Martin Buber, a twentieth-century existential philosopher and theologian said that” he could never hold a significant conversation with another person until he had heard the other person’s life story.” The reason behind his statement is that trust and understanding of others requires listening as a way to make meaningful connections. Listening needs to come first and immediately among people who are interacting. We need the experience of listening to know that we are not alone in the world. Listening allows us to form relationships and communities that challenge and support us as individuals.
Think about the radical nature of this view of the importance of listening! It changes much of the behavior we bring to situations we encounter in our lives. What happens when we meet others and we set ourselves the task of listening before we start to talk? After introductions and pleasantries what occurs if we ask a question of welcome and forego a statement about ourselves. Likely our interactions take on a different character that structures the time together around sharing.
It may seem a bit daunting at first. It’s not, however, a way of “psychologizing” interactions and relationships. It is a way of finding your freedom to “be yourself” by encouraging another to talk while you listen with attention, respect and lively curiosity.
Approaching interactions as a mutual invitation to experience the opportunity to listen and to speak clears the way for each person to respond and to ask clarifying questions. Time for conversation whether long or short happens naturally and easily, but, it starts with listening.
Listening is one of the greatest gifts we give to ourselves and to each other. Skillful listening involves attention, gestures and a willingness to engage and focus. All of the questionnaires and “tests” I’ve shared in this blog require listening for understanding and sharing. Listening is the basis for love; listening is the way we experience boundaries or limits; listening is how we learn about others and how we grow ourselves.
There is a distinction between “hearing” and “listening” that is deeply embedded in our English language. “Listen” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “hlystan” which means “hearing” and the word “hlosnian” which means to “wait in suspense”. When we listen, hearing what is said is combined with an intense psychological involvement between us and others.
Listening involves hearing several things in any interaction:
What is described? (Facts, events, situations, information conveyed)
How does another person feel? How do you feel?
Where is the energy? Where is the emphasis?
What are the bodies saying? Both the speaker’s body and the hearer’s body have actions and reactions that are important for listening.
Effective listening develops from a desire to acquire a skill that brings out the best in yourself and at the same time respects the dignity of other people. Common sense tells us that listening well improves our relationships. Steady practice in listening better is a habit that enhances meaningfulness among us. Listening leads to happiness.
An important part of people’s interactions is the way they communicate with others. The impact individuals have on one another depends upon what they are willing to share about themselves and their impression management in a variety of social situations. Often, however, are unaware of their disclosing style and, therefore, are either surprised or disconcerted at the reactions of others to them. The Self-Disclosure Questionnaire by Sidney Jouard encourages people to reveal their feelings about disclosure and assess their interpersonal impact.
Who Knows You?
People differ in the extent to which they let people know them. Naturally, the things that are true about your personality, your feelings, your problems, hopes, and actions will change over your life time. Therefore, the idea that others have about you will be out of date from time to time. What was true about you last week or last year may no longer be true. When you see people after a lapse of time, and you want them to know you as you are now, you tell them about yourself so that they have a more up to date picture of you. If you don’t want them to know, you don’t tell them, even if they ask you personal questions.
Some of the things about yourself you will regard as more personal and private than others; people differ widely in what they consider appropriate to let others know, and what they consider is nobody’s business but their own.
Below there is a list of topics that pertain to you. You have a reasonably good idea of how much about yourself you have let the people in your life know about you. Choose one as a reference and follow the directions for answering the questionnaire. This will yield an accurate picture of you as you are now.
Use the scale to indicate your answers:
0: The other person doesn’t know me in this respect because I haven’t disclosed this.
1: The other person has a general idea of me but I haven’t updated or completed it
2: The other person fully knows me because we have talked about it recently.
X: This is something I wouldn’t confide even if asked.
1. What you dislike about your overall appearance.
2. The things about your appearance that you like most, or are proudest of.
3. Your chief health concern, worry, or problem at the present time.
4. Your favorite spare time hobbies or interests.
5. Your food dislikes at present.
6. Your religious activity at present.
7. Your personal religious views.
8. What do you like to read?
9. What annoys you about your closest friend?
10. If any, what problems do you have with sex?
11. Your perspective on your love life.
12. Things about your own personality that worry or annoy you.
13. The chief pressures and strains in your daily work.
14. Things about the future that worry you.
15. What are you most sensitive about?
16. What you feel guilty about or ashamed of in the present.
17. Your views about what is morally acceptable.
18. The kinds of music you enjoy listening to the most.
19. The subjects you didn’t like in school.
20. The things you do to maintain or improve your appearance.
21. The kind of behaviors in others that make you furious.
22. The characteristics of your father that are/were unlikeable.
23. The unattractive characteristics of your mother.
24. Your most frequent daydream.
25. The feelings you have the most trouble controlling.
26. The biggest disappointment you have had in your life.
27. How you feel about your choice of life work.
28. What you regard as your handicaps in doing good work.
29. Your views on race in America.
30. Your views on race in America.
31. Your thoughts and feelings about religious groups not your own.
32. Whether or not you have planned some major decision soon.
33. The kind of jokes you like to hear.
34. Your savings amount or that you have none.
35. The possessions you are most proud of and take care with most often.
36. How you usually sleep.
37. Your favorite TV programs.
38. Your favorite comics.
39. The groups or clubs or organizations you belong to.
40. The beverages you don’t like to drink and your preferred beverages.
Julian B. Rotter is the developer of a forced-choice 20 item scale for measuring an individual’s degree if internal control and external control. This I – E test is widely used. The following are sample items taken from an earlier version of the test, but not, of course, in use in the final version. The reader can readily find for himself/herself whether he/she is inclined toward internal control or toward external control, simply by adding up the choices he makes on each side.
I more strongly believe that:
1a) Promotions are earned through hard work and persistence
b) Making a lot of money is largely a matter of getting the right breaks
2a) In my experience I have noticed that there is usually a direct connection between how hard I work and the results I get
b) Many times the reactions of others seem haphazard to me
3a) The number of divorces indicates that more and more people are not trying to make their marriages work
b) Marriage is largely a gamble
4a) When I am right I can convince others
b) It is silly to think that one can change another person’s basic attitudes
5a) In our society a person’s future earning power is dependent upon ability
b) Getting promoted is really a matter of being a little luckier than the next guy
6a) If one knows how to deal with people, they are easily led
b) I have little influence over the way other people behave
7a) In my case the rewards I get are the results of my efforts
b) Sometimes I feel my efforts don’t matter
8a) People like me can change the course of events if we speak out
b) Wishful thinking makes people think they can influence society
9a) I am the master of my fate
b) What happens to me is a matter of chance
10a) Getting along with people has to be practiced
b) It is almost impossible to figure out how to please some people
11a) Getting involved in political and social movements is good
b) Ordinary people are powerless to make their convictions felt
12a) Through determination and will power, people can change
b) Early experiences determine us and attempts to change will fail
13a) Most auto accidents are the result of careless driving
b) Weather conditions and poorly made vehicles causes most accidents
14a) People who commit crimes are usually the products of poverty and emotional deprivation
b) People become criminals because they would rather profit at the expense of others rather than work
15a) Friendships are founded on “chemistry”, if it is wrong you can’t make it right
b) When I behave in a friendly and interested way, people will probably like me
16a) Most people would like to support themselves but are unable to do so sometimes
b) Dependent people are often sick or lazy and cannot or won’t work
17a) I believe that I can achieve my goals if I clearly define them and direct my energy toward achieving them
b) It is best to resign yourself to the fact that the future is largely determined by the circumstances into which you were born
18a) Passing from childhood to old age is like travelling in a canoe without a paddle; one can only hold tightly to the sides and hope not to be dashed against rocks
b) I feel that my life is like a sailing vessel, and I am its Captain firmly in command at the helm
19a) Inequality has existed for all of history so we must accept it as inevitable and part of the human condition
b) Inequality can be overcome through the concerted efforts of political groups and governments
20a) Certain people are “meant” for each other, if they are lucky enough to encounter one another
b) An enduring relationship between two individuals is largely the result of empathy, consideration, commitment
There is a game of questions through which you identify yourself to other people, who in turn may or may not identify themselves to you. The game may be played at many levels that are more or less intimate. No matter when it is played, however, the goal is to disclose who you are as a person. It may be played with a perfect stranger, with a close friend or an acquaintance, with a spouse, or any family member. The set of rules by which it is played probably varies with each relationship. Basically it is a game of “invitations” that involves the process of making ourselves known to other people and in turn getting to know who they are.
Both you and another person have a list of 40 questions varying in their degree of personal intimacy. When the game begins, both you and your partner will have selected 5 questions to ask each other from a list. The only firm rule in playing the game is that you may not ask your partner a question which you, yourself, are not willing to answer. Otherwise, you are on your own and may explore the questions at any level of intimacy you choose, until one of the players declines the invitation to answer the question. At this point you should move on to another question.
For each question on the questionnaire, indicate how much information you, yourself, would be willing to tell the other person. Mark each question on your score sheet as follows:
Mark a 0 for each question you would be unwilling to talk about with your partner.
Mark a 1 if you would be willing to talk about that question in general terms with your partner, but would not be willing to reveal any extremely personal information about yourself.
Mark a 2 only on those questions which you would be willing to confide completely and very personally to your partner.
Name_______________ Partner’s Name______________
My Willingness To Disclose
Questions I Intend To Ask
My Invitation Refused
How to accept or decline an “invitation” to answer a question
In playing the game you should try to feel comfortable and unembarrassed. If you do not wish to answer a question your partner may ask, simply say “I decline” and you both move on to another question. Remember there are only five questions to ask the other person and you must also be willing to answer them yourself.
1. If someone sent you a bouquet of flowers what kind would you like?
2. What do you dislike the most about having a complete physical examination?
3. How do you feel about engaging in sexual activities prior to or outside of marriage?
4. With whom have you discussed your dental health?
5. What are your favorite spare-time hobbies or interests?
6. What do feel the guiltiest about, or most ashamed of in your past?
7. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
8. What movies have you seen lately?
9. What were your favorite subjects in school?
10. What questions would you ask a potential date?
11. What are your favorite colors?
12. How many people have you been attracted to in the past year?
13. How can you tell when you are falling in love?
14. How often do you kiss someone?
15. What age do you think a President of the United States should be?
16. What type of foods do you enjoy/
17. What thoughts have you had that repulse you?
18. What techniques do you use to attract people?
19. What do you like to read?
20. What are your feelings about your friends?
21. What foods are best for your health?
22. In what ways do you think various members of your family may be “maladjusted”?
23. Where would you like to go on a trip?
24. What kind of furniture would you like to have?
25. How many colds do you usually have per year?
26. What are your favorite sports?
27. How do you feel about your love life?
28. Would you like to travel to some part of this country?
29. What kind of group activities do you usually enjoy?
30. How tall do you like men to be?
31. What is your favorite look in a woman?
32. What schools have you attended?
33. What are the persons like whom you have loved?
34. How important do you feel education is to a person?
35. What do you think about fitness?
36. How do you feel about people of the opposite sex touching you as they talk?
37. How do you feel about same sex people touching you as they talk?
38. Which celebrities do you like the most?
39. Which of your family members do you resemble?
40. What do you think makes a book a bestseller?
After much experience facilitating labyrinth walks, I have a mantra that guides my interactions with people: engagement is caught not taught! I can’t teach it, only model it. I can’t motivate it, only encourage it. People come to walk the labyrinth with some inclination or curiosity but the level of engagement in the walk varies greatly.
With a reassuring, warm welcome and equipped with my own eagerness and high level of engagement I offer people the simple opportunity to know the walk. As is true of myself, no one knows everything about the experience. Through practice however, what isn’t known can slowly be understood and result in a deep personal understanding. I urge people to recognize that what you don’t know today, you might feel or know the next time. Engagement is a process. It demands attention, intention and above all practice.
There are at least two aspects of engagement that are part of the labyrinth experience. Firstly, the individual determines his or her level of engagement during the walk and subsequent walks. The context in which engagement happens is a unique combination of interior and external events. Since the ritual is focused on walking, not talking, a person has the freedom to proceed according to what he or she desires. Just as the pace of the walk is personal, the speed and depth of engagement is idiosyncratic.
Secondly, engaging others on a walk may be included or excluded as useful and important parts of people’s experience. Some walks may be more communal while at other times the sense of companionship may be more abstract. Enjoying a variety of different types of walks is probably the best advice I have for individuals and groups. Successful engagement in the practice of walking the labyrinth equals satisfaction either way, anyway.
There are times in life when stale routines, money problems, quarrels and turned backs leave us depleted. We realize energy is low; we find ourselves at a dead end and in darkness. We feel bad; we feel living is asking too much of us. There is no compassion to be found and we have lost our daring and persistence. We are in a sorry state!
Walking into the labyrinth provides some nourishment. Walking into the labyrinth promises some gladness and hope. Walking into the labyrinth offers encouragement to journey from bad to better.
As we release our bruised hearts and our harried minds to the fresh rhythms of the pathway we open to music and laughter and celebration of life. As we reflect in the center of the labyrinth the very air changes as our spirits are uplifted. On the return walk out of the labyrinth we lose our confusion. We find the strength to go back into the strain and stress of living. We are renewed. Something marvelous has happened!
I believe God is present when we seek to pray and meditate by walking the labyrinth. The transformation of our human perspectives occurs because we enter the spiral of faith and retreat from the negative preoccupations of life. Embracing this sacred time and space for communicating with God is life enhancing. We rediscover our strengths and we share with each other the common intention to ask for help. We become different as we recover from our indifference to God’s grace. We have to do this more often!
I was facilitating a group walk in an outdoor labyrinth on a pleasant and cold day last week. The people who ventured forth in early spring on Cape Cod to spend thirty-five minutes slowly walking in brisk air surely had only one common intention. They wanted to walk the labyrinth for whatever surprises might be in store. They brought a playful mood to the experience. All of them felt exhilarated in the fresh air. Their eagerness shone from their smiling faces.
We began the walk with a brief focusing exercise. I suggested that “thinking about God’s enduring presence in our lives is always reassuring and often leads to serene feelings during a walk in the labyrinth. Today, however, let’s think about the surprises we might experience as we walk. Let’s notice the random thoughts or feelings that might come up.” I talked about a research survey which found that one in eight people report hearing holy voices or seeing spiritual visions. “Whether entirely explainable or not, let’s be ready for surprises as we walk the labyrinth”, I said.
There was laughter and some joking as we quieted ourselves before stepping into the labyrinth. The sounds of wind and the “early” bird songs replaced our voices as we set out on our journey in search of surprises. Each person appeared to adopt a sincere individual focus as though expecting to find a treasure just ahead.
At the end of the walk, we gathered for sharing. Once again there was hilarity and fun in the words and actions of the group. The group wasn’t any less connected as a result of our personal experiences in the walk. However, the enrichment and inspiration that came from the humor of the “surprises” we shared was uplifting for all of us. God is ready to surprise us; what an idea!
Meditation is widely recognized as an adjunct to therapies and other healing strategies in health settings. There are examples of meditation that enhances relaxation in prolonged treatments. Praise abounds for the clarity of mind that meditation induces for understanding and bearing chronic illnesses. Meditative visualization allows healing to proceed more quickly and consistently because it encourages people to imagine a premeditated scenario of health. Meditation connects people to their intuition and mobilizes their spirituality to help meet health challenges.
Illnesses and their treatment often result in people feeling lost. They are cut- off from the spiritual purposes of their lives and the meaningfulness of their life’s journey. Opportunities to connect to God and to spiritual experiences become fewer and farther away from the events brought by illness and treatments. People may recognize the need for changing their mindset and their circumstances but in some ways usual behaviors are no longer useful to accomplish those goals. It takes every bit of energy simply to cope with the problems. Another approach such as walking or using the labyrinth must be introduced.
Walking the labyrinth or using a finger labyrinth for meditation is remarkably effective in promoting healing. It frees people to focus in a unique and different way. It inspires new outlooks. Positive feelings and hopes spring from quiet reflection in the labyrinth. Expressing renewed commitment to personal wants and needs is easier during a contemplative time in the labyrinth. Trusting as a result of being in the labyrinth ignites self-worth and creates an enhanced perception of one’s value in the world. The shortages of energy, money or companionship inherent in dealing with ill health and the healing process suddenly seem less consequential with the help of meditative walks in the labyrinth.
More and more labyrinths are being built on hospital grounds and in mental health facilities. Healing gardens are appearing in communities all over the world. People are bringing life to the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a space that renews life, even rekindles the life of the spirit, with heartfelt use.
The simple act of walking the pathway of the labyrinth has remarkable consequences. When you take the initiative and persist in regularly scheduled follow-up walks, the action results in new momentum for your life. This newly acquired attitude quickly begins to foster perspectives and goals that were not even on the horizon. Outlooks are expanded. Outcomes are facilitated. In other words, you become a new you.
People who say it cannot happen should recognize those who have done it and are doing it!
There was a woman, for example, who long ago gave up on persistent weight gain. As her body mass increased her health deteriorated. Still she wasn’t motivated to get control of the issues that were contributing to her obvious problem. Once she began to acquire the discipline of walking the labyrinth, the issues became more apparent. Then she felt on the brink of addressing some of them. Persevering, she sought both spiritual and practical advice. Finally she made plans for changing her way of living. She kept walking until she succeeded.
There was a man whose self-imposed loneliness caused him to try walking the labyrinth. The first few attempts made him feel uncomfortable but he valiantly kept coming to the labyrinth at his church. Most of his walks were solitary, so he wasn’t walking for company. He developed a habit of talking to God on his walks. Gradually, he was able to examine some of the unexamined feelings he had stored inside and had left un-communicated for years. Finally he joined a men’s coffee club in his town. A few friends and a predictable social calendar raised his confidence but he is still walking the labyrinth. He has acknowledged that he may be a spiritual seeker of sorts.
Well, if any and all of us are sincere seekers, walking the labyrinth is a simple action that provides a gateway to growth and change and vision.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away,” said Picasso. I often think of his remark when I stand at the edge of the labyrinth before stepping into a walk. The labyrinthine design draws me to recall Picasso’s paintings at certain periods of his work. Looking at these paintings has a similar effect on my thoughts and feelings as walking the labyrinth affords.
Finding our gifts is not easy. We have to reflect on our possibilities and potentials. We have to practice our choices. We have to grow into our excellence. Finding our gifts and their meanings is a task for us as individuals as well as a communal effort. No one finds his or her gift alone. The world in which we live helps to form our self awareness and our self appraisal. We succeed in a context, whether in spite of it or because of it.
Sometimes, as we go about living and working our gifts come naturally to us, or so it seems. Sometimes something stops us in our tracks and we have to take the time we need to consider our gifts. Walking the labyrinth provides an opportunity for discerning and for envisioning our gifts. The experience of walking forward to the center and returning clarifies the direction of our lives, its meaning and purpose when we seek it.
Finding, however, is not keeping. That brings up the matter of giving our gifts away. Walking the pathway of the labyrinth we may dare to consider “if” and “how” we are to share them. Gifts are not important when they are hoarded. Gifts are of no benefit if they are scattered. Our gifts have a purpose to serve when they are given in gratitude to others whether in formal or informal ways. Walking the labyrinth provides encouragement for finding and giving.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
“When the mind, divided and torn, is drawn into so many and such weighty matters, where can it return to itself, so as to recollect itself…?” Pope Gregory the Great was guiding us to prayer in sacred spaces by acknowledging our desperation. He was pointing us to our inner spirit of serenity that comes as a gift from God and is always on offer to us. Only our choice to access it is limited, never the potential to experience it.
Walking the labyrinth encourages us to bravely link our human desperation and our God given sense of serenity. Attaching ourselves to God’s presence and promise in prayerful contemplation becomes an active, heartfelt choice. As we retreat from specific daily cares into meditation on our walk, we encounter strengthening thoughts and feelings. Desperation may frankly be seen as an all too human “sickness” that comes as a result of emotions that have no ready spot in our life situation. Serenity may be recognized as courage, a cardinal virtue manifested by many others in times of peril. We may reflect on our heroic but limited capacities for human struggle. We may humbly enlist God’s power through the wisdom and revelation of Scripture.
Changes in our perspective are the experiences we seek in bringing our lives into the labyrinth. With God’s help we may be as startled as St Paul or as relieved as occasionally being glad we are alive. Change of any kind, however, may be counted as success. Recollection doesn’t result in all or none or sick or well, miserable or happy. More likely we experience more or less, better or worse. We only do what we can to handle something better, to suffer less. To gain the most from walking the labyrinth and gain it more quickly, we must have the heart and will to keep going forward in our lives, in conversation with God.
Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
You may have heard the labyrinth called a tool. I know I have used this idea to guide people in understanding the reasons we walk the labyrinth in a variety of settings. I’ve also suggested that the labyrinth is a metaphor. I have asked people to consider the labyrinth an imaginary and mystical space. I’ve told people that artists and gardeners claim the labyrinth as part of their work in the world. Obviously, the labyrinth can be seen in many different ways.
Today, I’d like to comment on what it means to use the name “tool” in the context of describing the labyrinth. I think the labyrinth is a “tool” because it it’s something that can be adapted at whatever level that might be appropriate for those who seek to benefit from it.
Walking the labyrinth can be an exercise in meandering relaxation. It can just as well facilitate concentration or aid clarification regarding some issue or problem. It affords contemplation time without interruption. It can be an attractive meeting place for purposeful activity.
In sacred settings the labyrinth can be used as a meditation tool that tunes prayer and more broadly spiritual growth. Walking the labyrinth clears the mind of the extraneous and the everyday matters as a broom, a mop or more efficiently a vacuum would do.
In secular settings walking the labyrinth focusses the mind like a camera or microscope. When I’ve asked groups to free-associate to thinking of the labyrinth as a tool to use for transforming their experience, they offer wrench, hammer, drill, screwdriver and other common mechanical tools. Often their imaginations take them in an electronics direction. The bottom line: the idea that the labyrinth can be useful is familiar to people.
Finally, I think seeing the labyrinth as a “tool” gives it a more every day appeal. The easier it is to feel comfortable walking the labyrinth, the more often people will seek out the benefits of doing it. Responding to the appeal and popularity and usefulness of labyrinths is bound to motivate people to include them among life’s best things. as they have proven to be over thousands of years.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
I’ve been thinking about “bringing life to the labyrinth” as a theme for facilitating people’s meditative walks. This week it occurred to me that the labyrinth is particularly suited for pondering where we are in our lives and how we got to this place. All of us have found our lives to “be” far from where they should have been. We all have experienced the realization that our lives are not exactly what we wanted them to be. Most of us, however, give little time and attention to what decisions or circumstances led us to the place we find ourselves now. Often, even less attention is given to growth and change, as we are busy with the demands of simply living our lives as they have turned out.
Entering the labyrinth we sense a “place-less-ness” that clears our way to take a fresh look at life. In the labyrinth it doesn’t matter how much money we have, how healthy a body we have, how nice a home we own, or how intelligent and clever we are. Status and many of the identifying characteristics we possess are left at the gate. In this place for a period of time, we are spontaneously let loose to create new perspectives. We may not be able to fully transform our lives but we surely can discover the means to reform choices and behaviors for our own benefit.
Walking the labyrinth we also have the opportunity to acknowledge the important connections we have to other people on our life’s journey. For some of us, our relationships are a big part of why we are where we are in our lives. None of us lives life alone. Whether we see ourselves as rugged individuals who control our destinies or we are compliant followers in families and communities, in the labyrinth our views of ourselves can be reshaped, if we desire.
Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Walking the labyrinth with a point of reference such as prayer makes a sacred space for meditation and pious contemplation. The time intentionally set aside for praying creates a yearning for an opportunity to connect with the divine while traversing a human space. Encountering the magic and mystery of personal existence leads to joy, meaning, hope and peace as we walk in and out of the labyrinth absorbed by prayer.
When the focus is prayer, walking the labyrinth is a significant statement of faith in God. The walking becomes a journey in Christian symbolism in anticipation of meeting God on the spiraling path of the labyrinth and of life. Walking acts as a meditative service equal to reciting the psalms, canticles and the reading of scripture. Meditation highlights the continuity in time between finite, human experiences and the infinity of God.
It is not unusual to experience encouragement, gratitude for blessings, even startling inspiration while walking the labyrinth. There is frequently increased calm, clarifying insight, release, and rejuvenation and healing. Combining walking and praying yields both dark and light moments just as living does. Being perplexed is followed by joyfulness, confusion follows hope, and sometimes hurt and hope tumble over each other until there is simply curiosity at the power of God’s spirit.
Walking the labyrinth in prayer is like planting a fairy garden with seeds collected from other spiritual events in life. As with any garden venture, at first the garden sleeps, then it creeps and later, God willing, it leaps. That’s is precisely why some people walking the labyrinth start to dance, some get up on tip toes and some are apt to skip. The spirit moves everything: plants and flowers, wind and water, human minds and hearts. All that people have to do is walk and pray.
Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
There isn’t a more necessary modern skill than resiliency. We live with challenges that in the best circumstances require courage and risk tolerance. In more traumatic circumstances, we must come to terms with our feelings and behaviors even when we haven’t yet absorbed them. Modern living is hard and complicated.
I’m thinking particularly of the information we get from political and social situations in war zones. A report or story about horrific events such as school shootings or the slaying of zoo animals calls forth thoughts and feelings that must be managed. Even the awareness that our technological heroism may be mistaken, such as the “Jade Rabbit” “dying on the moon, may cause us consternation and concern. Add to the situation the fact that some of this information isn’t even personal but we know about it in detail anyway. Things are simply just out of our control.
It may be hard to believe, at first, that regularly walking the labyrinth can help us manage our reactions to the sensations and perceptions that bombard us in our information saturated environments. Believe me, it can, because walking the labyrinth builds resiliency.
Resiliency guides and protects us. It makes us feisty; it helps us have confidence in our abilities to lead self-sufficient lives full of puzzles we can attempt to solve, to use insight and spiritual strength to live stable and rewarding lives. Often it is our personal resiliency that encourages us and allows us to ask for support and help. This is especially true when we ask God, through prayer, for perseverance.
Walking the labyrinth we may find in its spatial patterns and its time demands a successful response to the matters we wrestle with in our hectic and distracting lives.
Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Personally, I don’t entirely endorse the never-ending quest to try something new or exciting or even creative. Living a rewarding life in a busy world is difficult enough without an over- load of choices and activities that demand time and energy, in my view. So, it’s exceptional that I would ask others to consider walking the labyrinth on a regular basis. Let me, however, assure you of the benefits.
There is a spirit of active, imaginative adventure that derives from a walk in the labyrinth. The adventure may be internal but it is deeply exciting. It is a kind of ingenuity that motivates new outlooks and new goals. It is ingenious play that spontaneously explores novelty in the corners of living. It is an alternative form of exercise that engages mind and body in fresh ways. It is magically habit forming!
Without a doubt walking the labyrinth opens doors to more robust wellness. It alters attitude. It uplifts mood. It clarifies perspective. It calms feelings. It stretches the muscles and soothes the nervous system. There is some recent research that suggests that this type of walking meditation results in positive changes in gene expression. All of this may help explain the sudden popularity of labyrinths and the practice of walking in them.
Trying something new is not always successful, as we all know. Trying out the labyrinth, however, doesn’t require an investment in equipment. Walking the labyrinth usually occurs in relative privacy. Silence often prevails so critical comments of others are at a minimum. Manuals and lesson books are nonexistent. Abundance, enthusiasm and self-love are plentiful and available on-demand in the labyrinth. Wisdom, both secular and sacred, is accessed as we encounter the challenges and risks of our personal experiences in walking the labyrinth. Well in this case, new may be better.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
I sometimes think I was born in a Library! Words ignite my imagination and pique my curiosity; reading is one of my greatest pleasures. Writing about the labyrinth has become one of my most satisfying achievements.
Preparing this week’s post I got lost in juxtaposing two words that rhyme and signify much of my life’s journey. They are ‘strive’ and ‘thrive”. Consulting the Thesaurus, I enjoyed the related words for thrive: flourish, prosper, bloom, blossom and succeed. Related words for strive were very different and more complicated: struggle, make every effort, attempt, try hard and do all you can. Both words, however, seem to proclaim that in my life I should pull out all the stops. Whether I am striving or thriving I should hear a boom!
I chose ‘thrive’ to take into a walk in the labyrinth this week. Those related words seemed better suited to the mood that settles over me when I walk there. Almost from the outset, I feel growth and renewal beckoning. A spirit of joyousness surrounds me. I sense a divine presence urging me to connect with all creation. Deep gratitude flows inside me. I thrive to the fullest while I walk.
In my busy working life there are many opportunities to strive. Those offer distinct satisfactions. Professional activities that include a variety of contacts with people are a source of wonder. I look forward to each day. Opportunities to stop and appreciate how striving and thriving are linked in my life, however, have to be shaped; the labyrinth’s very structure reminds me to do it!
Commitment to walking the labyrinth guarantees I will make the time and space in my routines to pause my striving in order to spend my life beautifully and “thrive”.
Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Walking the labyrinth becomes devotional when it is frequent and purposeful. Often that doesn’t mean having an agenda or set of goals for each walk. It means being open to new thoughts and feelings whatever they may be and however they may come to you as you walk. Bringing your life to the labyrinth with an attitude of hopefulness and trust is freeing. It is also courageous. Making time and space in your life for growth, renewal, insight and transformation is risky!
Walking the labyrinth is a place to rely on for inspiration which is why it lends itself to devotional practice. Like other opportunities for prayer, worship and meditation, walking the labyrinth creates an environment for transcending, uplifting, and enriching life. A sense of abundance pervades every walk. Enthusiasm for fresh possibilities and unimagined potentials flows through and in and around every walk, every time.
Devotion to walking the labyrinth has an obvious effect. It invites with regularity the spiritual, the divine presence into your ordinary experience. In that way walking the labyrinth becomes a pilgrimage, a journey towards personal expansion and knowledge of God. Walking the labyrinth promotes a greater awareness of the meaning and purpose of your individual life in relation to God’s plan for humanity.
My personal experience after eleven years of devotion to walking the labyrinth has led me to author a book. “Bringing Life to the Labyrinth”(TM) shares images of labyrinths, discusses mystical and wellness uses of labyrinths, and brings together ideas and concepts of the contemporary importance of labyrinths. It is written to be a companion to walking the labyrinth. It seeks to connect people to one another in their devotion. Its resolve is to pilot the formation of a labyrinth community. I am humbly grateful for the inspiration that underlies “bringing life to the labyrinth.”
Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Signals from just outside our ordinary awareness are faint. We can barely recognize them. Personal change is nearby but rarely are the messages blaring. We may begin with thoughts and feelings but we have to make more of an effort to connect with our inklings and intuitions. We have to let go of preoccupations with the “whys and wherefores” of everyday life. We have to spend some time being receptive to the unconscious, the macrocosmic mind, the artistic mind that creates images. Wishing to transform some part of ourselves requires imagination and a mobilizing of personal creativity.
We may be seeking education or guidance. We might want our everyday life and relationships to be different but can’t envision it. Our sexuality may be puzzling. Our ambitions might seem out of reach and still they don’t let us alone. People’s progresses aren’t determined by our DNA and so we constantly need updating. That is easy to say, not very easy to make time and design a place for doing it. Transformation is especially hard because it demands that we take a different route from those we use to solve problems or design our plans. If we desire personal change we have to take the risk of being inactive, quiet and wait for what occurs to us. The two outstanding risks lie in not anticipating or liking our own creative outcomes and having nothing occur to us for a long time. And furthermore it’s something we have to do for ourselves.
Happily we can make use of the labyrinth as a meditative tool. Walking the labyrinth for personal transformation centers our attention and presents the ambience for reflection. It is amenable to secular or spiritual attitudes and therefore it is personally customized. The labyrinth is a secure physical place to let images flow slowly or fast and furiously because it contains and embraces us. We are free to wander in body, mind and spirit. Whether we meet ourselves, each other, or the divine spirit, we can be assured that what happens will have meaning and will be important. A flash of insight, a sunlit image, a whispered sound, a breeze might convey a treasure for us. Another’s smile, a hug from someone passing us on the pathway, a pleasant glance across the labyrinth may offer all the support we need to confirm our transformations.
Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
I’ve been fortunate to facilitate meditative walks in the labyrinth in breakout sessions at major conferences for professionals in healthcare and in aviation. Over the years I’ve had a learning curve to discover ways to approach professional development in these two unique contexts. I would like to share a general perspective from my experiences.
A majority of healthcare personnel have some knowledge and sometimes familiarity with labyrinths. Physicians, nurses and medical technicians encounter them in hospital settings, nursing facilities and churches. Community labyrinths sometimes figure prominently in their experience. They feel somewhat comfortable conceding to a labyrinth walk focused on change and bringing new perspectives to their professional roles.
Aviation professionals, most often pilots and mechanics, do not initially appear at ease with walking the labyrinth as a way to promote professional growth. That doesn’t mean they are uneasy; it’s only that they find themselves in a novel context for exploring professional transformation. They require some preparation to benefit from walking the labyrinth. Happily they are usually pleased by the new vocabulary and community spirit.
Professional transformation for everyone is a goal to extend work skills. It starts with intention. Although it may be difficult and needs prompting, it is contemplating letting go of the professional roles we have learned and repeated; looking at the jobs we are used to doing and thinking of ourselves otherwise; examining the status and delight in what we have achieved; questioning ourselves as the leader others admire. Transformation anticipates that we might reinvent, even re-envision ourselves. Why would we want to do that? Some outcomes include: setting new work goals for ourselves is rewarding; analyzing our connections to and the inspiration we get from our work life renews our energy to do our work; reflecting on ourselves as professionals contributes to an overall sense of self-esteem. Why, if given the opportunity, wouldn’t we take the time to walk the labyrinth as an impetus to these transformations?
Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
As 2014 begins I want to let go of my personal objection to defining the labyrinth. Throughout the previous blog posts you may have noticed my preference to describe and to explore the labyrinth but not to offer a definition of what exactly it is. Definitions are often confining and exist outside the imaginative, the metaphorical and the creative. I would rather my readers have an infinitely creative concept of the labyrinth. I’d rather encourage them to discover the labyrinth for themselves as they have their own experiences with it. I favor highlighting the mystery of the labyrinth, as art, as cultural history, as spiritual inspiration.
Enough readers, however, have asked for a definition. They have good reasons for needing one. Wanting to share their interest in walking the labyrinth in conversation they require ways to put their experiences into words. Often they have to start by stating an answer to the question, “what is a labyrinth?”
The most encompassing definition I can offer is, “the labyrinth is a walking meditation tool for personal and professional transformation and community building. It is used in sacred settings for spiritual growth, worship and prayer.” Labyrinth activities include presentations, unguided and facilitated contemplative walks, workshops and breakout meetings during retreats and conferences. Labyrinths are used in supportive healing ceremonies for people challenged by physical and mental illnesses. Labyrinths help to focus and encourage people seeking health and wellness discipline. Labyrinth programs are sometimes tailored to people seeking to unleash their creative potential. Labyrinths can also serve as a core feature of a community, becoming a meeting place and a place of respite in a busy environment.
There are as many reasons for and uses of the labyrinth as people can envision. We are ready to relate to walking the labyrinth in many different ways. In that respect it is a providential resource for all of us to use and cherish.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
To become deeply involved in the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth is a simple matter for people. The desire to walk comes first. Then predictably we experience ourselves as figures on the pathways. Then we recognize others, real or imagined who may be walking with us. Slowly as we walk over and over for a period of time we go beyond the limits of our personal outlook. We begin to perceive everything as a wonderful whole. We identify with as many people as possible. We seek and search for an imaginary point from which we can expand our vision as much as possible. The vistas of human spiritual life spontaneously present themselves.
These steps along the path into and out of the labyrinth don’t happen according to a predetermined schedule. Walks may number in the hundreds before a sense of meaningfulness emerges. Years may go by before time changes our usual outlook. Transformation won’t be hurried and it can’t be faked. Walking the labyrinth doesn’t leave room for posturing or pretending. Spiritual practice demands a space and time of its own.
As we practice, entering the center of the labyrinth encourages us to take the time we need to exercise our imaginations. What are our sensations? What do we perceive? What is happening to us in this particular surrounding? What do we see and hear? What in our thoughts and feelings is clarified? Is walking really a prayer?
Holy Scripture tells us many stories of the kind of expansion of spirit that occurs when human beings strive to encounter God. The stories recount that God is also searching for us. These experiences occur in a variety of settings, although the time and place is always made sacred. Perhaps the Labyrinth can be viewed as a space that humans and God have agreed upon as having the potential to be sacred. The labyrinth looks and feels unique, as it has for centuries. In churches, especially it shines forth as poetical, artistic and it draws people forward on to its pathways, into its center. It’s not an impossible idea to think of it as an imaginary vantage point where human spirit meets divine glory, is it?
Where do writers and painters find their inspiration? How are creative artists motivated to work? What’s behind the impulse to create something novel and artful? Perhaps many of us ask ourselves these and other questions about our own creativity.
I want to suggest that walking the labyrinth assists in manifesting creativity, especially when walking routinely happens. Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest, says that creativity is the time and place “where the divine meets the human.” He suggests that “the most prayerful, most spiritually powerful act a person can undertake is to create, at his or her own level, with a consciousness of the place from which that gift arises.” Walking the labyrinth has an ambiance which encourages us to focus our attention on our personal creative impulses. It quiets the mind to make space for transformation of vague notions into potentials and beyond into actions. As the walk goes forward, the spirit of creativity can soar.
As this spirit shines, some of the time in spite of ourselves, there develops a sense that if we keep on the path maybe it’s possible to create something different from what we do in everyday living. Perhaps we contain within ourselves more and better talents than we acknowledge. We might perceive that being busy and productive isn’t the only goal in life. A realization may waft over us that other “contents” need to be worked out of ourselves. With these experiences our mood changes. We may accept that the divine, likely, is breathing on us. What a fantastic idea that is! Anything is possible. “All is well; and all manner of things shall be well” said Julian of Norwich. We may become, quite literally, part of God’s creation.
As we return along the labyrinth path, we may feel eager to share the gifts of insight the walk has facilitated. Yes, we respond, I will make beauty, I will give blessings, and I will bring my best self to my community. In thanksgiving for my creativity, I will grow my heart.
It’s the season to be jolly. It’s the season of joy that most of us look forward to all year. It’s also a time when the quiet of the labyrinth beckons us to reflection. Standing at the start of a walk, we pause to discern what purpose we might have that fits this time of year.
Reflection may include those things we need to let go of in order to find space within ourselves for the joy and jolliness of the season. Evelyn Underhill, mystic and author, suggests we pray, “O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where we hide memories and tendencies on which we do not care to look, but which we will not deter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them; the persistent buried grudges, the half-acknowledged enmity which is still smoldering; the bitterness of that loss we have not turned into sacrifice; the private comfort we cling to; the secret fear of failure which saps our initiative and really is inverted pride; the pessimism which is an insult to your joy; Lord we bring all these to you, and we review them with shame and penitence in your steadfast light.”
Reflection may lift us above the ordinary to find a truer inspiration of the holidays. Reflection strengthens our resolve to express thanksgiving, gratitude and love. We take this opportunity to take the time that we need to feel and think our way into the spirit of the season. Contentment, wrote Francis de Sales in the sixteenth century, is feeling the providential care of God. God’s supreme gift feels as a child feels going out for a walk with her parents. Holding hands, picking fruit and delighting in the world might be the path to jolliness and joy for all of us.
These reflections and so many more come easily while walking the labyrinth.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
The joy I feel when I walk in the labyrinth transcends age. I was uplifted when I was young. I was energized when I was a busy professional in mid- life. Now I am astounded by the appreciation I feel for this contemplative opportunity. I am a mature adult in the prime of my life and I realize how much I value this particular spiritual practice.
There is purpose and meaning that reveals itself as I walk the labyrinth. I have an increased awareness of aging and its importance. Walking guides me in adapting to changes that accompany my sense that time is more and more precious. I have thoughts of cherishing myself as I am right now. I feel the letting go of who I was in favor of who I am. I look forward to the challenges, struggles and the surprises that make my life unique. I believe God is with me as I walk. I feel heartened on each and every walk.
Most of what I know about the purpose of living a long, active life I learned from boating with my grandfather and praying with my grandmother. They were the ideal people I loved best as a child. One from my mother, the other from my father, they are still my guides. They both prized healthy bodies, satisfying relationships and most importantly earnest spiritual lives. I always knew I couldn’t go wrong if I followed their paths. The spiraling path of the labyrinth is more than a metaphor for me.
Walking the labyrinth raises my expectations not only of following my grandparents’ example but also developing my own spiritual goals. I know meditation is an essential part of mind, body and spiritual wellness. I think I need thoughtful moments, freedom to imagine, time to feel around inside my inner privacy. Truly, walking the labyrinth facilitates these experiences for me. I am grateful for it. My life is enriched because of my devotion to it.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Let’s consider what makes a “thin place” before we look at the way the labyrinth fits the description. The term,”thin place”, like the name”labyrinth” has ancient origins in many different cultures. The Celtic people used it to indicate mesmerizing places in the environment. They suggested that heaven and earth are only 3 feet apart but in thin places that distance is shorter. Thin places are deep however, and they afford us glimpses of transcendence, infinite time and space, the divine.
Early Christians viewed a thin place as a meeting place between the material world and the spiritual realm. It is where the eternal seeps through to the physical world and thereby to us. For them, thin places were often sacred spaces in Basilicas and Churches. Mirea Eliode, author of “The Sacred and the Profane” discusses the religious context of thin places, “some parts of space are qualitatively different from others.” Thin places transform us and we become more fully ourselves having been inspired by being in them.
Buddhists tell us that sacred spaces get us in touch with “suchness”. While these places may not be beautiful or tranquil, as we might expect, they usually jolt us into fresh ways of thinking and feeling. We find within ourselves new, unanticipated sensations and perceptions that stir us. We become quiet, relaxed and beguiled.
Perhaps you can see the comparisons emerging. If you’ve been following our progress in understanding and walking the labyrinth in this blog space, you might realize that you can plan for encountering thinness. You need not wait to discover thin places, although that will always happen. You can choose to increase the opportunity to find this solitary experience. I recall the Apache proverb, “Wisdom sits in places”. Some or many of us may find wisdom in the labyrinth. One person’s walk in the labyrinth will not be the same as another’s, of course, but often when we walk together we enhance each other’s awareness of what we seek from our time on the spiraling pathway.
As usual, have no expectations and don’t follow another’s style. Simply let loose, unmask, lose your bearings and find new ones on your walk in the labyrinth.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
The place to start a meditative walk in the labyrinth is before you step on the path. Prepare to be open to the unexpected places the walk will take you. Stand at the entrance for a period of time and think about yourself. What feelings or images, needs or concerns occur to you? Calmly gaze at the patterns that make the labyrinth. Commit to a self-contained experience, free from distractions. Walking the labyrinth is a gift to you. There is treasure to be found and cherished.
As you walk inward toward the center of the labyrinth, breathe deeply and relax your body. Trust the path to guide you to a significant thought, feeling, image or insight. These may come to you in simple ways or in flashes of the miraculous. You may notice things around you as though for the first time. Serenity may evolve from the peacefulness you discover. Resilience might shape your perspective of something troubling. You might identify a new source of energy to carry you forward. Pay attention to yourself as you walk.
Time spent at the center of the labyrinth allows you to deepen the meditative state of your mind and body. Here you can acknowledge that you are a seeker, a pilgrim, and a petitioner on a life’s journey of your own. Here you can recognize the support you are ready to ask for or accept. Here you can frame the love that keeps you strong in the most personal way. Don’t hurry out of this part of your walk. Take the time you need.
Walking outward on the spiraling path you may now be somewhat lost in your sense of time and space. Have confidence in the pattern to make you feel safe. The pace may be slowed, your thoughts may be fleeting and disorganized. Try to give up routines of self-observation. Refrain from judging yourself. Take advantage of the remaining minutes of the walk for appreciating what you’ve gained from walking the labyrinth.
Theologian James Carse, Professor at New York University, and author of”Finite and Infinite Games” identified two types of games. Finite Games are familiar and Infinite Games are novel. Finite games end. They have a winner and a loser, even when only one person plays. I’m sure you can list all the ball games and the card games and the puzzles that are finite games. Infinite games, however, are games that don’t end. They are games that stay in play from time to time and from place to place. These games are observable if you are prepared to look for them but describing them is hard.
Walking the labyrinth is an infinite game. As long and as often as we walk it never has an ending. When our current walk concludes, we are aware that there is a next time and the labyrinth will always be the same. We may not be the same and the walk won’t be the same but the space will be the same welcoming shape it always is. Our experience will be different and familiar at the same time. One walk is in some ways like another yet in most ways it is unique.
Walking the labyrinth gets us in touch with the infinite as the spiral paths won’t yield to our sense of time management and control. We are unable to predict our pace and our thoughts and feelings as we walk. Often we have an awareness that time has slowed down or sped up. We feel detached from everyday life and yet we find ourselves in the insights that come to us.
The infinite game of walking the labyrinth doesn’t have an outcome. It begins and continues. We pick up unconscious currents that shape us. We may experience transcendence from the ordinary without fearing loss of control. It is an infinite game that is played to lose our usual sense of security. As an infinite game it is played to embrace freedom. The labyrinth is an infinite game because it is played to find out, to find ourselves, to go beyond.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
Each time we enter the labyrinth an opportunity presents itself. The thought may come in different ways to each of us but it often contains a question. “What is in my heart?” “What are the things that are unresolved in my feelings?” “What will I experience today since I can’t look at everything in my life in a single walk?” “How can I trust myself to find meaning and answers to my most pressing questions?”
When I facilitate a group walk, I suggest to people that they try to embrace, even love their questions. Don’t search for the answers; live the questions! The point is to live now, here not there. Live the questions and be present with your quest. Think of your questions as though they are spoken in a language you don’t understand or barely hear. Tell yourself that answers would not be recognized if you got them. You are still in a questioning phase of your life journey. You’re at the start or at some middle point, not the finish and that may be a reason you’re walking the labyrinth.
Walking the labyrinth is an exercise in valuing the “gradual”. It raises our awareness that, without noticing it, we live our way into our choices and decisions. If we are patient with ourselves and honor our questions, we will, perhaps, find meaningful answers. The resolutions may be near or far but they are often in our future. We can’t know that place and time. We must patiently wait for it.
Walking the labyrinth encourages us, of course, to access our spiritual resources for guidance in our questioning. We may not, however, get answers but only more deeply felt questions. Be patient. Just as the walk requires an attitude of patience; (you will eventually walk out of the space!), so living well and happy is best done in a spirit of practiced patience.
Labyrinth walks are always a friendly reminder of our loves, our limits and our life long need for learning. Try to live and love the gradualness of a labyrinth walk. It perfects the practice of patience which benefits our journeys.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
So much of modern life is exciting and stimulating. Part of the time that suits most of us. We are motivated to keep up with the demands of knowing as much as we can, performing at our best and staying on top. If we’re smart about it and we get the right amount of sleep, make the best nutritional choices and put some time into exercise we are golden.
There is something lacking in this pretty picture. Don’t read on unless you dare to consider there is probably very little respite in your routine and you need some. Respite is an important pause, a rest, time away to breathe and think and feel something besides the rush of living.
Living well requires that we sort through our daily choices. Like accomplishing our spiritual goals, such as making time for prayer, we have to arrange and plan for respite. It can’t just happen and you know yourself it usually doesn’t in the day to day hubbub. Our lives are spent in the blare and glare of the technology age. We are distracted by the sounds and lights urging us to keep going rather than looking forward to our health and happiness.
Walking the labyrinth is a practice, really a tool that helps us dial back and shut out the blare and glare. In place of the demands and the distractions the labyrinth focuses our attention on our inner lives. We come to experience our private thoughts and feelings. We exalt in our personal worth, detached for fifteen or twenty minutes or an hour, from the external conditions of worth. Dare I suggest we find ourselves?
And the most interesting aspect of walking the labyrinth is that we can do it together, if we wish. Community doesn’t invade our respite at all.
With some confidence we can say the labyrinth symbol is more than 4,000 years old. Jeff Saward wrote a thorough history of small labyrinths from many cultures in the ancient world. They were drawn on rock faces and pottery and notably coins. His work is well worth reading, not because what is known is conclusive, but because what is known about the labyrinth over time is important for understanding its meaning and use.
Over two thousand years hence, as the appearance of the labyrinth became more prevalent, its popularity continued to grow. Our certainty also increased about its importance in people’s experience. For example, when Christianity pervaded the territories of the Roman Empire following the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325CE, the labyrinth symbol was absorbed into Christian philosophy, architecture and domestic life. European labyrinths abounded during and after this period.
Today there is another astounding resurgence of interest in labyrinths, large and small. There are organizations, libraries, schools and health centers focused on the labyrinth as a source of spiritual development, as well as health and wellness. A good resource for information on the current world wide popularity of the labyrinth is www.labyrinthos.net
Many recently built labyrinths are large enough for individuals or groups of people to walk. They are made like gardens and often are associated with towns and neighborhoods and other civic institutions. They are indoors and outdoors. Workshops and facilitated walks are offered to guide people to the potential power of walking the labyrinth design.
Simultaneously, there is a brisk market in table labyrinths, finger labyrinths and small labyrinths to look at and ponder. What do we do with the labyrinth when it is too small to walk? As the ancients did, we take contemplative exercise. We gaze at the design and we think, feel and imagine just as we do when we walk. The longer and more concentrated the looking, the greater the spiritual impact and the better our physical and mental health.
Standing at the entrance to the labyrinth, one thing is certain. Beginning the walk calls for a self-expressive response of one kind or another. Some people approach this moment with resolve, even eagerness. Others hesitate and look around for cues. This describes those people who show up for a walk. Some never expect to walk and withdraw from trying because of misgivings. Walking the labyrinth prompts asking questions of oneself. Walking the labyrinth opens a space within that requires a response to those questions.
Response is a very interesting word. The Latin verb “respondere”, to engage oneself or to promise shows us the meaning of “responding to our own questions.” Walking the labyrinth is the epitome of promise and engagement for everyone who is earnest about their experience.
As we walk the labyrinth we make a requisite act of trust. We breathe deeply and mark a new point in the intimacy with ourselves. We ready ourselves for ideas and insights about living, here now, in the past or in the future. We take on the walk as a metaphor of our life’s journey. We release the limits of description and explanation and embrace the events and mysteries that move us. We seek the heart of ourselves. We recognize that the response we make is spontaneous. The response is freely mine and it is mine alone. We respond to ourselves because “we feel like it.”
Some of us think this is a wonderful way to live our lives. Our responses in the labyrinth are really quite simple. To be ourselves uncluttered, without calculating all the “ifs”, “ands”, “buts”, “however” and “maybes” that punctuate our lives. No need for qualifiers and clarifiers. Our value and worth is determined by our inner honesty. Our spirits are uplifted and we know ourselves better.
When we are mindful, we feel rested and content, although we remain awake and alert. The sensations and perceptions we usually experience as a result of internal and external stimulation are slowed down. They are still bombarding us but we are less attentive to them. Their urgency is diminished. We take our time, all the time we need, to accommodate them.
Being mindful is a more serene encounter with ourselves and the world around us. We have permission to drift a bit as we think and feel and act. This deliberate or mindful meditation isn’t evasive. It is a choice we make to change channels. Instead of being pressed into motion, we ask ourselves to be quiet.
When we walk the labyrinth we enter this special space of quiet. The walk quiets are steps. We slow our pace. The walk suggests that we hear only the whispers of our hearts because we don’t speak unless it’s time for communal prayer or conversation. We observe unique and polite manners in order to leave quiet space for others. We actively breathe correctly in order to nourish our bodies and spirits.
Walking the labyrinth, alone or with others, awakens us into a state of mind that is much harder to experience (unless we practice, practice) in everyday living. It’s a special time and place because we suspend the usual and dare to suspect there is so much more to our experience. We allow for being our best selves. We strip away the worries, the demands, the motivations, and all the trappings of our lives in order to be mindful of what really is and might be. We quietly search while we walk, aware that there are answers of all sorts, all around. Perhaps inkling will brush by; maybe an insight will shine forth. Looking forward, we are mindful.
“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last”, remarked Joseph Pilates describing the foundational principle of his fitness method. “Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”
Walking the labyrinth is the perfect place to learn and practice breathing. Stop at a place of your choice on your walk. Place your feet flat about a hip width apart on the pathway or in the center or along the boundary. Put one hand on each side of your lower rib cage with your fingertips touching. This gives you a tactile point of reference so your breathing is regular and rhythmical. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Visualize the movement of your diaphragm and feel your ribs move laterally into your waiting hands. Your fingertips will separate to accommodate your breath expanded diaphragm. Don’t lift your shoulders; let your mind and core muscles do the work.
Then reflect on exhaling. Your body’s core is like a cylinder from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm. Breath fills the cylinder when you inhale and leaves the cylinder when you exhale. Again rest your hands lightly on your rib cage. Exhale through pursed lips until your fingertips meet. Exhale as fully as you can.
Inhaling and exhaling in this way is called cleansing breath. It is a ritual which improves with practice and customization. It brings refreshment, calmness and deep inner satisfaction. Outwardly, you sense a keenness of perception and a quickening of energy.
Breathing in silent concentration and reflection during your walk in the labyrinth lets you experience the path to a healthy center. With time you may find cleansing breath to be your habit in and out of the labyrinth.
When you enter the labyrinth there is an immediate sense of flow. The path starts to spiral and your steps change pace. You know this is a novel place. You feel ready to surrender to the design. You immediately give up any idea of making something happen here. You release your will to control the walk. In fact, you are aware that there is no longer the need to decide anything about the walk. An easy acceptance settles over you. Things will flow as they will and you will flow with them.
How does this flow experience connect with faith? How is faith strengthened by letting go and letting flow do its work in the labyrinth?
Faith flows naturally out of love for your relationship with God. A sense of security and centeredness is present because God is always there in your thoughts and feelings. You’re in a state of perpetual trust in God’s sight. Vulnerabilities and imperfections and life’s painful experiences are balanced by the significance of your faith.
I’m suggesting that the experience in the labyrinth and the experience of faith are linked. Flow leads to learning and to exchange and to relating in both instances.
People thrive through a strong faith. They value and respect each other. They give and receive trust. They serve one another from a genuine love and concern. Walk the labyrinth with other people sometimes. I’ll guarantee your faith will be affected and strengthened.
After considering the unique American labyrinth in which people ride, perhaps it’s a good idea to look at some guidelines for walking a labyrinth. Don’t think, first of all, that there is a right way or a wrong way. There are guidelines not requirements and the only purpose in following those is that one wants to walk the labyrinth. People need not walk perfectly, nor are they expected to perform in exact ways. To walk freely is the point and the first guideline.
The patterns that make a labyrinth require that people do what comes naturally when they meet in the labyrinth. They step aside or around each other with or without acknowledgement. This casualness comes easily to most people because it mimics walking on trails or on roads and sidewalks. When people know each other and are walking together they greet each other in whatever way seems appropriate at the time. People are always allowed to be alone on their walks. Therefore, spontaneity is the second guideline.
Walking the labyrinth is self paced, not prescribed by others or dictated by the forms and shapes of the patterns. Walkers follow the pace that suits their own inward and outward needs. Some people walk very slowly, even stop at various points. Others prefer dance-like movements through different parts of the labyrinth. At various ages, people often show distinct styles of movement during a walk. The third guideline is to be ourselves. Following a personal flow enhances the experience of metaphor and imagination.
Think of the labyrinth as a tool to help people nurture the spirit, the body and the mind. All of us know instinctively how to use the tool. No need for self-conscious poses and attitudes. Just go for the walk and be encouraged.
There are numerous labyrinth designs. History shows us designs on the ground, on rock walls, in buildings and on objects. It took America, however, to devise a labyrinth that takes the design from the ground to the sky. I’m talking about the roller coaster. Yes the labyrinth that we see and experience at amusement parks all over the world originated in the late 19th century in the United States. One design was developed in Russia at about the same time. It was called in Russian “American Mountains” Later in the 20th century, the American space agency, NASA, used a roller coaster as a means of escape from a rocket that might fail to launch.
Think about it for a minute. The roller coaster consists of a track that rises and falls with many inversions in a pattern that begins and returns to the same place. It’s not a maze because it has a single path. It also may not be viewed by some as a true labyrinth because people ride it at breakneck speed rather than gently walking it. It is however, a spiraling pathway that directs the visitor to follow. It transforms time and experience although briefly. It takes our breath away and some find it genuinely enjoyable.
What does it mean that this unique labyrinth design requires that we sit in a locked seat as we speed around the pathway? What does it mean that we think of this labyrinth experience as a thrilling ride?
It may not mean anything in particular but the roller coaster labyrinth certainly peaks our imaginations.
What if every time you walked the labyrinth you accepted a sense of power to change the world for the better? What if I told you that your imagination could be so stimulated by the experience of walking the labyrinth that you could make change happen? Would you believe me?
Bear with me, for miracles large and small do abound and people are often the catalysts. The imaginative process released while walking the labyrinth is real. It comes as a truly luxurious experience. It grows like magic as you practice. The more you do it the more progress is made in hope and ideals and wisdom. That result alone is enough to change the world for the better. What would the world be like if many people believed in this consequential change and began in earnest walking the labyrinth?
Let’s imagine that we want to change the way our culture encourages us to degrade our environment or promote health crises through poor nutrition decisions. Suppose we take the time to center these ideas in our mind. Then let us take them into the labyrinth and walk with them. Enjoy the luxury of quietly thinking during a rhythmical and slow walk on a single pathway. Try to feel the importance of unspoiled nature. Try to aspire to healing, health and happiness in your own life. Espouse to the community the possibility for positive change in interacting with the environment. Unleash the wonder of dynamic healthy behaviors. When you step out at the end of your walk breathe deeply and exhale luxuriously.
Enjoying the luxury of walking the labyrinth we embrace the age-old human skill of freeing our imaginations. We bring poetry to life and that’s a change from the ordinary.
The most striking difference between a labyrinth and a maze is the path. The single pathway into and out of the labyrinth encourages us to enter with reverence because we recognize that the end is the same as the beginning. Only life experience at its most fundamental can be characterized that way. That awareness makes us focus. In the labyrinth we are urged forward without regard for choices or direction. The beginning will eventually become the end, although there is no way to know how long the walk will take. There is also no way to prepare for what thoughts or feelings, images or whisperings of the heart we might find along the way.
In a maze there is mystery and fun. Direction requires discernment and making good choices if we are to enjoy the experience. Whether walking, running or hiding in a maze, our actions are not prescribed or predicted by the pattern. Solving the maze takes our attention. The maze distracts us from the rest of our concerns. It encourages us to play. All human cultures construct mazes, just as they create labyrinths, but the purpose of each type of garden or structure are not similar.
People seem to require the renewal we get as we walk in labyrinths and wander in mazes. Time spent in them relieves the urgency of living. Each is a means of learning about us. Each offers encouragement to the seeker, the weary, the puzzled and the unwell. Each changes our frame of mind, our behaviors and our spirits.
The labyrinth urges reflection and for some, meditation and prayer. The maze urges relaxation, freedom and play. They both call us away from life as usual for a period of time. We benefit from listening to those calls to be well and fully human. Some of us believe we should pray often, laugh and play more because it’s the way to love one another.
As I walk the labyrinth it is sometimes hard to sort out what’s what. Although I feel the meaning of being in this space and I have many reasons for walking here, I am quiet but still unsettled. It’s hard to separate what inspires me from what dispirits me. Distinguishing the high spirits from the false spirits occupies my thoughts as I slowly walk the spiraling path.
The labyrinth is a symbol of centeredness and it puts me into greater awareness of my spirit. St Augustine famously said, “Solvitur ambulando”; “It is solved by walking”. I agree. I walk the labyrinth by following the path inward and then outward from side to side. It helps me understand where I have been and where I may go.
At times I walk the labyrinth with other people. I celebrate with them the winding pattern that connects our stories and our life journeys. I imagine the coincidences that have brought us together. We all have something to learn from this connectedness. I find the sense of community uplifting.
Taking the Chartres style labyrinth as our example we are immediately struck by the patterns we see. There are six rosettes that make the center. There are lunations, small half circles, around the outside edge. As we begin to walk we experience the lines that outline the lanes we are following. We walk the lanes into the center and walk out from the center following the same pathway. There is one single lane but there seem to be many lanes. This spiraling pathway is 860 feet in length.
The patterns both expand and limit our choices as we walk. They give us the sense that our steps count for something because the slow walking changes our breathing, not just our pace. Walking the spiraling lane we become aware of “things changing” and of “transformation” as we can’t see ahead or behind. We are just on the path; we turn inward; time seems to expand.
Every walk in the labyrinth is a journey of self-discovery. Every walk in the labyrinth is a connection with people here and now and in times past. Every walk in the labyrinth connects us more fully to ourselves and to people in hundreds of diverse cultures.
Another set of patterns within our human bodies may be the inspiration for the sense of connection to self and to others. For example, the winding lanes resemble the cerebral spirals of our brains, as well as the structure and motion of our gastro-intestinal tract.
Spirals in nature abound and we may recognize them as we walk the labyrinth. We remember Fibonacci spiraling sequences in roses, pinecones, daisies and that we are dazzled by them. In shells and vines and galaxies we sense connections, convergences and coincidences in our experiences in the labyrinth.
Awareness of the myriad spiraling in nature and the similarities in patterns we experience in our bodies lead us as we walk the labyrinth to a greater understanding of the meaning of images, ideas and feelings as we live our lives individually and in community.
Origins of the labyrinth remain a mystery. Although these designs date back 5,000 years and examples are found throughout the world in many diverse cultures, there is no definitive explanation for the labyrinth. From the earliest examples in Europe on rocks, tiles, pottery and stone and wooden tablets to the reemergence of the labyrinth today, the only thing known for certain is the importance of the labyrinth for people.
Labyrinths are designs featuring a single spiral path that leads from the outside to a center space. Walking in or on the labyrinth follows the path to the center and back again to the outside. In the western hemisphere, Native American tradition features the labyrinth as the Medicine wheel and in Man in the Maze designs on baskets. In northern Europe and throughout the Roman Empire, Celtic people called the labyrinth the Never Ending Circle and it appears often and in random places. In Judaism the labyrinth is referred to as the Kabala and is thought to have mystical power. Not all labyrinths lay on the ground to be walked but when they are made of earth or stone they are usually used for walking. The labyrinth, however, is a compelling example of artistic expression as it enhances human environments whether seen on doors, wall plaques, gates or on inside floors or outside on the earth.
Walking the labyrinth or seeing it displayed may help people feel centered and more peaceful in living their lives. This has been described by some as a clarity which promotes a connection between the body, mind and spirit. People also describe a quieting of thoughts or of having an innovative, meditative state of mind. Others say walking the labyrinth fosters insight and self-reflection. Many wellness advocates say practice in walking the labyrinth reduces the stress of life and opens space within people for celebration and happiness despite external circumstances.
During the middle ages in Europe, the labyrinth design started to appear in churches, on village greens and even on off-shore islands as far north as the Arctic region. Now again, in the twentieth century, communities of people are building labyrinths because of a resurgence of interest. In the United States labyrinths can be found in parks, churches and cathedrals, schools, medical centers, spas, cemeteries and memorial parks, retreat centers and in many yards and on other personal property. The materials these labyrinths are made from are as various as their locations and uses. The central distinction, however, is that people are building them and gathering in and on them for a purpose that, apparently, reflects a human need to meet in concert to follow a meaningful path.
Whoever you are and wherever you are in your life’s journey, you are invited to explore walking the labyrinth with me here At Sixes and Sevens Multimedia. If you are seeking a resource for inspiration, some new ideas about the power of labyrinths to enlighten and heal, or simply a place for support through whatever the changes and chances of life bring you, there is space for you in the labyrinth.
We who are walking the labyrinth are a growing community in the United States and in many other parts of the world. The ease and practicality of walking encourages all ages to get involved but is especially attractive for people in their sixties and seventies. Being in the labyrinth offers us a wide range of opportunities to learn or relearn about ourselves and each other. Walking the labyrinth engages the whole person and the entire group of participants in a meaningful activity that has remarkable consequences. The benefits of walking the labyrinth cannot be overstated. I invite you to get to know the labyrinth better. In future posts you will find information about labyrinths in your local areas.
I will share the various reasons for walking the labyrinth for wellness, stress reduction, spiritual growth, solace, and the development of wisdom. You will also read about the history and design of labyrinths, including why they have particular structures and are made of various materials. I will offer virtual facilitated walks that you and groups can take into familiar labyrinths near you.