“Life happens while you are planning for something else,” was the statement that played through my mind as I participated in my first labyrinth meditation walk at the Center for Building Hope. The session was facilitated by Dr. John Orsborn, from the Tao of Wellbeing Acupuncture Clinic. In addition to planting the above thought in our minds, Dr. Osborn shared some of the history, process, and purpose for walking a labyrinth.
I had walked a labyrinth only once before, as a tourist in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. As beautiful as it was, there was no element of mindful meditation, just what I thought of as a fun maze-walk with my tourist mindset. This, my second labyrinth walk, was different. I envisioned the session as a learning experience, an opportunity to add another health-promoting tool to my toolbox, one for quieting the mind and reducing stress.
As I walked through the labyrinth I couldn’t help but notice the profound metaphor for life it offers:
Entering through a single narrow opening, you embark on a journey taking you along a winding path. If you focus on the center you can see your destination, but along the way there are so many twists and turns. At times you are facing in a completely different direction than your goal in which you are intended. You keep faith that if you stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other the path will eventually lead you where you’re meant to go. Stopping or turning around to review where you’ve come from doesn’t serve you in reaching your target. So you keep taking one step after another. After most of the path has been travelled, it feels as if you’ve been walking in circles the entire time. It is not until the last few steps of your journey that you realize you have arrived.
Like life, walking a labyrinth is a non-linear journey. In our modern society, we often envision life as a line that progresses from one place to the next, always towards planned-for destinations and outcomes. Goals are helpful, but an ability to adjust and adapt to winding roads and unanticipated dead ends not only reduces stress, but opens us up to unimagined opportunities, experiences and growth. A labyrinth is a moving meditation that challenges our linear minds. Just when you think you are reaching the center of the labyrinth, likely trying to measure just how close you are to the “end,” you find yourself taking a turn that leads you back towards the outer edge.
A labyrinth is not a maze, in which we choose our path based upon goals of solving the maze. In a labyrinth, it is a purposeful path that is unpredictable to the walker, representing the journey of life.
There are three stages to walking the labyrinth:
Stage 1: Purgation (Releasing)
Let go of the details of your life by gently shedding thoughts and distractions. Let go of your needs to accomplish, complete, or solve the labyrinth, opening your mind to the possibilities that come with each and every unforeseen, unplanned turn.
Stage 2: Illumination (Receiving)
Experience the journey by walking purposefully. Once you have reached the center of the labyrinth, open your mind and heart to receive whatever the experience brings you. Feel yourself fully present in the Here and Now.
Stage 3: Union (Returning)
Follow the same path back from the center towards the outer edge, receiving the sights, smells, and sounds as you do in dream time. After exiting, it is customary to turn and face the entrance to acknowledge the ending of the journey.
While I sought out this experience with hopes of exploring another tool for quieting my mind and reducing stress, the point of walking a labyrinth is to release our expectations and find peace generated not through a sense of control, but through the release of control. I’m grateful for and open to any and all tools and experiences that can help me to accept life’s twists and turns with nothing but gratitude for the gift of life.
“With a labyrinth, you make a choice to go in – and once you’ve chosen, around and around you go. But you always find your way to the center.”
For finding a labyrinth near you or for more information:
“Exploring the Labyrinth,” by Melissa Gayle West