Gifts of the Labyrinth

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By Joyce Morrissette

It hasn’t always been easy for me to sit and meditate—especially when I’m distressed. Walking, on the other hand, is good medicine. It calms my nervous system when I feel challenged.

In 2020, I felt challenged. I developed a respiratory illness and was doing my best to be a caregiver to my elderly aunt. During this time, the labyrinth came to me.

By some holy coincidence, I discovered a labyrinth workshop being facilitated by a nurse friend of mine. Maggie and I had lived in the same community in CA. During her workshop, we made labyrinth art. I chose a Roman circuit design that reminded me of the 4 lobes of my lung sitting close to my heart. Using the labyrinth, I learned to walk and let go of what needed to go. Walking out of the labyrinth, I resolved that the TB bacilli would not have the final say regarding my health. Following the workshop, I went on to learn with Dr. Lauren Artress to become a trained labyrinth facilitator. Lauren is credited with starting the modern labyrinth movement. It is her work that is woven throughout this reflection.

What is a labyrinth?

Labyrinths can be a walking meditation, a spiritual practice, or simply placing one foot in front of the other as a way to calm the mind, and enjoy peace, quiet, and time for reflection. It can be used to help alleviate stress.

A labyrinth is an archetypal pattern usually in the form of a circle. There is one path, beginning at the outer edge and leading in a circuitous way into the center.

Rebecca Solnit wrote an entire book on walking. She says this…

“The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again: The beginning is also the real end. That is the home to which you return from the pilgrimage, the adventure. The unpraised edges and margins matter too, because it’s not ultimately a journey of immersion but emergence.”

The labyrinth is a container, a map that we can walk on with our feet or our finger. It can be a transformative practice.

There’s a difference between a labyrinth and a maze. A labyrinth has one path but a maze has many. A labyrinth has no dead ends—there are no tricks–there’s one path to the center and out again.In a maze, we can lose our way. A labyrinth is a path to find our way.

History of the labyrinth:

This ancient spiritual tool is thousands of years old, walked by millions of people of all cultures and traditions. There’s no dogma. Labyrinths take their form from geometry in nature…specifically the spiral and the circle.

In Scandinavia, there are almost 500 known labyrinths made of stones laid upon the earth. Up until the 20th century, fisherman walked them before going out to sea in hopes of a good catch and a good wind.

The labyrinth we’ll walk this morning is the most famous of medieval labyrinths laid in Chartres Cathedral in France during the 13th century. In the Chartres Cathedral, there is a circular, stained glass rose window that is congruent with the labyrinth on the floor below. They are the same size. Linda Sussman writes that the light of that magnificent window and the darkness of the pilgrimage are one. The 6 petals in the center —thought to be symbolic of the 6 days of creation—also symbolize the rose and lily. 

Walking the labyrinth as a practice:

3 R’s: Releasing, Receiving, Returning

Releasing (Letting go): Walking into the labyrinth

This involves letting go of the details of your life and breathing out what wants to go. This is an act of shedding and a time to open your heart and quiet your mind. It involves relaxing and finding your natural pace.

Receiving (Listening): Standing or sitting at the center

When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It’s a place of meditation and prayer. Allow yourself to receive what’s there for you. Breathe in what wants to come.

Returning (Reflecting, Resolving, Reclaiming): Walking out of the labyrinth

As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, an integration of your experience can occur. You take back out into the world that which you have received. Every labyrinth experience is unique. Sometimes the  experience won’t make sense or be meaningful for many months after a walk.

There’s no right or wrong way to use the labyrinth.

Go at your own pace—this is your walk!

What occurs on the labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor i.e. turns on the labyrinth as turns in life.

Finger Walk Labyrinth Meditation:

  1. Paper Labyrinth:https://www.veriditas.org/resources/Documents/Handouts/Printable%20Chartres-Style%20Finger%20Labyrinth.pdf

Our community labyrinth is located at Emmons Preserve which is part of the Kennebunkport Land Trust. Union Church contributed to this community project and Jen Comeau was active in seeing the labyrinth come to life.

Next Sat the 19th we’ll meet at Emmons Preserve for our labyrinth walk. Meetup will be in the parking lot at 10am. Then we’ll walk together in silence to the labyrinth.

Labyrinths can be used for rituals. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’ll open the walk with another “R”–Remembering/counting our blessings. The labyrinth is a 2-way street and we’ll review some simple guidelines.

My role will be to welcome you, enable good spacing, and be available to bring a chair if you need it on the path or in the center.

In the meantime… consider journaling before Saturday to set an intention for your walk. If you’re a first time walker, the intention could be as simple as being open to the experience with little expectations. If you’re an experienced walker, you might set an intention or bring a question.