A labyrinth is not a maze. There are no dead ends, no wrong turns, no puzzling paths and no navigational challenges. A labyrinth is a form of walking meditation, spiraling its participants towards its center on one path that moves from the outer edge to the center and back out again. Walking the circling pathways is said to bring inner peace and well-being. Walking a labyrinth focuses the mind and creates a balance to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. When you walk a labyrinth you center yourself by letting your body know you’re about to walk a path and take a spiritual journey. Your left brain knows the directions – relax, walk in and walk out, the path is clear. Your right brain, the intuitive side, is then free to help you find what you are seeking, whether it’s an answer to a question, to release tension and stress, or simply to heal your spirit.
No one really knows where labyrinths came from but they have been found in many cultures and traced back over 4,000 years. There is evidence that ideograms were carved into rock faces across Neolithic and Bronze-Age Europe. The ideogram appeared on Etruscan vases from c. 550-B.C. One of the most popular patterns is a 7-circuit classical labyrinth, so called because the path creates seven concentric rings around the center, which first appeared in a tablet from Pylos, Greece, dated 1200 B.C. In the Middle Ages labyrinths were constructed in European Cathedrals and used as an alternative to actually traveling on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The world’s most famous labyrinth is the 11-circuit pattern labyrinth from A.D. 1201, inlaid in the floor of the cathedral at Chartres, France. The concept and interpretations of the labyrinth has evolved since ancient times, but the same identical symbol is found in many countries and major religious traditions around the world including India, Egypt, Scandinavia, Crete, Sumeria, North and South America, Australia, the British Isles, Italy and France. Today, Sweden has the distinction of being home to the highest number of walkable labyrinths in the world.
Labyrinths are an enigmatic mystery because walking a labyrinth can exude healing powers that are inexplicable. Walking a labyrinth is a metaphor for life. It represents a spiritual journey, venturing to the center point and to a place where you can tap into your innermost being and then returning to the world with a broader sense of who you are. When you walk a labyrinth you will journey towards the center with unique and unexpected twists and turns, often brushing past others going their own way at their own paces, and all the while learning lessons and seeing sights along the path. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and you will eventually end up where you are supposed to be. The journey on the path of the labyrinth, as in life, is one of trust that God will show you the way. The labyrinth’s geometric pattern is an archetypal form that somehow quiets your deep inner being so you can hear your own wisdom and the wisdom attempting to reach you. This pattern is a powerful tool for reflection, meditation, healing and realignment grounded in consciousness itself.
So when you are seeking answers to specific questions, general stress relief, solace or balance of a physical or mental nature, walking a labyrinth will help you clear your mind, allow you to breathe better and bring you where you need to go. Labyrinths are designed to help you find your way.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you choose to walk a labyrinth:
- Take some time before your walk to reflect on where you are in your life and what you need from this experience. You can center yourself by letting your body know you’re about to walk this path.
- Focus your walk with intention. Whether you are seeking answers to specific questions, general stress relief or solace, hoping to heal emotional or physical wounds, giving praise or thanksgiving, trying to find a way to take the next step in your life or simply seeking some time alone, walking the labyrinth clears the mind and will impart peace as the body moves along the path.
- Know that there is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Be open to experiencing what is before you, whatever it is.
- Follow your natural impulses and find your own pace; the labyrinth is a two-way street and you are encouraged to pass people in front of you if you feel like going more quickly or allow them to pass you if your pace is slower.
- Generally there are three stages to walking the labyrinth, which can be remembered as “The Three Rs.” :
Releasing: On the way in towards the center, focus on letting go of anything distracting you from the present moment. Breathe in and out. You can go directly to the center however you choose, taking the path slowly with pauses or more directly without stopping.
Receiving: When you reach the center, stop for as long as you would like and open your mind and heart to whatever is there for you to receive, which at the very least will be a greater sense of self.
Returning: The way out of the labyrinth is to follow the same path back out the way you came in, but in doing so you are taking back out into the world that which you have received. This is a good time for reflecting on the experience, contemplating the answers you have been given and formulating new intentions for the life journey that begins when you leave the labyrinth. If you walk the labyrinth with full dedication, you won’t be the same upon exiting.
As many of you will remember, our YAC (Young Adults in the Church) class of 2008 and leaders built a labyrinth behind the cemetery. It was quite an undertaking and they did a really good job. The youth were Hannah Batong, Rachel Beck, Mason Garland and Jamie Truitt. The leaders were John Wilson and Nancy Warren. There is still a plaque marking its presence although it has long since sunken in place. They did, however, ignite a spark that created a longing for a sacred space on the grounds, which led us to install the new labyrinth at MIddleham and St. Peter’s Parish. This new labyrinth is a 28 foot Abingdon a la Chartres Neo-Medieval 7 circuit Labyrinth. The template for the labyrinth was generously given by Deb and Mark Berger. This new labyrinth constructed by McHale Landscape Design, Inc. can be found directly behind the columbarium on the Lusby campus near Middleham Chapel and the cemetery, almost adjacent to its predecessor. We would like to honor and applaud the many people who gave generously to fund the new labyrinth project, without whom we would not have this amazing, spiritual sanctuary in our midst. We hope it will be a place where the entire community of Calvert County and anyone visiting from near and far will come to enjoy a time of solitude, comfort and joy, taking a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and feel the stress and anxiety of life float away.
Joan Shisler for the Labyrinth Committee