Monday, September 17

Walking the Labyrinth

Labyrinths are a common form of walking meditation.  If you are lucky enough to have experienced one, you can understand when I say the results are often unexpected.  At the Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of my favorite festivals, a temporary labyrinth is usually constructed of candles in a grassy field, lit at dusk and those interested can walk it as they wish until dawn.  For many years I watched as people walked the path and were overcome with emotion.  Some would erupt into smiles and giggles while others would fall to their knees sobbing.  I never walked it.  I was honestly terrified with having to confront such strong emotions within myself.  For 7 years I watched.

The stone labyrinth at the Kearns Spirituality Center in Allison Park, PA.
After a particularly bad year, I found myself at a small retreat at a Catholic convent in western Pennsylvania.  My sister, who had been going through an even rougher patch, was there with me.  We were presented with an opportunity to walk a small brick labyrinth.  I hesitated.  I was particularly terrified of crying in public, breaking down as a result of the stresses the past year had heaped on... and yet I felt it was time.  Time to walk the labyrinth.  My sister walked as well, entering shortly after I did.

As I walked, I found myself settling.  Instead of anything building up, instead of feeling ready to burst, I felt amazingly calm.  A phrase began jumbling about in my head: "It may just not be so."  This odd sentence made incredible sense to me.  I was a person who worried what everyone thought.  I was a person who feared impossible outcomes.  I was a person who fretted over what-ifs.  I harnessed this phrase, the gift the labyrinth had given me, and applied it to the end of every fear and doubt.  "My mother thinks I'm hopeless doesn't she?" = It may just not be so.  "I am never going to find a job and end up on the street!" = It may just not be so.  "I'm such a failure, I'm never going to accomplish anything!" = It may just not be so. 

Just before I exited the labyrinth, my sister and I happened to pass one another.  We didn't make eye contact, both focused on the meditation, and yet as we walked away from each other we both instinctively reached a hand backwards and touched each other.  It was spontaneous and beautiful and reminded me of the deep connection I share with my sister. 

I left that day feeling empowered.  I now walk a labyrinth anytime I get the opportunity.

Grass path labyrinth at Forest Grove Community Church in Robinson Twp., PA
If you feel that you have gone too long without this experience, here is a website that will help you to find a labyrinth close to your home.

Labyrinths come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  They can be temporary, made of candles or sand.  They can be made of timeless rows of hedges and flower bushes.  They can be made from paver stones or burned into a wooden church floor.  They are all walked the same.

Many are open to the public, but if you desire to take your family, you may try calling to get an "ok" first.  A family trip to a labyrinth can be enriching for children.  They may use it differently than adults, singing or skipping instead of silent walking, and so I would recommend scheduling family time with the labyrinth.  Most organizations appreciate this greatly.

Children walking a temporary sand labyrinth at a Prayer Vigil for the Earth event.
Children have stressors and complicated thoughts, the same as adults.  Take a light snack, a smudge stick, and a bell.  It is common to pause and ground before entering the labyrinth, so stand with your children and join hands.  Encourage them to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.  Ring the bell once to allow a clean, unifying vibration to pass over all of you (this can also be done via the use of a singing bowl or the strike of gong).  Light the smudge stick and smudge each child to cleanse them.  If you wish to sprinkle with salted water, you may do that as well.  Everyone should enter the labyrinth slowly, allowing adequate space between each other.

Once everyone has had their turn through, sit in a circle and enjoy your snack.  Ask the children about their experience.  You may be surprised.  

UPDATE 2017:

I went on vacation to a small island community in northern Ohio this summer. We had to travel there by ferry as the only other option was a small plane. There was only one grocery store.  Most everyone drove golf carts instead of cars because it was just not feasible to drive a large vehicle on such a small island.  In that isolated, micro-community there was tiny church with a large brick patio.  And there, in pattern of the bricks, was a labyrinth.  These are strong meditative tools that you can make or find just about anywhere.  We continue to walk them whenever we can.