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The limits of GPS: looking for a labyrinth on the edge of a cliff

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Labyrinth at Eagle's Point (Land's End, San Francisco)

In an earlier post (Tommy on the edge of a cliff), I wrote about the experience  of walking the labyrinth at Eagle’s Point in San Francisco’s  Golden Gate National Recreation Area. What I didn’t write about was the role technology  played in finding the location of the labyrinth, which is a user-created feature of the GGNRA and not officially acknowledged. As I wrote in “Tommy on the edge of a cliff,” a Google search located three labyrinths in San Francisco and I decided to visit the one at Eagle’s Point along the Land’s End trail where the bay meets the ocean. Before I left to drive across town, I plotted and saved the journey on Google maps on my trusty iPhone. Once I arrived at the trailhead, I relied upon the GPS function of the iPhone to find my way to Eagle’s Point.  I was surprised to find the trails in the GGNRA clearly marked on Google maps but quickly found that the GPS that works so seamlessly on city streets and freeways was out of its depth. The twists and turns of the trails made simple instructions—”take the next left”— seem meaningless and vague. What on later occasions would be a 20 minute walk turned into a circuitous 40 minute hike.

The conclusion I draw from this experience is not the inadequacy of GPS in non-urban settings but how completely the use of GPS has infiltrated  my approach to  finding  my way. I later found that the trail markers in the Land’s End area of the GGNRA clearly indicate the directions to Eagle’s Point and following them creates a much shorter  route to the labyrinth.

As a note: this post was inspired by the Omni Project of Portugal Consulting, “a self-funded study about the impact that digital technology is having on our lives.” Well worth checking out.


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Written by Jeffrey Callen

November 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Tommy on the edge of a cliff

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Labyrinth at Eagle's Point (Land's End, San Francisco)

A labyrinth is not a maze. There is no intention to fool you: there is one way in and one way out. You simply follow the path to the center and then back out, a metaphorical equivalent to any number of spiritual traditions. Walking a labyrinth can be a walking meditation if you do it with intention.

Placing one foot in front of the other,

Gauging the distance as you frame the intention;

Taking the step, intention inseparable from action.

It falls into a rhythm, step after step, clearing the mind.

For the last  year, I have been working to rewire my brain in response to some neurological difficulties. Choosing alternative modalities of treatment in lieu of the bag of drugs the neurologist handed me, I made steady but uneven progress. Bodywork, meditation, exercise, music became part of my daily routine. Recently, my wife suggested I add labyrinth walking to my regimen: “I think if you walk a labyrinth once a week, you’ll be healed.” She described her experience walking a labyrinth and I decided to give it a shot. A Google search located three labyrinths in San Francisco and I decided to visit the one at Eagle’s Point along the Land’s End trail where the bay meets the ocean. A drive across town and a forty minute hike led me down the bluffs to a labyrinth perched on a cliff. I entered the labyrinth and tried to walk the path with singleminded intention. Maintaining the clarity to keep an even gait was harder than I imagined, especially when the outer circle of the labyrinth passed within three feet of the sheer drop to the rocks and water a hundred feet below. I followed the circuitous path to the center, stood for a while then retraced my steps out of the labyrinth.

Entrance to the labyrinth at Eagle's Point

I left the labyrinth refreshed and inspired, and a little mentally tired. A beautiful sunny day, the experience of walking the labyrinth on the edge of the cliff had left me with the feeling of possibilities.  A number of the healing modalities I’m using are  premised on the theory that brain waves need periodic recalibration. To me, walking the labyrinth was most like becoming absorbed in listening to a piece of music. Like deep listening to music, walking a labyrinth can take you away to another world and bring you back reoriented to this one.

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