It was quite by chance that I stumbled across a labyrinth. It was in 1997, the year of my sabbatical. I was travelling through the USA with my 5-year-old son and did a month long yoga teachers training course.
I was still working through my divorce and failed marriage four years earlier, I was uncertain as to what I want to do with my life, and life as a single parent, especially with a difficult and angry son, was challenging.
It was suicide hour. We have had a long day in class and I was tired. Josua was extra moody. As we walked through the gardens of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, I started to pray, asking for help with Josua. The next moment we came across an interesting circular pattern, something we haven’t noticed before. We were both drawn to explore the pattern and started to chase each other, seeing who would be first in the centre. Within a couple of minutes my son’s mood lifted, he started to laugh again and I could relax. For the rest of the month we would go and walk the labyrinth every day after class.
When I returned to South Africa at the end of the year I started to research and read about labyrinths. The effect that it had had on my son and me was just too powerful to ignore
My journey with labyrinths had started.
In 1998 I met the late Peter Fraser, who built his labyrinth in Barrydale earlier that year while still lying in bed recovering from a heart attack! Since then, I have experienced many more miracles in and around the labyrinth.
I have seen a 9-year-old quadriplegic (whom I pushed on a wheelchair through the labyrinth) smile such a brilliant smile my whole body was filled with joy bubbles. I have seen how a horse, terrified with fear, visibly started to relax while she was walking a labyrinth. I have connected deeply with a whale after I drew a labyrinth on the beach – the whale looked me straight in the eyes and swam in circles several times, returning the circles of the labyrinth to me. I have seen people walking through grief, anger, depression, death, and trauma. I have seen people cry, laugh, dance and twirl. All, just because they decided to take that first step into the labyrinth and begin their journey of healing.
The labyrinth has played a major role in my own healing journey. Today, walking a labyrinth is part of my spiritual practice. And I can truly say Saint Augustin’s words solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking – is the answer. It doesn’t matter what the question or issue is.
Guidelines for walking a labyrinth
Taken from Way of the Labyrinth, by Eve Eschner Hogan
1. Let go of all your expectations. The message of the labyrinth is often subtle. Just relax and enjoy this peaceful path of prayer.
2. Clear your mind and become aware of your breath. Be self-observant. Pay attention to what you experience as you walk.
3. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to walk. Some people will want to walk quickly, others slowly, some will run, others will dance.
4. A labyrinth is a two-way street. It is ok to pass! Those going in will meet those coming out. You may pass people or let others step around you, whichever is easiest. Pay attention to where you are on the labyrinth, step aside, resume your position and continue to walk
5. Emotions or feelings may be evoked. Relax, breathe, observe and let go, freeing your awareness for the next moment. Remember everything that happens in a labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor. The labyrinth will mirror to you what you need to see. Whatever you experience, it will offer insight as to what you need to pay attention to or amend in your life.
More ways to use a labyrinth
By Terry de Vries
1. Use everything that comes to your mind when you walk as a metaphor for what is happening in your life;
2. If you remember past events/traumas, use the walk as a means to release the past, emotional baggage and/or anything you need to let go of;
3. If you remember a dream, use the walk as a means to remember the dream and work with the dream as a message from your subconscious;
4. If you have a question, clearly state your question before you walk, then wait for the answer in the centre. The answer may come as a vision, a feeling, an insight, or sometimes later in a book or conversation;
5. Use the labyrinth walk as a body prayer, giving thanks and having gratitude for your life;
6. Use the walk as a meditation, to clear your thoughts and become quiet;
7. Say a prayer the whole time that you walk, using it as a means to connect with your prayer and the Divine Mother Father God;
8. Walk the labyrinth for other people, both living and dead, as a way to communicate with them and sending them prayers and light;
9. Skip or dance the labyrinth to create different playful moods;
10. Take a journal with your walk. Note down everything that comes into your consciousness. It might be a memory, a body sensation, a thought, an image, a scent. Reflect on your notes either after the walk or at a later stage;
11. Walk the labyrinth on your birthday. Reflect on the year that has passed and dream about the year ahead. Make birthday resolutions;
12. Walk the labyrinth to ask your deity of choice for help in difficult circumstances or situations;
13. Use the labyrinth to walk through your emotions (anger, fear, hurt, sadness, grief, envy, depression) to get to love.
REMEMBER to enter a labyrinth is to choose to walk a sacred path.
Is walking a labyrinth actually good for you?
Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School's Mind/Body Medical Institute found that focused walking meditations are highly efficient at reducing anxiety and eliciting what he calls the 'relaxation response'. He has proven this response has significant long-term health benefits, including lower blood pressure and breathing rates, reduced incidents of chronic pain, reduction of insomnia and improved fertility, and many other benefits. A regular meditative practice leads to greater powers of concentration and a sense of control and efficiency in one's life. Labyrinth walking is among the simplest forms of focused walking meditation, and the demonstrated health benefits have led hundreds of hospitals, health care facilities, and spas to install labyrinths in recent years.