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Presents from a path of presence

May 20, 2024

Retreat centre

by Sarah Bishop. 

What follows are vignettes and reflections from a pilgrim at the recent Campfire retreat “Exploring the Pilgrim Path of the Labyrinth – A call to the Sacred Centre”. The week was comprised of so many beautiful experiences, conversations and revelations all held by the silence and sacredness of the place itself. Each paragraph is a strand – threads of my experience and recollection – which over the course of the week were lovingly and mysteriously woven into a sacred vessel of meaning and memory. 

The retreat opened and was marked uniquely each day with one or more Labyrinth walks, and every time we were gifted with a sense of discovering who and what was present in that moment at that place and a sense of sharing together a spiritual or sacred path. Our first walk on the Sunday evening was one of preparation, invitation and blessing for our time as pilgrims on retreat for the week.

Walking the Labyrinth – An excerpt from my diary – 

“As I left the centre I felt to pause at each turn. Revelation! Time for stopping. Gazing. Breathing. Seeing. Resting. Time for moving. Doing. Walking. The pauses brought freshness and perspective to the walking. Energy flowed. I was able to see clearly and with perspective. I had time to notice so much more. To see. And with that pause and perspective I returned to the doing – the path was enlivened and fresh again – because of the pauses”.

Daily we spent time together learning about various aspects of labyrinths. Donna – our esteemed leader – shared with us about the long and varied history of labyrinths – which have emerged across the whole world with no apparent connection and yet as symbolic and powerful archetypes revealing the movement and meaning of life. Becoming more prominent in times of uncertainty and change and helping humans to make sense of and continue to step into the unknown through a path of ancient and universal wisdom. We learnt about the myths and stories that have flourished around labyrinths including the search for the Holy Grail and the legend of the Minotaur and Ariadne’s Golden thread. The labyrinth is a vessel which holds our questions, our yearnings, desires and longings, and is a holy heart space for our imagination to flourish in between the mind and it’s reason and our body with the senses. 

Walking the Labyrinth – Holding a mantra – The journey inwards : “Let it go”…At the centre : “Let it grow”…The journey outwards : “Let it flow”… An excerpt from my diary – 

“A focus on the flow – a realisation and contemplation that all life is part of the same flow. The different ways that each life form is included and expresses that flow…rocks, trees, birds, ants, humans, sky, fire, water, sun and clouds, moon and stars…The flow of life is constant. In all and through all – but is expressed in such unique and wondrous ways. A new appreciation for the uniqueness of the flow of life all around me and within me”. 

As is so often the case with a retreat, it didn’t take long for us to connect and relate as fellow pilgrims, contemplative companions and friends sharing our lives and hearts. Each person brought unique gifts and contributed in so many ways to the beauty and breadth of the retreat. As retreat leader, Donna Mulhearn was both wise and gracious – dipping into her vast knowledge and experience of labyrinths, contemplative practices, and social activism. At every opportunity, Donna shared generously from her personal experiences over many years and invited us to enter into these experiences for ourselves with gentleness, sensitivity and an abiding passion.  Alongside Donna, we were privileged by the strength and insight of Brooke Prentis – Aboriginal Christian leader, writer and activist, and fellow pilgrim. While she too was on retreat, throughout the week, she gave us so many valuable perspectives about the culture and wisdom of indigenous peoples, and in particular shared about the archetype of the labyrinth which is deeply embedded in Aboriginal cultural practices, rituals and beliefs.  Each afternoon, Brooke facilitated the practice of a yarning circle – a space for reflection and deep listening, and when we went to Simpson’s Gap she led us in a practice of acknowledging and listening to country which was enlightening and profound. On retreat aswell as generously shared her gifts was Veronika – an Alice Springs local who is passionate about life and good, wholesome food. At every meal, we enjoyed her extraordinary home cooked meals and generosity of spirit – so much vitality, flavour and abundant provision. Thank you!

Walking the Labyrinth – Facilitated by Brooke with Clapsticks (she used chapsticks to set a rhythm for the entire time of the labyrinth walk) – Connecting to a deep rhythm of land and life…An excerpt from my diary…

“I noticed the colours – ochres, greens, browns, blue sky. Light. Everywhere light! I noticed the patterns – the winding path, the leaves and branches, the stones. I noticed the rhythms – patterns in sound. Feet crunching on the pathways. The slow beginnings – solemn, ponderous, meditative. The beat became faster – more lively! My body joined the dance. Entered the flow. Joined the song. Communion with all life. Joy!” 

The retreat was as much about joining together, becoming a community and sharing the pilgrim path, as it was about personal discovery and inner nourishment. We spent our mornings and evenings in silence – quietly enjoying the presence of Campfire as a place – becoming familiar with the presence of the land which in this desert location has a unique existence. It is. Time spent being with – existing with – the stark beauty of nature and the vastness of the land is of great value. It is a landscape that speaks at many levels. Silence and deep listening is rewarding and often yields unexpected results. Meditation around the campfire in the glorious light of early mornings and as night falls is magnificent and memorable. Life changing. After a number of visits and retreats at Campfire I am changed and changing in ways that I often can’t put into words. The labyrinth at Campfire is a unique distillation or manifestation of the already potent energy that is everywhere apparent in the sacred heart of Australia and at Campfire in the Heart.

Walking the Labyrinth – A night walk in the Labyrinth…an encounter with the shadows… with my fears. An excerpt from my diary…

“…a very different walk. The play of light and dark. Many shadows cast over the path, particularly jagged teeth shapes of rocks around the edges. I found I was almost shuffling…a low level anxiety that slowly built up. People around me were like strangers with no identity…dark figures. Is this my life? Just moving through a shadowy world. Not really knowing what is around, everything in half light. Confusing and bewildering. Mysterious and unknown. Towards the end I was feeling quite isolated and stressed by not knowing where I was on the path. When would it end?”

And then…on our final night…

Walking the Labyrinth – Consider an obstacle in your life. Take this into the Labyrinth. A very different night walk – fear transformed! An excerpt from my diary…

“I sensed that my obstacle was fear…I kept thinking, returning to the barrier of fear. And as I kept quietly moving and holding this it came to me. All I needed to do was keep moving on the path. All I needed to do was keep stepping with the next step. Fear is a distraction. It’s not real. It’s an illusion. A distortion of reality. … And then came the thought…Love casts out fear! Yes! Fear is not real…and the way is the way of Love. That is what is real. That is the truth. Not fear.  Love is. And all else follows. All else is possible when Love is. The cycle, the flow keeps going because of Love. Let it go. Let it grow. Let it flow. YES!   

The path out of the labyrinth was lit by the inner light of love. There was no fear. One step after another I walked the path of Love. A clarity and sense of freedom. The way forward is the way of Love.”

For our final session guided by Donna, we explored how labyrinths can be walked together – holding a shared intention and question. The labyrinth becomes a place and space for connection and for deep action that impacts the world. We brainstormed and explored what this might look like for us – for our final walk and then what we might bring to World Labyrinth Day – happening on the following day – after our retreat had finished. A day when people across the whole world walk labyrinths with the intention to move towards togetherness and unity. Campfire would host a community event for World Labyrinth Day, and what a fitting conclusion to our retreat. Together we felt that our common question was “How can we act for peace in this place?” As we walked together we were all holding this with an openness to receive a response – from the labyrinth, from the sacred place of Campfire in the Heart, from Alice Springs, from Australia, from the World and even from the Universe. From life. From one another. We kept our gaze moving from the path, to the beautiful desert setting and to one another – deliberately making eye contact and sharing our time, sharing our hearts in that moment and in that place. So very aware of the journey of life that we were all on. The journey of unity and community. So very grateful for the time of walking together on the labyrinth.

There is so much more that can be said of this time of retreat. I finish this reflection and recollection with a sincere invitation to you – the reader. Come to Campfire in the Heart and experience all this for yourself. This and more! As we said our fond farewells – and hopeful “See you later’s!”, it was so evident that the labyrinth is alive and mysteriously more so after a week of our being present with it. That we were given so much by our time there, that we shared our life with one another, and with the labyrinth, which is now more enlivened and awake than ever. It has been invigorated by our footsteps and it is there, waiting to share its life and wisdom and heart with you. Truly a gift that keeps giving.

Fran Pegrem (left) with Nicola Pitt (right)
Fran Pegrem (left) with Nicola Pitt (right)
Fran Pegrem (left) with Nicola Pitt (right)