Posted on

Life’s labyrinth: Honoring your accomplishments

It is the time between late spring and early summer. A male cardinal crunches on sunflower seeds at the feeder, the leaves on the tall trees along the creek behind my house are bright green, and purple martins dip and sway high in the sky that is the blue color of my Irish grandmother’s eyes.

All of life—nature, animals, weather, plants and people—have their cycles and their seasons. When we learn to embrace this instead of fighting it, denying it, or running from it, then we can learn to live in balance and beauty.

Here we are at the end of the academic calendar—and this is a great time to learn how to go to the center of the labyrinth, find wisdom, and come back out again.

For many years, I wanted a labyrinth of my own that I could walk and share with family and friends and clients. The time came when we moved to a house along a creek, and I began to visualize a labyrinth in the corner of the yard. But I did not leap into creating it. I waited.

I waited over a year—through all the seasons—so I could come to know the land and its inhabitants and cycles of moon and sun, light and shadows. And then I was ready.

One weekend, on the new moon, I woke before dawn and knew it was time. I walked in the neighborhood, greeting the coming sun, and then pruned, planted, cleaned, planned, and began. And kept going, all day, till the sun tipped into the west. Until my labyrinth was done.

Midway through the day, a beautiful Eastern box turtle joined me. He sat between the statue of St. Francis of Assisi that my mother had given me and the purple althea bush that we transplanted from our old house where my daughter was born.

I went inside then to tell my daughter about the turtle, and she came out to watch him—and me—and do her own work, writing her weekly reading letter for school.

In this way, we worked separately but together, and at the end of the day, when we walked the completed labyrinth, separately but together, we were sometimes laughing, sometimes serious, but we each felt loved and supported, aware that we were living in balance and beauty, nurtured by each other and by the worlds without and within.

In Native American cosmology, the North American continent is called Turtle Island. The name is meant to remind us that we, like the turtle, belong to this land, that we are balanced between oceans, and that the land, like our bodies, is not infinite. There is a shore where the land ends and the ocean begins.

In the same way, we cannot push our bodies endlessly to “behave,” or even to “be healthy.” We must learn to live in balance with our cycles and our seasons.

We also cannot treat the land as if it can give endlessly without needing to be replenished. Perhaps this is one of the lessons of climate change and global warming—it is a warning that our culture, our species, is long overdue in giving back.

So here at the end of the academic year, let us walk our own labyrinths, moving slowly and consciously into the center, resting, pausing, and then coming back out again. Let us remember that we are all here together, that we need the dark as well as the light, the winter as well as the summer, the turtle as well as the hawk high in the trees.

Reflect on this …

1. Go into the center. Get out your daybook or journal or Google calendar and list all your accomplishments from this academic year on a separate piece of paper. You can type them up if you wish (great way to draft an end of the year report!) List everything, from that small thing that took a great deal of courage to the huge thing that just fell in your lap.

2. Pause. Take your list of accomplishments and go somewhere outdoors with it. Sit and read it over. Sit and observe the sights and sounds around you. Feel the breeze on your skin. Let yourself be conscious of all your achievements, accomplishments and hard work. Really take it in.

3. Bury the paper. Let it go. Know that you do not need a piece of paper to measure your worth (not a certificate or diploma or publication or award, either!) Walk away knowing that your accomplishments have been integrated into who you are. And who you are is greater than anything you do. Feel the depth of that.

Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is the author of 13 books, including most recently, Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony through Journaling and Nature. She works as a writing coach with women academics from all over the world and offers a unique 3-month online class called The Feminar. Her website is

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Text and Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.