The labyrinth is one of the oldest and most universal of human symbols, and has been used for millennia as an aid to prayer. The act of walking can be a powerful practice that moves not just the body, but the heart and mind. As St. Augustine said, “It is solved by walking.” Many of the great cathedrals of Europe had labyrinths built into their floors, so that pilgrims could walk the labyrinth as a metaphor of ascending the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?
A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a puzzle to be solved, with wrong turns and dead ends. A maze is a path to be followed, with no wrong turns or dead ends. There is just a single path which, if followed, will take the walker to the centre. Because of this, the brain is released from the work of analyzing and solving, and the heart can relax into the journey without any concern for mistakes or doing things wrong. All that is required is to take step after step, at whatever pace is comfortable, until the centre point is reached. Because of this, and because of the unexpected twists and turns of the labyrinth, both hemispheres of the brain are engaged and begin to act in harmony, often leading to a sense of peace, integration, and even new insight.
There is no limit to the possible designs of labyrinths.
WALKING THE LABYRINTH
Traditionally the practice of walking the labyrinth includes four stages.
Stand at the entrance to the labyrinth and prepare yourself to enter. You may want to breathe a little slower and deeper. You may want to offer a prayer. You may want to take a moment to clear your mind, or to focus on a particular thought, Scripture, concern, or question that you want to take with you into the labyrinth.
As you enter the labyrinth, walk at a comfortable pace. Do not feel any need to match your pace to anyone else, or even to maintain a consistent pace throughout. As you walk, try to release any preconceptions, or any intruding thoughts that come to you. Avoid trying to analyse the labyrinth, or force some sort of experience. Allow each turn to present itself as and when it does, and allow your mind to become still. It can be helpful to simply focus on taking each step, or to concentrate on your breathing as you walk.
When you get to the centre of the labyrinth, stop and remain there for as long as you feel you need to. Allow the stillness of the walk to filter through your whole being, and let your body, which has now stopped moving, become relaxed and still. Open your heart and mind to any new feelings, thoughts, insights, or ideas that may come. Try to experience the moment, rather than to over-think it or analyse it.
When you feel ready, turn and walk out of the labyrinth on the same path by which you entered it. Avoid the temptation to rush. If any new insights of feelings arose while you were in the centre, carry them with you, and open yourself to any insights or thoughts about how you can take these gifts with you into the rest of your life. When you have completed the labyrinth walk, you may want to take a moment to give thanks for the experience, and to acknowledge what the journey has given you, before finally walking away.
When no labyrinth is available to walk, here are some creative possibilities for you to consider:
It can be helpful to use a finger labyrinth to follow the same process. A finger labyrinth is a labyrinth drawn on paper, or carved into wood or stone, or even kept as an image on a tablet computer or smart phone that is traced with a finger instead of walking. To trace a finger labyrinth, it is common to use the index finger of your non-dominant hand.
Use sheeting or a duvet cover and draw the outline of a labyrinth on it with permanent markers
Use masking tape on a floor or carpet
If you have a garden, consider placing pebbles, rope or flowers in a labyrinth shape
Finally, once your labyrinth walk has ended, you may find it helpful to journal your experience in order to return and remember what you received. As with any prayer practice, it can also be helpful to note how you change over time as you practice your prayer in this way.
Ref: Lauren Attress: Walking a Sacred Path