As I walk, someone is watching. He is working, and so am I, stepping in circles and following loops of patterned brick. I’m focused on my feet and my feelings instead of the cold breeze.
Twenty minutes later – when I’m finished – he stops grooming shrubs and asks what I was doing, what it all meant. This is the heart of that conversation.
A labyrinth is not the same thing as a maze. There’s one way in and one way out, but the shared goal of labyrinth and maze is reaching the center.
When the pattern spins me far away from that center, I’m reminded that life often provides the same impression of being off the path that I can never really depart.
My path can get messy, but feeling directionless or losing my way does not mean I am lost. If I stumble or if I incorrectly re-route, thinking I must have missed a turn somewhere, that’s okay. I’m still inside the labyrinth, and I can always begin again.
For me, using a labyrinth is a form of “walking prayer.” I pause before I take the first step, holding my request, pain or puzzle in my thoughts for a moment. As I walk, I take my time. Inside the labyrinth, I’m sometimes having a conversation with God and sometimes noticing how my shoes fall on the slightly uneven stones. I might be paying attention to my breath, letting it deepen and invite my body to relax. But throughout my walk, I’m carrying that original burden.
Other people may be walking in the labyrinth during my own journey, but their presence is a paradox. We are never really alone, but our internal journeys are unique to each of us.
In the center, it’s time to pause again and set my burden down. I might stand for a minute or more in a yogic stance called “mountain pose.” It’s simple, even if you’ve never practiced yoga. Just stand for a moment, arms at your sides, exhaling and inhaling as you let your weight settle evenly across your feet. Breathe. For me, this is a time for more conversation with God. I want to LISTEN. I want to offer. I want to release and let go.
With a history of more than 5,000 years, the labyrinth pre-dates Christianity, though the Church adopted the symbol. (One of the most famous medieval labyrinths is on the floor inside Chartres Cathedral in France. Its pattern has been replicated across the world, and I was walking the same design outside an Atlanta cathedral during the discussion above.)
Creative solutions. Some of our best thinking happens “sideways,” when we nudge our minds away from a complex problem and give it a more neutral focal point. That’s how I explain the sudden burst of inspiration that sometimes arrives when I’ve moved from the keyboard to the stove, shower or wooded trail.
- Fresh air.
What to Wear
Some churches or other bodies of faith have temporary indoor labyrinths, such as a printed cloth. In these cases, you’ll probably be encouraged to remove your shoes; socks are fine.