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
My granddaughter is about to experience two family traditions through her four-month-old senses, and this both delights and reassures me.
Winnie will be in the arms of her parents, aunt, or grandparents when the menorah is lit and Chanukah begins. The Chanukah story can wait for a few years, but the candle glow, the singing of prayers, and the hugging will make an impression on her. We will repeat this ritual for all the Chanukah nights she spends with us. She will receive a little gift each night, taking in the crunchy sounds of the tissue paper (funny how I wrap presents differently as a grandparent) and bright colors of the ribbons and bows.
As her family gathers once more for a full day of Thanksgiving, her senses will once again be on alert. The smell of roasting turkey, Poppi’s stuffing, and fireplace embers will mingle with the sounds of laughter, conversation, guitar strings, and her name being said over and over again. Will she come down on one side of the apple cider versus dry brine debate? Probably not, but she will feel the words and the voices as she is held, and she will learn the traditions of her family, who gathered from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey to enjoy the pleasure of her company … and a terrific meal.
And if we continue to gather and share traditions when we can, and if we include Winnie in our conversations and celebrations, our family will continue to be strong and hearty in the face of anything that comes our way.
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
Many grandmothers today are employed, and I am one of them. Like all the others, I had nine months to think about how my life would change when a grandchild arrived. But I never anticipated the strength of Winnie’s tug at my heart from across the bridge and how it makes me want to drop everything and go to her.
And I do. On weekends and holidays and days off, I look forward to spending time with my granddaughter and her parents. And her parents are key in allowing me to continue working at a job I love, as I watch them nurture Winnie and guide her through her days and nights, and accept the responsibility they are so fortunate to have. No one does it better than they do, and though we help, we know this.
So I head to work each Monday morning with a head full of Winnie thoughts and visions, and learn as I teach. And across the bridge, Winnie is doing the same, learning at an incredible rate and teaching all of us to parent and grandparent in all good ways. How fortunate we are.
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