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LABYRINTH: "A Metaphor for Life"

Discussion in 'Mind, Body & Spirit' started by Montana Keith, Mar 23, 2009.

  1. Montana Keith

    Montana Keith Member

    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: http://www.project-meditation.org/community/mind-body-spirit/1509-centering-prayer.html ] 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 following:

    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."


    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.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2009
  2. chris063

    chris063 Member

    Hi Keith,

    I was reading something only yesterday about connecting to our Inner Wisdom for guidance, it recommended that we walk a mental 'labyrinth', and once we reach the centre we sit quietly and ponder the problem for while, before mentally walking out of the labyrinth and reflecting on what may have arisen, either then or be open to what comes up in the future. What you have just written has suddenly made the whole point of the exercise clear to me!

    So thank you, I am still constantly in awe at the amazing coincidences which just keep on happening :)

    Chris x
  3. Montana Keith

    Montana Keith Member

    Hi Chris,
    Isn't life amazing! I am so glad to hear that what I took time to post here coincided with something you were just reading. Have you ever read the book Illusions by Richard Bach? He's the same author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Here's a quote from the book that I often experience in my life:

    I noticed something strange about the book. “The pages don’t have numbers on them, Don.”

    “No,” he said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.”

    “A magic book!”

    “No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?”


    “Well, try it sometime.”
    (Illusions by Richard Bach, pp. 61-62)

    I hope all is well for you and your family. It was good to hear from you. --Keith :)
  4. WeeHoo

    WeeHoo Member

    Our church (Episcopal) has a labyrinth that's patterned after the one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (which is also an Episcopal church). It's extremely large, and is painted on heavy cloth. Once a month or more, it's unrolled onto the floor of the parish hall and made available for walking. Also, Portland's Trinity Cathedral (also Episcopal) has a labyrinth etched into the floor in one of the gathering rooms.

    My girls and I have walked the labyrinth at both these places. It is such an interesting process, each time a little different. No matter how I try to calm myself, get in the right frame of mind, blah blah blah, I always start out a little impatient, a little on edge. And it seems as if it takes FOREVER to get settled down. And then a little switch sort of flips, and I notice that I am just sort of walking, and breathing, and being aware of my steps, and carrying God with me.

    It's a wonderful experience. I also find that tracing a small labyrinth with my fingertips (or with a mouse, if on the computer) is very calming. You can use the one at GRATEFULNESS.ORG - A Network for Grateful Living.
  5. chris063

    chris063 Member

    Hello Keith, thank you and I hope all is well with you and your family too :)

    I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull a long time ago but have not come across "Illusions" before. Your quote is something I have experienced many times and I now firmly believe that there is no such thing as coincidence, all that we need to learn is right in front of us when we take the trouble to look!

    Take care and thank you again, life is most definately amazing!

    Chris :) x
  6. pollyanna

    pollyanna Super Moderator

    Hi Keith and Chris, I also read Jonathan Livingston Seagull a long time ago and it had a great impact on my life. So much so that a friend bought me a little magnet of a seagull which I kept on my fireplace for many years as a reminder (until one of my grandchildren accidentally dropped it into a slot in the gas fire and it melted when we turned it on)

    I keep looking for a replacement because it has a great significance to me. Whenever I see a seagull flying high I always think of Jonathon :)

    My friend loaned me illusions at the same time but I don't think I was ready for it then - didn't understand it too well - but I have been meaning to get a copy for some time. Thanks for the reminder. Peace and joy :) :) :)
  7. pgwisn

    pgwisn Member

    Richard Bach also wrote a book called "Illusions". Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull it is full of good teachings and words to meditate upon. Some of my favorites:
    How to know if your work here is done: Answer the question, "Are You Still Here?"
    "Argue for your limitations and surely they are yours"

    I have given that book as a gift several times.
  8. pgwisn

    pgwisn Member

    You may notice my avatar is a labyrinth... I find that imagery, along with actually walking a labyrinth to be a great resource, especially when life throws a few curve balls my way.


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