What is a labyrinth and how is it used for walking meditations?
Today, many churches, hospitals, camps, retreats, and universities have installed labyrinths to assist people to come to peace or relaxation. Walking the labyrinth can be used as a tool to “unwind the mind,” and to let go of stress or worries and concerns.
Historically, in Greek mythology, its function was to house the half man/half beast creature, the Minotaur. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.
In English, the term labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze. At the Los Altos Jesuit Retreat Center, there is a beautiful 7-circuit walking labyrinth for retreat participants to use.
As an ancient symbol, the labyrinth relates to the concept of wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents the journey to our own center and back again out into the world and are used as meditation and prayer tools.
In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.
Moving through a Labyrinth can change ordinary ways of perception connecting the inner and the outer, the right brain and the left brain, the past with the present, through a series of paths that represent the realms of consciousness, the years or cycles of life, or the external and internal realities.
The Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens recommends the following ways to walk a labyrinth:
As a symbolic journey from outer manifestations to inner truths.
You might set the intention to receive inspiration, or to receive an answer to a question, or solution to a “problem.”
You might walk the labyrinth with the intention to unwind, to let go of a worry or burden of some sort –letting it go when you reach the center.
You might use the labyrinth for learning more about yourself and life, by simply being aware of how you walk it and what you observe as you walk it.
At its core, the experience of walking a labyrinth is about listening to our truest self, away from the cacophony of modern life. “I believe that the world needs places where our souls can be quiet,” remarks Jean Richardson, director of the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, in Bangor, Pennsylvania, which includes a seven-circuit labyrinth.
Richardson continues, “Retreat centers and labyrinths are places where we can listen to our inner heart, feel our inner calling and tap into our own divine nature. I think deep listening is not always valued in a world where we are rewarded for being busy and keeping our schedules full.”