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Lessons from a Hedge Maze

Last week I spent some time in a place with a hedge maze. Yes, a hedge maze. The hedges of this particular maze came up to about my shoulders, so while I could see over the top a bit, it didn’t give up all its secrets at a glance. When you enter the maze, you face an immediate choice: do you take the hard left, hard right, soft left, or soft right passage. I like mazes and I like puzzles, so I quickly set about finding the path that led to the exit on the other side. With my head fully above the top of the maze, it was tempting to take a look and see if I was going the right way. But I found that to sometimes be misleading and that the better guide was my gut as I focused on the hedges and pathways in front of me, at times standing still and simply noticing and feeling my surroundings.

Once I had found the exit, I roamed the maze just for fun, seeing how lost I could get myself. There was also a lovely spot from which you could observe the entire maze from a higher perspective and I spent some time observing others wandering the maze and simply gazing at the hedges. Along the way, I discovered a few things.

First, there was more than one exit. I found this fairly directly as I passed an opening leading out the side of the maze on my way to finding the path that led to the exit opposite where I had entered. In total, there were four entrances/exits - one on each side of the square-shaped maze. So which was the entrance I was intended to use and the exit I was intended to find? I had assumed the exit to be opposite of the entrance, but why? Does it matter where I start and where my destination is?

Then, I discovered that there was more than one path out of the maze. In fact, there were several. Looking over the top of the maze, I traced the various possibilities, testing which was the proper way to turn in the beginning and the impact that choice had on the chances of getting out of the maze. It turns out, it didn’t matter at all. Every initial choice could lead to a path out of the maze. Some were longer and more convoluted, but all of them held the potential for a way out.

As I pondered and observed it, the hedge maze reminded me of some valuable lessons for life and starting or building things.

There are many ways in and out - some we expect while others we don’t. We don’t always know where we will end up, even if we have a specific goal in mind. And that’s perfectly ok.

It doesn’t matter which way you turn and you don’t have to plot your entire path from start to finish before you begin. The point is to just begin. Regardless of how you start, there will be a path that leads you to your goal, or perhaps a new goal. But if you don’t step foot inside the maze, you won’t get anywhere. You will spend your time observing from an overlook, cheering on others challenging the labyrinth, and never actually moving yourself.

Last week the hedges reminded me to just take the first step, and then the next, even if I’m not always certain of my footing for the third step or the destination of the path I am walking. The important thing is to be in the maze.

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