LABYRINTH: “A Metaphor for Life”
QUESTION: HAVE ANY OF YOU EXPERIENCED WALKING A LABYRINTH? I would love to hear from you. --Keith
As a young man of 20, I traveled to Japan to serve a two-year mission for my church. Prior to going to Japan I spent a couple of months in a school for missionaries learning basic Japanese. While there I was told that while in Japan I might hear the saying:
"There are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji."
To this I was told to reply: “Yes. There may be many paths to the top of Mount Fuji. However, I want to share with you one and only strait and narrow way back to God’s presence. This is the path of God’s one and only true church of which I am a representative.”
At the time, I really thought I “knew” what was best for other people. Now I see things a bit differently. In conjunction with my continuing experience with “centering prayer” of which I speak in another thread [see: Centering Prayer
] I recently discovered a practice of “walking mediation” that resonates with me deeply. This is the LABYRINTH. [For a picture of a labyrinth, see: http://www.labyrinthjourney.co.uk/USERIMAGES/RHUC%20-%20Labyrinth%20Walk%20_9.jpg
Dr. Lauren Artress, one of the leading teachers of walking labyrinths writes in her book The Sand Labyrinth: Meditation at Your Fingertips
The labyrinth pattern is an archetypal form found all over the world. It dates back thousands of years. No one knows who created any of the labyrinth forms, but we do know from experience that embedded within each design is a pattern that somehow quiets our deep inner being so we can hear our own wisdom and the wisdom attempting to reach us. Whether walked or traced in sand, the labyrinth pattern is a powerful tool for reflection, meditation, realignment, and a deeper knowledge of the Self.
Chartres Cathedral, an hour south of Paris, houses what is perhaps the world's best-known labyrinth. The most elaborate of labyrinth patterns, with eleven circuits, dates back to the twelfth century. The classical seven-circuit—also known as the Cretan, Celtic, and Hopi medicine wheel—is the oldest known labyrinth, dating back four to five thousand years. It is round or sometimes kidney-shaped. Other labyrinth forms have been in such varying places as ancient Rome, the American Southwest, and Jewish mystical texts.
Labyrinths are not mazes, although in the English language the words labyrinth and maze are frequently confused. Mazes contain cul-de-sacs and dead ends. They have more than one entrance and more than one exit and are designed to make us lose our way; they're a game.
Labyrinths have the exact opposite purpose: they are designed to help us find our way. They have only one path—from the outer edge into the center and back out again. Through the act of trusting the path, of giving up conscious control of how things should go and being receptive to our inner state, we can be opened up to a whole new world. It seems that through the beautiful flow of their sacred patterns, labyrinths help us ground ourselves.
Because there is only one path, the word "circuit" is used to describe the number of times the path circles around the center. The classical seven-circuit labyrinth goes around seven times; the eleven-circuit labyrinth meanders around the center eleven times.
Many labyrinths, including the seven- and eleven-circuit ones, are "non-linear," meaning that the path goes through the four quadrants in a non-sequential way. One enters in the first quadrant, moves through the second, the back to the first, then to the third, and back to the second. As you move through a non-linear labyrinth, you lose your sense of where you are in the pattern, and enter into a pleasurable state of timelessness. Some people find this type of surrender particularly relaxing and refreshing.
Labyrinths come in all sizes—from the forty-two-foot labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral to the twenty four inch one found in the wall outside La Lucca Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. At the Lucca labyrinth, one traces the pattern with one's finger in order to quiet the mind before entering the cathedral. At Veriditas, the World-Wide Labyrinth Project at Grace Cathedral, we have even heard about prison inmates who used toothpicks to trace the labyrinth found on our letterhead! So size does not matter as long as the integrity of the design is present.
Labyrinths were very popular during medieval times. As many as twenty-two of the eighty Gothic cathedrals housed labyrinths. In our present day we are experiencing a rediscovery of the labyrinth as a spiritual tool. Many communities are coming together to construct labyrinths in their community parks. Spiritual centers are creating them for those on retreat. Hospitals are building permanent labyrinths for patients and staff. Cancer support groups use them for strength and finding one's way through difficult times. Patients at hypertension clinics walk them to reduce stress. The staff use them for taking a much needed time-out during a stress-filled day.
The eleven-circuit labyrinth is the one most widely replicated today. In the early 1990's, two such labyrinths were created at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have walked these Cathedral labyrinths and the idea has proliferated from there. As of this writing, hundreds of eleven-circuit labyrinths are being created around the world.
BACK TO KEITH:
I haven’t had the experience of formally walking a labyrinth yet. Yet, as a metaphor for life’s journey, it makes such sense. In the September 30, 2000 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette
, Eric Gorski writes:
A labyrinth serves as a metaphor for life, complete with unexpected turns, obstacles and brushes past others going their own way at their own paces.
"Whatever happens on the path happens. We can't force anything to happen," said Jerusha Goebel, a spiritual counselor who helped First Congregational Church downtown install a canvas labyrinth in 1997. "It's a surrendering of the spirit. It's very simple ...It's very hard."
IN CLOSING, WORDS FROM ANOTHER INTERNET SOURCE:
For some people, a labyrinth is a time for peaceful reflection, a stroll in the woods. For others, the experience is profound and comes with transforming insights. People use labyrinths in times of uncertainty, when facing difficult decisions, for healing emotional wounds, during illness and grief. It is used as praise, thanksgiving, prayer, hope, inspiration and joy. The experience can calm, energize, clear, give meaning or understanding. It can facilitate letting go, change, transition or reconciliation. Reflecting on where you are can turn the simple experience of walking into a mind, body, spirit connection with the potential for wholeness.