The labyrinth is an archetypal pattern. The circle is a universal form, found in every culture in the world. It communicates unity and wholeness.Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool Riverhead Books, New York 1995.
A labyrinth has one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. It is meant to help you find your way. They are divine imprints, universal patterns emerging from the collective unconscious. We do not know the origin of their design or exactly how the pattern provides the space for clarity but people have walked and continue to walk this ancient pattern for a variety of reasons.
Labyrinths can be found in almost every religious tradition throughout the world. The Kabbala, or Tree of Live in Jewish mystical traditions is an elongated labyrinth. Hopi medicine wheel, the Man in the Maze are two of the many Native American labyrinths. Tibetan sand paintings, while not walked, are mandalas, a kind of labyrinth. From around 2000 BCE, the ancient labyrinth design of the classical labyrinth appears in petroglyphs in Spain, coins from Crete, laid out in rocks in northern Europe and carved in rocks in the desert of the American Southwest.
The most famous of medieval labyrinths is in the one inlaid in the nave of Chartres Cathedral, France between 1194 and 1220 CE. It seems to echo the pattern of the Gothic rose windows found in the church architecture. It has an eleven-circuit design organized by four quadrants which seems symbolic of the cross. It is believed it was walked by Christians on pilgrimage as a metaphor for journeying to Jerusalem.
What does the labyrinth symbolize?
We are all just walking each other home.Ram Dass
A labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor for life. The path turns and it appears you’re going in the wrong way. At times we walk slowly. At other times we feel called to walk more quickly. The labyrinth is a symbol of our journey into our inner self. The labyrinth itself is a meditative or spiritual practice. It meets people where they are and it does not require a specific religion or spiritual practice to walk. The path of the labyrinth is circuitous – one way in to the center and the same way out.
Why do people walk the labyrinth?
People walk the labyrinth for many different reasons including some of the following: spiritual insight, healing, anxiety and stress management, creativity, meditation, community building, peace building, a way to pray, walking meditation, focusing attention, time-in/chill room, etc.
Some report using the labyrinth as a way to release what is in the way, a path of prayer or walking meditation, to ask a question, to listen for guidance, to walk a dream, to explore images that emerge, to use a mantra, to set an intention, and many other reasons like walking through grief and loss.
Scientific research has demonstrated that focused walking meditations can also effectively reduce anxiety. This can lead to many health benefits, including lower blood pressure, increased levels of concentration and a greater sense of happiness in everyday life.
Where are labyrinths found?
Labyrinths are found in many different contexts as well. Churches, hospitals, wellness centers, schools, prisons, hospices, corporations, parks and beaches, college campuses, private gardens, etc.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
A Guide to Walking the Labyrinth
- Be mindful of what you need today.
- Walk at your own natural pace. What feels like the right pace for you at this moment?
- Relax your body and your breath as you walk.
- Take all the time you need.
- Let your senses open up to your surroundings.
- Know you cannot get lost.
- Walk with an open heart and mind.
- Be open to subtle messages or insights.
- Be aware of everything that happens on the labyrinth.
- Experience YOUR experience. Do not expect your walk to be like someone else’s.
- Remember every walk is a unique experience because we are always at a different place in our lives.
- Remain in the center as long as you wish.
- It’s okay to pass others ahead of you if your pace is different from theirs.
- It’s okay to bow, make the sign of the cross, or touch the ground perform some other ritual when you begin and end your labyrinth walk.
- Take time to reflect and write down or creatively express insights you receive.