People all over the world are discovering that the ancient practice of walking labyrinths not only solves problems, but also soothes the nerves, calms the soul, mends the heart, and heals the body. It can help bring us into balance, giving us a sense of wholeness that is much needed for all of us whose lives ache with lopsided discomfort. Labyrinths offer the opportunity to walk in meditation to that place within us where the rational merges with the intuitive and the spiritual is reborn. Helen Curry, The Way of the Labyrinth
Labyrinths are ancient. Their spiraling pattern has been found on coins from Knossos, Crete, dating back three centuries before the birth of Christ to a clay tablet from Pylos, Greece which is 3,200 years old. Common to all labyrinths is a series of rings or circular paths which emanate outward from the center. Though at a glance these paths may seem to be separate, they are in fact ‘unicursal’ or ‘a single course’ - one unbroken path from start to finish. Unlike mazes, there are no dead ends and no choices to make regarding which direction to travel when walking a labyrinth. The way in to the center is also the way out. The same path that is walked into the heart of the labyrinth is followed out after reaching the center.
Labyrinths are sometimes identified by the number of ‘circuits’ they have. This is a way of describing the series of circles or rings which flow out from the center. There are labyrinths with eleven, seven and three circuits. The most famous eleven-circuit labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter and laid directly into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France. The seven-circuit labyrinth can be traced to the ancient design found on the currency used in Knossos, Crete and is often referred to as Cretan. And labyrinths can be found around the world from ancient Rome to Africa, Scandinavia, India and China.
The entrance through which one begins to walk the labyrinth is called the ‘mouth’ – this is the point at which the journey inward begins. Once the threshold to the labyrinth has been crossed, the spiraling walkway followed in is called the ‘path.’ The boundaries which separate the paths as they circle inward toward the center are called the ‘walls.’ And the center is the circular goal one reaches by fully traversing the path inward. It is often experienced as a place of union with the Divine.
Mystery and Meaning
The whole of labyrinth design is rich with symbolism and inherent meaning. The center is often circular - an archetypal pattern symbolizing unity and wholeness. And in the eleven-circuit or Chartres labyrinth, the spiraling paths are divided into four quarters, each with seven 180-degree turns. Seven is the number of embodied chakras in our human energy system. Walking the path as it alternately progresses and turns back upon itself can balance our energy system and the left and right hemispheres of our brain, returning equilibrium to the body, mind and spirit.
There are also energetic forces present simply in the act of walking the path toward and back out from the center. Both centripetal and centrifugal energies are activated in the course of a labyrinth walk. Centripetal energy acts to assist the walker in drawing inward toward the center of an issue they wish to unfold. And centrifugal energy assists the walker in separating out all aspects of the issue which are not relevant, crystallizing the solution and emergent consciousness into action.
Walking the Labyrinth
There is no wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Giving attention to the whole of one’s experience as the ancient path is followed is the key. Everything holds significance as the spiraling path is traveled. The act of walking a labyrinth becomes a metaphor for all of life as each person alternately follows, passes, and leads the way, turning toward and away from others on the path. It holds an opportunity to express what is moving deeply in the heart of the self. Small children skip, women shroud themselves and walk with eyes closed and people stop in spontaneous prayer and meditation in the course of walking a labyrinth. There is no wrong way to be in partnership with whatever physical, emotional, or spiritual unfolding wants expression during the walk.
It is a common practice to hold an intention while walking the labyrinth. This can focus around seeking a new direction in life or unraveling a problem or issue. The intention may arise spontaneously out of moments of prayer or meditation prior to the walk or be something consciously chosen. Once the intention is held on the walk it becomes an integral part of the walker. Enter and walk the labyrinth with intention and transformation begins to unfold.
The center is sometimes called the ‘stillpoint.’ This is a term from CranioScaral therapy which indicates a moment of deep and profound stillness in which the body uses the energy present in this therapy to reintegrate and come back into balance. Upon reaching the center of a labyrinth, it is common to pause. Some choose to sit or lie and meditate, connecting with the higher self and inner guidance. Others take a moment of stillness at the center, progressing back out shortly thereafter. Whatever time is taken here, the center of a labyrinth has a power all its own. It is a place of communion with the Divine and holds an opportunity to align with one’s inherent wholeness and unity with all of life. From this unity many experience insight deep into the heart of their intention.
The Walk Out
On the walk out, simply being present to sensations, thoughts, feelings and experiences offers a way of integrating insight received in the center and further unfolding intention. Sometimes the experience of walking the labyrinth can seem to thwart or be at odds with the walker’s expectation. Opening to the lessons inherent in contradiction - sometimes called Divine Paradox - has offered the key to many in unfolding even deeper revelation.
Some people experience a different energy on the walk out of the labyrinth. There may have been a feeling of being lost, confused, tired or beleaguered on the walk in, whereas the walk out may hold a feeling of being buoyed along the path joyously and effortlessly. These are only two examples of what can be experienced. Whatever is felt or realized - any opening, beginning or closure which occurs - is specific to the person walking and there is no wrong way to be a part of the experience.
Honoring the walk, expressing gratitude, and acknowledging the sacred nature of the experience is sometimes done by taking a moment to turn around and face the labyrinth before taking the last step out. In this way, the walk and the walker’s intention and insight are inwardly acknowledged. Or the ritual may involve standing to face and energetically embrace the world of transformation which awaits as the labyrinth is exited. As with all parts of the walk, allowing inner guidance to direct action is the key.
Leaving the labyrinth, Divine Paradox again becomes apparent as the ending is, indeed, the beginning. The beginning of the next leg of a journey, bridging the distance between what was and what is yet to be, and integrating all of the insight gained to manifest positive action. Leaving the labyrinth is the beginning of a conscious rebirth into co-creation of the direction of life and the walker’s part in it.
Hallie Sawyers is a labyrinth facilitator and spent 10 years as the Educational Outreach Chair and Outreach VP for The Labyrinth Society. She is also a licensed massage therapist in Connecticut and New York, Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, an approved continuing education provider for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and has been offering continuing education classes since 2000. She is Nationally Certified in Holistic Aromatherapy since 2002 and has been studying advanced clinical aromatherapy since 2005. Hallie is an Associate in Polarity Therapy (APP), Usui Reiki Master Teacher and Master Instructor of Integrated Energy Therapy. She spent 4 years teaching the massage curriculum for Cortiva Institute (formerly Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy) and 13 years as an instructor for Finger Lakes School of Massage in both Ithaca and Mt. Kisco, NY. Her decades of experience in massage therapy teaching and program administration now support and inform her professional consultancy work with colleges, universities, and private institutions that want to add therapeutic massage to their degree programs and educational offerings.
Hallie is founder of Soul Song, offering training in a wide spectrum of complementary care alternatives. A well known and respected educator with extensive training in energywork and body-centered therapies, her mission highlights creating transformation on personal and professional levels through quality education in alternative approaches to prevention and wellness.
Fascinated with labyrinths since she first walked one in 1996, Hallie creates workshops which blend unique combinations of sensory stimulation including body-centered therapies, aromatherapy and art with the labyrinth to expand awareness and deepen intuitive perception.
If you've never walked a labyrinth and want to locate one in your area, please visit the World Wide Labyrinth Locator.