Walking a labyrinth

A St. Francis statue overlooks the labyrinth at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, AL

A St. Francis statue overlooks the labyrinth at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, AL

Part of my celebratory mini-retreat last week included walking the labyrinth.  I discovered labyrinths over a decade ago at a workshop, and I was hooked.

Labyrinths aren’t mazes.  You simply follow the path in and then follow it back out.  For me, walking a labyrinth is moving meditation.  It’s a way to let go of thoughts and become more present to the now, to what is.  I’ve shared in this blog that I practice centering prayer.  That is a practice that has been very transformative for me.  The labyrinth fits under that “transformative” category, too.

I find that for people who say that they can’t sit still, walking a labyrinth is more attractive than sitting meditation.  It’s certainly in the meditative tradition and is a way to center, just as sitting meditation is.

This particular labyrinth is a Cretan labyrinth.  It is the most ancient design.  The other design you see is the Chartres Cathedral design.  The first labyrinth I walked was the Chartres design, and I found myself trying to figure out the pattern, how the quadrants were connected, and how it led you to the center by what seemed misdirection.  I had to walk the labyrinth many times before I could get away from trying to “figure it out.”  The Cretan pattern is less intricate with fewer turns.  But whichever pattern labyrinth you walk, the meditative effect is the same.

The entrance to the labyrinth

The entrance to the labyrinth

There is no “right” way to walk a labyrinth.  I feel that you’ll get what you need during the process.  But it’s helpful to focus and be present to the experience.  Some say you can use the walk in to the center as a letting go, a shedding.  Then you use your time in the center as just that, centering.  And finally you reemerge into the world on the path out, a kind of birth back into the world.  Some say you receive a gift in the center and bring it back into the world when you follow the path back out.

My experience has been that each walk is different, and that each one gives me what I need.  Sometimes I walk with an intention for someone.  Last summer I walked this labyrinth once with particular people in mind and their healing as my focus.  Sometimes I walk with gratitude as my focus.  Most often, though, I don’t have anything particular in mind.  I just try to be open to what the experience brings.

I find that lots of retreat centers have labyrinths.  And some churches do as well.  Some cities have them in public places.  But as this article and video explain, labyrinth walks can be valuable no matter your beliefs.  I find a labyrinth walk to be a calming, centering, contemplative experience.  If you’ve never walked one, keep an eye out and see where one shows up for you.

Then seriously consider talking a walk.  It may be just what you’re looking for.

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8 thoughts on “Walking a labyrinth

  1. Growing up in England we used to visit the Hampton Court Maze… As a child it was a bit scary as it was made of high hedges and I really thought I would get stuck in there!!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Beautiful! I just walked a labyrinth as part of my graduation from spiritual direction training- they are gorgeous and meaningful!

  3. if you ever get to Southwestern Indiana again, there are two labyrinths in New Harmony – one Chartres labyrinth in polished granite and a restored hedge labyrinth. I also encountered a small labyrinth in the chapel of the Mayo clinic – very peaceful.

    • I’d like to visit New Harmony at some point. I think I’ve read about the labyrinth at the Mayo clinic. I think more and more hospitals are building them somewhere on the grounds.

  4. Pingback: My Silent Retreat: The Shift | eddiesandcurrents

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