LT and all of that you experienced in the bush were life lessons.


    • contoveros says:

      Got what the Buddhist call an “imprint” from my experience in Vietnam that may last several lifetimes.

      “LT.” Haven’t thought about that term for such a long time, and walking the Labyrinth brought it out. Like my friend Tracie told me, this may have been something “hidden” in me that I may not have wanted to admit. Now all I have to do is get my head around it so the rest of my mind can catch up to it!


      michael j


  7. souldipper says:

    Michael J, LT – you gave me an image of the labyrinth in your soul. It winds through a myriad of wildflowers and contains a cabin in the center that is built from love and forgiveness.

    My love is part of the material.



    • contoveros says:

      I could stay forever with my head on your lap, the part of the material helping to create a cabin in the center with built from love and forgiveness.

      Let me sleep, Amy, but be sure to wake me before the winter solstice, 2012, thank you! Don’t want to miss out on anything.

      michael j


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