I walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco this week.
Making my way toward the center and back out again, my body remembered all the other times I’ve walked this labyrinth and others—a kind of movement prayer, a few minutes to remember that the path of our lives is sacred. One foot in front of the other is a trustworthy pattern.
After vacation, I’m feeling overwhelmed at the thought of re-entry and all the obligations with my name on them. My inbox sometimes represents this for me—a clogged cul-de-sac I have to get through in order to get to the “real” stuff. And even if I were to use some of the nifty tools that promise to clear out inboxes, I’d still feel the weight of reality.
I once heard a professor talking about a class that’s all about students’ relationship with technology. He had them do a simple experiment. Before they opened their inbox (these days, it might be other platforms—do Gen Z folks even use inboxes anymore?!), he instructed to them close their eyes, do some deep breathing, and use the moment to reorient themselves. I’ve adopted this for myself and walking the labyrinth this week gave me some words for what I’ve been doing.
The classic labyrinth experience involves three “R’s”—Release, Receive, and Return/Renew.
Release: Before clicking on the mail icon, I take a deep breath. Then I let myself into the labyrinth. I release myself from caring too much about image. I release the expectation that any message there could make or break me. I take this micro-moment to practice what Oliver Burkeman calls “cosmic insignificance therapy.” I am a speck of stardust on a rapidly spinning planet in a limitless galaxy, and I am allowed to enjoy the ride. One foot in front of the other.
Receive: At the center of the labyrinth are six petals which traditionally stand for six realities: mineral, plant, animal, human, angelic, and divine. Getting into my inbox or coming to the center of the labyrinth, I’m reminded that my experience is a small thread, braided into the thicker rope of life. I receive my place in the world—what is mine to do, what is mine to ignore or reject. I receive the gifts that may be there (sometimes a compliment shows up!) and I say a short prayer of gratitude that I have work, connection, purpose and meaning in my life.
Renew: Coming out of the center, inbox (kind of!) cleaned, I recognize that I have what I need to do the next right thing. I take another breath, inviting myself to be present in my body, open my heart, and quiet my mind. I trust that this foray into cosmic insignificance actually plunges me deeper into significance. Whoever crosses my path today matters. Feeding the dog, saying hello to the mail carrier, taking out the compost, sending a card, filling out my ballot (especially that!)—all sacred acts, putting one foot in front of the other.
And I’d add a fourth “R” here:
Rest. I encourage my clients to adopt an email signature that explains they only check email at certain times of day. There is a critical lack of deep thinking and rest in most people’s lives. You need time that’s not reactive, and you may need to explain this to your colleagues. You may need to risk looking “lazy” by not jumping onto every thread sent your way. Over time, your good work will speak for itself. At the very least, you will be happier. You got this.
P.S. I’ve had several clients send me this podcast of Tricia Hersey talking about rest as resistance. You can also read an interview with her here. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m too busy to take a breath when I open my inbox,” then you might need her message. If her grandmother, with a full-time job and 8 children, could take a little rest every day, surely, we can too. And our inboxes can.