The Labyrinth: 4 Steps to Using this Spiritual Tool
It’s a picture from a movie – men in long, dark robes walk slowly, heads bowed, one behind another as they follow a winding path carved out of the earth. The low hum of their chanting vibrates the air around them, which is thick with a cloud of frankincense smoke. But how much of this is real life and how much is just exaggerated for our viewing pleasure? Walking a labyrinth can be a sacred journey, but it is not restricted for use by monks and clergymen. Anyone can walk a labyrinth, you just have to know why and how!
So what is a labyrinth? A labyrinth is a single, winding path that leads in and out of a center. Labyrinths are not mazes, which consist of trick turns, dead ends, and a hidden center that you might wander into by accident or never see at all. Mazes have high walls, and are made to make those who enter lose themselves. In labyrinths, just the opposite is true. Labyrinths consist of one path, with neither tricks nor dead ends. The “walls” of a labyrinth don’t have to be walls at all, they can be made of raised earth, rocks lined up side by side, or simply paint on concrete, because you are meant to see the center, and to find yourself inside of it.
“Finding yourself” is one of the many reasons that you might walk a labyrinth. Labyrinths have been used as spiritual tools for self-development for thousands of years. Some even believe that labyrinths have magical properties that you gain from being inside! Dr. Saunders enjoys labyrinths for a more practical reason. As a part of his Sleep and Dreams course, taught at the University of Central Florida, Dr. Saunders offers his students a walk in the Woodlawn Chartres Labyrinth, located in Gotha, Florida. In class, Dr. Saunders asks that his students keep a dream journal to observe their sleeping habits and dreams for 30 days. Many students have reported their time in the labyrinth influencing their dreams!
No matter what your reason, here are the four steps to getting the most out of your time in the labyrinth:
- Know your history. Understanding the history of labyrinths, and all the purposes they have served, will help you to determine what purpose walking a labyrinth will hold for you! Labyrinths have been used by many cultures throughout time, for a number of reasons. We have seen labyrinths as symbols on coins, etchings on the sides of churches, and, thankfully, intact in places around the world. Labyrinths have shown up in folklore, such as the story of the Minotaur and King Minos from Greek mythology, and they have been used for dancing and fertility rites. Farmers have walked labyrinths to promote a healthy crop, and sailors have walked labyrinths to ensure a safe voyage at sea. Labyrinths have even been lined with torches to act as beacons for ships (Hohmuth, 2003)! Labyrinths have served many, different purposes, depending on the culture and time in which they were created. Understanding the history of labyrinths will help you to see that a walk in a labyrinth can truly mean anything you want it to!
- Learn the stages of walking a labyrinth. There are 3 stages of the walk: purgation (I), illumination (II), and union (III).
Purgation begins when you first enter the labyrinth and continues until you reach the center. This portion of your journey is for letting go, or “purging” yourself, of everything that you don’t need in the present moment– all of the negativity in your life, all of the noise in your mind, purgation is a time to relieve yourself of this, so that you can be unburdened and ready for the next stage!
Illumination occurs at the center of the labyrinth. You may stay at the center as long as you wish, doing whatever you like. Some people sit, some people stand. Some pray, and some meditate. Some are simply quiet. Illumination is a time for you to reach out to your higher self and higher power.
Union is the last stage of the walk and begins when you leave the center of the labyrinth, whenever that may be. The walk out is meant to give you strength and prepare you to continue your life outside of the labyrinth.
Now that you understand the labyrinth’s place in history, and the stages of the walk, you can use this knowledge, and the next two steps, to define what a walk in the labyrinth means to you!
- Clear your mind and focus. Before you enter the labyrinth, take a moment to prepare yourself. Paying attention to your breathing can help you to achieve a state of open mindedness and relaxation. During each stage, focus on your purpose for walking. Allow yourself to shed your worries, doubts, and fears during purgation. Spend your time in illumination becoming more connected with yourself and your higher power. Feel empowered and renewed on your walk of union. Focusing your mind on your intentions during each stage of the walk will allow you to appreciate and receive the most benefit from your experience.
- Listen to yourself. All are welcome to walk the labyrinth, and yet, each experience the labyrinth differently. You may find yourself taking very large steps, or walking very slowly. You may even find that the pace of your walk changes throughout your journey in the labyrinth. All of this is fine. You may find yourself reminiscing in thoughts that haven’t entered your mind in years. You may be able to relate the labyrinth to your own life, with its twists and turns to and from, but always leading to the center of the labyrinth, only return down the path to the place where you started. Listen to yourself, and allow yourself the space and time to walk the labyrinth in your own way. This is how you walk the labyrinth.
If you would like to locate a labyrinth near you to begin your spiritual journey, please visit www.labyrinthlocator.com.
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Written by Savannah Achor
Hohmuth, J. (2003). Labyrinths and Mazes. London, England: Prestel Publishing.