People’s Church has an amazing labyrinth just to the north of our building. It is planted with beautiful native plants and is available to walk anytime – for walking meditation, prayer or a few moments of silence and reflection.
Introduction to Labyrinths
We are all on the path of life; some would say we are exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path.
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral, ancient symbols, into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.
A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.”
Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused, but they are not the same. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out.
A labyrinth has only one path. It is uni-cursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again. You can always see the center.
A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.
At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.
Walking the Labyrinth
There is no right way to walk a labyrinth. You only have to enter and follow the path. However, your walk can encompass a variety of attitudes. It may be joyous or somber. It might be thoughtful or prayerful. You may use it as a walking meditation.
Adults are often serious in the labyrinth. Children most often run in and out as fast as they can in a playful manner. When you walk a labyrinth choose your attitude. From time to time choose a different attitude. Make it serious, prayerful, or playful. Play music or sing. Pray out loud. Walk alone and with a crowd. Notice the sky. Listen to the sounds. Most of all pay attention to your experience.
Some general guidelines for walking a labyrinth are:
- Focus: Pause and wait at the entrance. Become quiet and centered. Give acknowledgment through a bow, nod, or other gesture and then enter.
- Experience: Walk purposefully. Observe the process. When you reach the center, stay there and focus several moments. Leave when it seems appropriate. Be attentive on the way out.
- Exit: Turn and face the entrance. Give an acknowledgement of ending, such as “Good” or “ May it be so” or “Amen.”
- Reflect: After walking the labyrinth reflect back on your experience. Use writing or drawing to capture your experience.
- Walk often.
There are many approaches to the labyrinth. Several approaches are based on a “threefold path” of Releasing, Receiving, and Returning or Integrating. (In traditional Christian language: Purgation, Illumination, and Union.) These represent three stages in a labyrinth walk.
- Releasing . From the entrance to the goal is the path of shedding or “letting go.” There is a release and an emptying of worries and concerns.
- Receiving . At the center there is illumination, insight, clarity, and focus. It is here that you are in a receptive, prayerful, meditative state.
- Integrating . Empowerment and taking ownership. The path out is that of becoming grounded and integrating the insight. It is being energized and making what was received manifest in the world.
There are three stages but one path, and it is different for everyone.
“Palms Up, Palms Down”
These three stages can be symbolized with a “palms down, palms up” approach to walking the labyrinth. “Palms down” symbolizes release or letting go while “palms up” indicates receiving. Enter the labyrinth and walk to the center with palms down and center your thoughts on releasing conflictual issues and concerns in your life. When you reach the center turn your palms up to be receptive to insight. As you walk out of the labyrinth keep your palms up to receive strength and guidance to make your insight manifest. As you leave the labyrinth turn to face the center and bring you palms together for a prayerful end to your walk.