"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found out, was really going in." (1)
(1) -- John Muir (quoted by Burton Christie) in Weavings --
What is the Labyrinth?
It is an archetype -- a universal image pointing to the sacred center and existing deep within the collective unconscious, found all over the world, from every age and in every tradition, labyrinths have always been associated with religious practice and with healing.
The eleven-circuit labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral (on which our labyrinth is modeled) was built around 1220, and had associations with the making of pilgrimage. By walking the labyrinth, one symbolically made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. Today, walking the labyrinth can be for us a symbol of our life's walk toward the sacred center. "To walk the labyrinth is to walk the thread of one's life" (Artress).
How do I use it?
Briefly, you walk the meandering path to the center, pause for as long as needed at the center, and walk out again by the same meandering path.
The labyrinth is not a maze. There are no wrong turns. The path will inevitably bring you to the center. However, the spiraling path doubles back on itself from time to time along the way, even as it continues to move toward the center. And the circling motion brings to awareness that even as you are moving towards the center, you are always in touch with that center. Thus, the very process of walking the labyrinth puts you bodily in touch with the awareness of your life as a journey in and toward a center.
Walking the labyrinth is a way of bodily understanding your life-- as has been said-- "not as drift, but as pilgrimage."
Walking the labyrinth can be seen as walking meditation. As walking prayer. The action of walking often provides a focus for the mind enabling one to be less distracted. The mind is calmed and clarified by the action of walking-- as we sometimes know for example when a walk in the woods helps quiet and calm the mind.
When you walk the labyrinth path, the surface activity of the mind dies down, and thoughts and feelings come to awareness that might have been blocked in the haste and distraction of daily activities.
The reassurance of the path, leading surely to the center, along with the meandering structure of the way, which prohibits you from knowing how close you are to the center, draws you to focus on the actual walking rather than the goal. This may help you pay attention without distraction to what is being brought to your inner awareness.
Some people come to the labyrinth walk with a question or dilemma on their minds. Walking to the center may help settle the mind so that the anxiety that inhibits insight may diminish and a perspective on the situation be gained.
Many however will want to walk the labyrinth simply in openness to what it has to offer of insight and peace. The seeker will be open then to whatever thoughts and feelings arise on the walk. Everything that occurs will instruct.
Sometimes people like to say a repeated prayer on the walk, or a mantra-like phrase during parts of the walk. Examples are mentioned below.
At the center of the labyrinth, pause for as long as you are moved to, then walk out of the labyrinth following the same winding path that led you in.
There is no one pace to walk. Don't hurry yourself, or hold yourself back. Your body will tell you how fast to go. Some people take their time by moving quickly, others walk slowly. Some pause at different points along the way. Many pray at the center. Children run the path. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth.
A few suggestions for words or phrases to repeat along the way:
The Lord's Prayer, or other familiar prayers.
Phrases from the psalms; e.g.
- "For God alone my soul in silence waits."
- "You will show me the path of life"
- "With you is the well of life and in your light we see light"
Other phrases from scripture:
- "Come Lord Jesus." (Rev 22)
- "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." (John 14)
- "Take heart it is I: Do not be afraid" (Matt. 14:27)
- "Abide in me, as I in you" (John 15)
- "I have called you by name: you are mine." (Isaiah 43)
- "Do not fear; I am with you." (Isaiah 41)
An ancient, very much used and loved Christian prayer know as The Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."
Another version of this prayer:
"Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world; fill my mind with your peace, and my heart with your love."