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.