Yesterday, a colleague at work suggested I go and visit Grace Cathedral as I was feeling such a deep sense of grief over the death of someone close. “How do I get there?” I asked. “Just turn right then left and keep walking up the hill,” she said.
There’s something almost comical about the roller-coaster streets in San Francisco. I walked up the big dipper street feeling my energy grow as I walked ever upward to the church spire. I’ve always liked the idea of grace. Someone told me when I was young that my name meant ‘state of grace’ and my parents always encouraged us to look up words we didn’t know in the dictionary. ‘Grace: a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; b : a virtue coming from God; c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace. (Merriam-Webster.com)
Iand took a moment to breathe and read the welcome sign outside the cathedral including information on a labyrinth walk inside. I entered the church and immediately I felt a sinking down, a surrendering to the space. In front of me the labyrinth beckoned, like an invitation to begin (I actually wrote ‘being’ and so maybe I meant ‘being’/’begin’).
The labyrinth at Grace Cathedral was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress in 1994. In 1995, she founded Veriditas which now exists to “facilitate the transformation of the human spirit through offering the Labyrinth Experience“. The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition. The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. We are invited to walk it with an open mind and an open heart.
Seeing the labyrinth brought with it thoughts of the labyrinth with which I’m most connected in Australia. My artist friends, Evelina and John, introduced me to a special labyrinth walk created by their friend, Cedar Prest, also an artist. Each New Year’s Eve a large group of friends would take a bush/beach picnic to this forest clearing and walk a labyrinth lit by tiny candles. I’d usually end my walk with a dusk swim in the sea – a cleansing, singing ritual for the New Year. So of course these memories came rushing back. I followed my walking meditation with time sitting quietly in a pew before lighting a candle near the altar.
I remembered many years ago when I’d started a new job and, on my first day, the CEO met me to say they’d had a restructure and my role was now no longer available. I was stunned by the sense of loss and one of the things I found myself doing while I regrouped was to go to Mass every day for the ritual and sense of community. I wasn’t Catholic, although I craved the connection with others and the routine nourished me – especially the Liturgy.
The walk to Grace Cathedral, and the time within it, reconnected me to my spirit self. Earlier, a gypsy woman had intoned that mine was a seven spirit journey and I was at stage four. Whatever that meant, it did remind me of the Aboriginal Australian seven sisters dreaming myth and somehow it felt true in the sense of stepping through stages.
Joan Erikson, the wife and life work partner of Erik Erikson affirmed this journey – she was always a silent partner in her husband’s work on the stages we go through in life. After her husband’s death, she completed work on the ninth stage of psychosocial development from the notes made by him together with her own observations. Joan Erikson wrote that, in the ninth stage, the elderly person confronts all eight stages again. However, this time all stages converge at the same time and the person has the opportunity to break through despair and to reach transcendence before leaving this world.
Two books by Joan Anderson on her encounters with Joan Erikson, A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman and A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom From an Unconventional Woman remain touchstones for me in terms of Joan Erikson’s wisdom — and most of all her dancing lightness and sensual spirit at aged 90.
In this same spirit of lightness, as I was walking downhill, I saw an elderly woman attired in the magic Gatsby style dress of someone who had absolute confidence in herself. I walked passed her, charmed, only to backtrack and look at the equally entrancing shop out of which she came.
It had a big brass bell on the black door and the look of a French boudoir. “Go on in my dear!” And she rang the bell for me. “Sophie, Sophie, someone is here to visit.”
And so I entered and before me was the twin double of the woman leaving the shop, looking so much like Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy. “That was my sister – we’ve had this shop for many, many years,” the twin said smiling broadly. “Let’s dress you up and you can play for a while in these different clothes. Are you an artist?”
“No,” I said and then I hesitated, “Well, maybe I am. I’ve written a book and it will be published soon.”
She clapped her hands. “Then, of course you’re an artist! What’s it called?”
“Citizen Jane: transformative citizenship in a global community of seekers, healers and teachers.”
“Ah, she said. “Now, that’s a book I’d like to read. Shall we have a small book launch here?”
She placed a crimson hat on me and draped a black coat over my shoulders, adding sparkly beads for extra effect. “Yes, my dear, that’s the citizen of the world look you want for this book!” I laughed. “I’ll bring in a copy and if it were possible to have some kind of soiree reading here then I’d love it. For now, I have to get back to work.”
Miss Sophie, for how could she be anything else, graciously took back the coat and hat and waved me off with a flourish,“Come back soon, dear Jane!”
It seemed so unexpected to come across such an original shop and delightful twins. The place brought back memories of another Sophie who had owned a store called ‘The Banana Room’ in Rundle Street, Adelaide with its 1920’s feel and ambience infusing a very personal collection of clothes and art deco sculpture and furnishings.
Now the deliciousness of strolling along streets and peeking into tiny stores was under threat, with independent stores closing down as casualties of mega stores and online shopping.
In her book, Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City, Anna Minton writes: ‘wandering around the streets of a city, allowing space for walking and lingering, window shopping and people watching, is one of the real pleasures of city life, harking back to the tradition of the Parisian ‘flaneur’, the idler or the loafer who walks around seeking experiences and chance encounters in the city.’ (p. 198)
Minton also refers to social researcher, Richard Titmuss, who proposed that the way to strengthen civil society is by creating a climate of interaction and trust between different social groups. This instead of falling back on institutional solutions where behavior is controlled and by police as surrogate parents and where urban landscape policies are underpinned by a philosophy of control and exclusion.
One of my favorite ‘Janes’ – Jane Jacobs – argued that streets, which are the vital organs of the city, are kept safe by the ‘natural surveillance’ of people who don’t know each other. ‘Peace is not kept by the police but by the intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls enforced by people themselves.’ Rebecca Solnit wrote of this same effect in her book ‘A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.’
Also confirming Jacobs’ view is American psychologist, author and educator Martin Seligman, who has said that, to a greater or lesser degree, the emotional state of an individual, and whether or not they feel safe in the world, determines the health of their approach to most things. This may be work, relationships or where people live. American studies show that more visible, enforced ‘security’ increases fear, and they also reveal a link between fear and personal loss of self and personal control over the environment.
I return to my workplace feeling sated from my encounters with grace and generosity, creativity and artistry. “You left your hula hoop here,” says the concierge as I enter. “Thanks!” I say, smiling as I spin the hoop toward to the door.
A new toy is being constructed at this very moment by a little girl sitting in the grass outside my window. She has bound two twigs together, added a shorter third, and separated the lower legs and upper arms, leaving the third with a small cluster of leaves as head. At this moment, she is spreading the soft leaves of a flowering yellow daisy bush into a kind of hula skirt for her new doll. It is charming, and in her hands, it takes on a lively meaningfulness. Her pleasure is also mine, as I watch and wish she might always maintain her inventive relationship to the matter nature provides around her. In this unpredictable and inconsistent world, a creative man or woman is enviable.
Our charge is to foster, now and forever, love, joy, beauty, and laughter.
— Joan Erikson
Jane Sloane – San Francisco