Labyrinth Encounters of the First Kind
Maybe you’ve seen a labyrinth in a school, a park or someone’s garden. Maybe you’ve seen diagrams of labyrinths in books or journals. Maybe you’ve seen coloured photographs of labyrinths of various kinds on websites. Or you’ve heard how they are being used in the health and wellbeing professions, whether that’s hospitals, hospices, aged care facilities, retreats or even prisons. And you’ve wondered, naturally enough, ‘how they work.’ If you are already familiar with labyrinths, maybe think back to how you felt the first time you stood in the presence of one. Approaching a labyrinth for the first time can give rise to a whole range of feelings: what do I do, how do I know where to walk (or run or crawl or dance), can I run or crawl or dance, is there a right way to do this, how long is it going to take, what if I make a fool of myself, what will OTHERS think?
These are all perfectly natural thoughts, and I would go so far as to say that everyone who walks a labyrinth for the first time (or even more times) thinks these things. It happened to me. My first actual walk on an actual labyrinth was at a regular evening indoors gathering of walkers. They did this monthly and I’d been invited by a new friend. My expectations were high (having heard about all kinds of benefits and experiences others had variously related or recorded). I would be filled with insights. This path was going to guide me in all kinds of endeavours.
The full-scale Chartres design labyrinth was meticulously painted (I can say that now because my subsequent attempts were nowhere near it on a scale of neatness!) onto a huge canvas and it was surrounded by lit candles. Soft meditative music permeated the room and as the walkers arrived they seated themselves quietly around the perimeter of the canvas. And removed their shoes. I watched carefully, eyes suitably lowered, trying not to be too obvious about my observations and taking in anything that might give me an edge on all of this. There were no directions or instructions, apart from the music all was quiet. One by one as each was ready he approached the path and started to walk. I relaxed a little, watching those first walkers. One step at a time. Check! Move reverently. Check! Overtaking someone seems to be ok. Check! Ohhh, yes, look at that! Someone has stopped halfway around. She’s looking out. Now she’s walking again. And so it went. I decided to model myself on what I saw. Then I realised that my thoughts were consumed with other questions: how do I position myself if I want to go next, how many people are still sitting and waiting, what if there’s an order here? Something inside was telling me: it’s NOW! So I started: eyes on the path, one foot in front of the other.
On the walk in all was going well, but I was totally unprepared for the effect of the path on my thoughts: this is going all over the place, what’s happening, so many turns, wherever am I, it seems to be taking forever. But when I reached the centre my body completely relaxed. I think I even sat in there for a while, wondering what to make of it all. It was a much more relaxed “me” who walked out, navigating all those quadrants, twists and turns that make the Chartres the delightful walk that it is.
I was too embarrassed to discuss my experience with anyone. But I did do a lot of self-reflection: what was the problem here, why hadn’t the walk revealed anything that I could integrate, what had happened? In time I came to realise that the problem was entirely with me and that the problem was the setting of expectations. I had let myself down badly. Insights HAD been revealed to me; insights that pointed DIRECTLY to my life journey itself. The very questions that consumed me as I looked at the labyrinth and observed the first walkers were directly related to obstacles getting in the way of my own moving forward. The labyrinth was speaking in metaphor!
Time has moved on. I have walked many, many labyrinths and I have facilitated many walks both with adults and young people. And one thing I have learned is that it’s different for everybody. Your first walk will be your very own and nothing like anyone else’s. And your first encounter with a labyrinth will not necessarily be in a candle-lit room. It may not be in a room at all. It could be outdoors in nature, in a school context, on top of a tall building or on a beach. Labyrinths are popping up everywhere. Wherever it is, I suggest keeping these things in mind for your first walk:
let go of expectations
walk with an open heart
clear your mind, let go of all the busy thoughts, the chaps in the top paddock, the monkey mind (people have all sorts of expressions for it!)
notice emotions and feelings that arise, and honour them
Check out the resources relating to walking and using labyrinths on our enodatio website page. To find labyrinths near you or in other parts of the world, search on these locators: