It’s a familiar dream to many. You find yourself in an unreal labyrinth with imposing walls beyond your normal ken. Maybe it’s dungeon stonework, or blood-red bricks, or a solid grayness that’s nondescript yet intimidating. Maybe you’re in a pitch-black forest, or in a cornfield that towers over you on all sides.
Paths stretch away from you in either direction to the horizon. One direction looks the same as the other. Standing still is an option, but no one ever chooses that. The only way to freedom is forward.
You follow the path onward. You can count your steps or estimate the distance traveled or keep checking the time, but that won’t hasten your escape. Timekeeping is meaningless without other events or frames of reference around, and asking the question “How much longer?” brings only silence in response. It’s just you, the walls, and the solid ground between them.
Every intersection demands an arbitrary decision. When every choice looks the same, and when you have too many choices in a row, the mere idea of agency itself is no longer reassuring. Compass directions provide temporary confidence if you pay attention to overhead markers and compensate for incremental celestial adjustments. In most dreams, or in uneasy situations, it’s easy to lose your focus and your bearings, especially when you’re far from Point A with no idea when or where Point B will be. After a while you begin to wonder if Point B is a myth.
You look on the ground for telltale signs from other travelers, some hints of whether anyone else has gone to or from a given direction. Eventually you’ll grasp at any little thing out of place as a possible indicator of a grand design.
You’re not a detective. Sometimes discarded debris is just that. Worse still, you’ll keep going and see evidence of the pointless desperation that struck other prisoners like you. Lashing out may have made them feel better for a moment, but it didn’t open any new doors.
Sometimes the labyrinth will bring you to curious signs that portend some sliver of hope, if only you can discern their meaning. Do you recognize the context? Do you know what it represents? Is the answer buried in your subconscious? Or is this the trick of a mind that wishes for help and, in finding none, tries to create its own?
Sooner or later you encounter a crossroads you know you traversed earlier. The same images begin repeating like film frames. You go for minutes at a time without new turnoffs or new directions, stuck in a dark rut that threatens to become an infinite time loop.
Then your heart sinks when you realize You Are Not Alone.
Every oppressive quandary is more bearable once you realize it’s not just you. Strength in numbers is a fact of life, but it’s an advantage our dreams aren’t designed to afford us. Our state of psychological isolation doesn’t encourage the conjuring of an entire adventuring party to help us vanquish our fears.
Most dreams end without a solution. Almost never do the illusions coalesce into joyous relief that the day has been saved. We awaken with a sense of haunted disturbance, or the next dream begins without segue, or we return to the depths of dreamless slumber until the experience fades away forgotten.
In reality, we take comfort in the reasonable expectation that sooner or later, the maze has to end, though perhaps not as soon as we’d like. We spot the new lights and colors that lead from claustrophobia to safety, that herald our return to the world of open spaces, and breathe more easily as our muscles relax and release the tensions of captivity.
…and that’s the story of the fifty most stressful minutes my wife and I spent together this weekend. As part of her birthday celebration, we decided to try something we’d never done together before: a harvest festival at a local orchard. We’ll be sharing more pics later this week, but the complicated corn maze was their most unusual attraction by far. Perhaps it’s for the best that we didn’t bring a scythe or a chainsaw or some other kind of popular nightmare weapon to forge our own trail and lead other stranded customers to freedom. We’ll be lucky if that endless green labyrinth doesn’t return to plague us in our dreams.