“A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.“
I walked my first labyrinth this weekend, so I am no expert – but I am now a believer. I believe that taking 15-30 minutes out of your day to do something that can relax and center you is a good thing. I also believe that walking anywhere – even in circles – can be good for us.
And, I know first-hand that guided walking and mindfulness are a peaceful and positive combination.
Here’s what I learned about labyrinths before I walked one.
- They are an ancient practice. The oldest are around 3000 years old.
- They have been found all over the world.
- There are different designs and sizes. Two of the most recognizable are the classic design shown above and the medieval style shown below.
- Labyrinths are made for walking, but are not mazes.
- There is one path in and out.
- There are no dead ends.
- They are not designed to confuse, but rather to relax and enlighten.
- “Walking the labyrinth involves the creative and intuitive mind (right brain) and can be calming and balancing.”
- “Generally there are three stages to the walk: releasing on the way in, receiving in the center and returning when you follow the return path back out of the labyrinth. Symbolically, and sometimes actually, you are taking back out into the world that which you have received.”
- Think of the walk and any thoughts or discoveries you may have as metaphors for life.
- Journaling after a labyrinth walk is a recommended tool for capturing your thoughts and discoveries and exploring them further. (This post is my first post-labyrinth journal!)
- Walking a labyrinth can elicit the “relaxation response” the opposite of the “fight or flight” response.
The labyrinth I walked was made of rust-colored bricks and was surrounded by moss-draped oak trees on the banks of a creek in southwest Florida. I was leading a group of 12 Wishful Thinking Women and we were being guided by a local labyrinth expert. The afternoon was rainy but luckily, the downpour slowed to a drizzle long enough for us to step outside into a new experience.
The retreat setting we visited was so beautiful it was easy to feel we were going to be experiencing something special. The deep blue of the sky was the perfect backdrop for the glistening greens and browns of the grass and trees around us, made all the more vibrant by the rain. Nature was at its best.
Each of us paused before we stepped into the mouth of the labyrinth. (That’s what you call the opening.) No one said we had to, it just seemed liked the thing to do, and doing so let us move forward with awareness and intention.
The first turn came up quickly, I realized almost as quickly that concentrating on the path was going to be necessary. I remember thinking “This is easy, the path is laid out for me.” (A metaphor?)
I felt extremely happy to be walking the path surrounded by nature with a group of women whose company I truly enjoyed. At that point I relished having nothing more to worry about than where to place my next step. I felt completely relaxed. The world around me faded and I felt I was walking in the woods, alone and happy.
Birds started chirping and cawing, I paused for a minute to look up, breaking my solitary spell, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the beauty of surroundings and the company around me.
I slowed my pace as passage on the path began to slow – others were walking the same path, but at very different paces. (Another metaphor for life?)
After a few more steps, I wondered how long this thing was going to last! When I entered, the labyrinth didn’t seem that big but now the paths seemed to go on forever, the twists and turns elongated the journey way more than I realized. (I remember thinking that was a funny thought, since I am a life coach and I often coach folks on slowing down, but that’s the beauty of it. We all feel that way at times, it’s how we handle it that matters.)
At the next turn, I wondered if I was “doing it right”. I almost laughed out loud, because even though I knew there was no way to “do it wrong” and the path was clearly marked, when I allowed my mind to wander from my task I immediately began to doubt my progress. (I took that as a reminder for life – doubting the path, even when it is neatly laid out before you, is normal, not to worry, just keep going, so I did!)
The length of the labyrinth surprised me time and time gain, and each time I pondered its length, I became aware of the other folks on the path and began to feel a need to visually follow the path prior to walking to it.
I wanted to figure out my path before I walked it. I felt a tad stressed and found it interesting that even though I knew where I was going, I felt the need to know exactly how I was going to get there. Pretty funny, since there was only one way in and one way out, and everyone was moving into the center and away from it with great ease. Once again, I laughed inwardly at myself and kept going.
The moment I returned my focus to the path directly in front of me, and away from the twists and turns ahead, I felt relieved. Within a few seconds I felt excited again that I was on the path and it was clearly laid out ahead of me. My progress and feelings
My progress and feelings yo-yoed again and again. Surprisingly, arriving at the center was anti-climatic, but in a positive, gentle way; I simply continued on the path. I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.
I have no idea how long my walk on the labyrinth actually lasted. I am guessing it was between 15-20 minutes. But I know the moment it ended, I wished it hadn’t.
I’m happy I had the experience, and will find a way to “walk” one daily! If you click on the Classic Labyrinth above, you can print a copy of it and simply “walk” the labyrinth with your finger. You can also go online and with your cursor find plenty of labyrinths to follow. Physically walking a labyrinth is a great experience, but until that opportunity arises, don’t miss the opportunity to let your fingers do the walking.
My biggest take-away of the day? Twists and turns can pull me away from my path, but gentle awareness and not taking myself too seriously, always get me back on track.
I’d loved to hear about your labyrinth experiences. If you have walked one let us know what you thought of your experience. If not and you would like to, this Labyrinth Locator can help you find one close to you.