Labyrinths. The very word conjures up thoughts of confusing pathways, frustrating dead ends, endless, twisting routes. Sometimes confused with mazes, labyrinths have no puzzles or trickery in their design; in fact, labyrinth walking is a tool for meditation and enlightenment, one which has come into and out of popularity since the days of the Roman Empire.
"The Labyrinth helps us focus on the rhythm of walking - it gives us a focus for our meditative thoughts," says Revered Jo Ann Drake, of the Church of the Redeemer. Walking into the labyrinth's center "symbolizes walking into the center of ourselves. Spend as much time in the center as you want to, then move back out into your life."
The church has a labyrinth on its front lawn which can be walked at any time, and Revered Drake says that walkers need not be meditating on religious topics. "Think about anything you wish."
A labyrinth can be used as a path of prayer, to seek the divine, regardless of the tradition in which one stands. The winding path leading to the center serves as a mirror to reflect the movement of the Spirit in our lives. The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Walking the path with an open mind and an open heart touches our sorrows and releases our joys.
On Block Island, Barbara McDougall, owner of the Turning Point retreat, has created another outdoor walking labyrinth, this one with views of a duck pond and a lighthouse. The labyrinth is made of local stones, and MacDougall says that every New Year's Day it gets bigger when "people bring their prayers and wishes in the form of stones and put them in the labyrinth."
Mathewson Street church has a labyrinth modeled after Chartres Cathedral's famous labyrinth. It is on the church's fourth floor and is walked every Gallery Night from 5 to 8 pm as well as on occasional Saturdays and during the week before Easter.
If you find yourself so calmed by labyrinth walking that you want even easier access, build a labyrinth in your own backyard with sand and stones. Remove your shoes, clear your mind and become aware of your breathing. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. Your pace will change throughout the walk. You may "pass" people or let others go around you. The center is a place where you may sit or stand as long as you wish. The path is two ways. Those entering will meet those coming out.
You may begin at any time, even while others are on the Labyrinth. Perhaps, you will encounter people who are moving in the opposite direction on the Labyrinth -- you may step aside to let others pass -- you may move quickly or slowly, passing others or being passed -- you may pause at any time. The most helpful directive is to walk at your own comfortable pace.
A labyrinth is a spiritual tool--a path of prayer--a walking meditation. Walking the labyrinth may bring a feeing of peace, uplift you, or may even bring a new awareness to some aspect of your life. We encourage you to utilize this simple, elegant tool for reflection, prayer and contemplation.
This meditative walk can be viewed as a three-step process.
I: Moving toward the center, walkers RELEASE cares and concerns that distract them.
II: In the center, they pause, perhaps for several minutes to receive clarity or ILLUMINATION.
III: On the way out walkers may perceive a sense of UNITY; bringing back to the world a renewed vision and a refreshed spirit.
Your experience of walking the labyrinth is very personal. Each walk is unique.