Recently, I was asked to be the guest speaker at the first
labyrinth event ever held at Frederick Community College in Frederick,
Maryland. It was truly an honor. I’ve made a few minor adjustments to my
speech, to help it make the transition to being read instead of spoken, but
essentially this is what I said…
I’d like to begin by telling you a story. Sometime in 1993, I went to my friend,
Linda’s house for a cup of tea and a visit.
While I was there, she handed me a small photocopied brochure with an
image of a labyrinth on the front.
Another friend, who I knew casually, had gone to an annual Unitarian
General Assembly gathering a few weeks prior, and had brought the brochure to
Linda, asking her to pass it along to me.
This woman didn’t know quite why, but felt strongly that I should have
the brochure. So, that is the first time
I remember seeing a labyrinth. And I
fell in love. From that moment on, I
have been building labyrinths and exploring different ways to experience them.
But, it isn’t the first time I was in the presence of the
labyrinth. Two years before, in 1991, I
had gone to France & visited Chartres Cathedral. I had noticed an elaborate stone pattern in
the floor, but it was covered with chairs and I couldn’t tell quite what it
was. I moved a few of the chairs, but
not enough to uncover the labyrinth. And
then in 1994, I read Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Crossing to Avalon, about her
personal mid-life journey. She visited
Chartres and did remove all of the chairs on the labyrinth, walking it in deep
prayer. Finally, I knew what the design in
the stone floor had been! And sometimes that’s
the way it happens with the labyrinth.
A recognition, a calling from deep within.
By 1995, I had gathered a group of 20 or 25 people to paint a
replica of the Chartres labyrinth on canvas.
At that time, there were no kits, not even any templates. I went to northern Virginia to meet and
consult with a few people who had made one, and spoke by telephone with a man
in the Midwest (who turned out to be Robert Ferre), and emailed with Jeff Saward, the editor
of Caerdroia, a labyrinth journal published in England. I gathered measurements and advice. We ordered 100 yards of sail-weight canvas,
and paid a sail-maker to sew Velcro edges on six 42-foot lengths, each strip
being 7 feet wide. And then we had a 42
foot square canvas to paint on!
Next, we built an enormous compass in the barn of one of the
group members. The wooden compass arm was a 21-foot-long 4x4, and it perched on
a wooden base pivot. We drilled 13 holes
along the compass arm to hold pencils vertically, so that, with a crew of
people working carefully together, we could slowly draw all of the concentric
circles we needed at one time. It
worked! From large pieces of corrugated
paper, we made a precise template for drawing the turns, one for drawing the
petals of the rose at the center, and another for drawing the lunations around
the outer edge. Once all of the lines
were penciled in, we carefully erased the unnecessary parts of lines from the
original concentric circles and were ready to begin painting.
So, what is a labyrinth?
A unicursal path, usually within a circle, but not always. There are a few squared labyrinths. It is one meandering path, moving in and out
and back and forth, filling all of the available space until finally the center
is reached. The same path is retraced to
find the way out. The entrance and the
exit are one. There are twists and turns
in a labyrinth, but no wrong turns. No
intersections. No dead ends. A labyrinth
is not a puzzle or a game. It isn’t a
matter of skill or chance. That is a
maze. A labyrinth is something very
different. A maze engages our left
brain, our intellect, our rational mind.
A labyrinth also engages our right brain, our creative and intuitive
self. It draws us inward and offers us a
metaphor for the spiritual journey of life.
The labyrinth helps to balance the left and right sides of the brain, as
we wend our way back and forth, in and out, back and forth. We connect to our more deeply creative
selves, our intuition, our divinity.
Humans have been drawing and building labyrinths for 3500 to
4000 years. We find them etched in the
stone of cave walls, scratched on clay tablets, imprinted on ancient coins and
in petroglyphs. Always they seem to have
a spiritual or sacred significance.
Labyrinths are found all over the world, from India to Scandinavia, from
Peru to Britain, from France and Spain to the American southwest. The wisdom of the labyrinth seems to arise in
human consciousness in some spontaneous way, and then recede again. Sometimes we are called to it, or it is
called to us, and sometimes we forget.
It is the nature of life, the nature of the human experience.
Anne Morrow Lindburgh wrote about Ebb and Flow. She said:
“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of
love, of relationships. We leap at the
flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.”
The labyrinth offers us a kind of walking meditation, a metaphorical journey, during which our bodies can learn to
experience these truths in a deep and sacred way. We encounter moments of autonomy, moments of
coming together, moments of one-on-one relationship, and moments of moving
away. In the labyrinth, we experience a
journey of metaphor. The flow of life,
and its ebb, is as fluid as the flow of water, always changing. We can feel in our bodies the joys of
intimacy and of community, and we can feel the pain and anguish of loss.
The two most important Classical labyrinths are the older and
less complex Cretan type with 7 circuits and the Chartres type with 11
circuits. The labyrinth that we are
walking today is a replica of the Chartres labyrinth. The Chartres design seems to have been
developed by a monk, drawing on the back of an illuminated manuscript he was
working on, and is mathematically based upon the earlier 7 circuit design. It was installed as a stone design in the
floor of Chartres Cathedral in the early 1200’s and was used as the last part
of a pilgrimage that many early Christians took, when they were unable to
travel to their holy land. Sometimes
called the Rose Labyrinth because of the six-petaled “flower” at the center,
this labyrinth sits in the shadow of the famous Rose Window at Chartres. In fact, it is positioned so that if the
tower wall that holds the Rose Window could be hinged at the floor and laid
down, the center of the rose window would precisely overlay the labyrinth. Sacred geometry in architecture.
And yet, the labyrinth doesn’t seem to require such
astonishing mathematical precision. No
matter how we draw one, it creates sacred space. The lines of a labyrinth can be pencil on
paper scraps, cornmeal on a lawn, pebbles, large stones, tall plants. They can be drawn with lengths of looping
rope, using a stick to form grooves in sand on the beach, or digging narrow
trenches in turf. They are on jewelry,
pottery, coins, and fabric. We find them
carved into stone above church entrances, and etched into prehistoric cave
walls. They can be large enough to walk
and small enough to carry in your pocket.
Walking labyrinths are found in cathedrals and prisons, churches and
parks, hospice centers, private gardens and college campuses. No matter where the labyrinth is, or how the
lines are drawn, the lines are not the labyrinth. Let me say that again. No matter where the labyrinth is, or how the
lines are drawn, the lines are not the labyrinth. The path is the labyrinth. The space we engage with is the
labyrinth. After all, it isn’t the walls
that turn a building into a sanctuary.
So, the labyrinth is based on principals of sacred geometry and
architecture, even astronomy, and has been since its beginning. Before humans had developed a language to
explain the geometry, they were still creating labyrinths that utilized the
unexpressed concepts. Sacred geometry is
based on patterns that occur in nature. Circles,
spirals, meanders. The Golden Mean. The Fibonacci Sequence. The labyrinth is a physical representation of
a deep wisdom that is held in what Carl Jung called “the collective
consciousness”. Labyrinths have arisen
spontaneously around the globe for thousands of years, and then receded
again. No one knows why. The labyrinth is metaphor made
manifest. And walking the labyrinth
presents us with metaphors and insights into the Journey of Life.
Author, Oriah Mountaindreamer muses:
“What if… life is not a maze but a labyrinth, a path that
meanders to give us different views, doubles back on itself to give us multiple
chances to see clearly, lets us revisit our joys & sorrows but in the end
always takes us to the sacred center – to Life, to Love, to the Wholeness of
which we are made & by which we are held?”
So, how do you walk a labyrinth? There are as many ways as there are
labyrinths, as many ways as there are walkers, as many ways as there are
walks... Perhaps a walking meditation;
heel rolling to toe and pause, heel rolling to toe and pause… Perhaps step,
breathe, step. Perhaps a even prayerful
dance. Early Christian pilgrims walked
on their knees. You can take a question
to the labyrinth, ask it, offer it and then open yourself to insights that
occur. Looking for inner peace? The labyrinth is a perfect tool. Have a wedding in the labyrinth – perhaps one
partner waiting for the other at the center.
Walking the labyrinth can be about the lesson of
surrender. Surrender to the moment you
are in. As Ram Das says, “Be here
now.” Surrender to who we truly are. Surrender to the path. And then follow it. One step at a time.
In walking the labyrinth, there are no decisions to be made
once you have made the decision to put your foot on the path. Again from Oriah Mountaindreamer, “It’s not a
problem to be solved, not a test to be passed, but a journey to savour and drop
into with each step.”
How might you prepare to walk the labyrinth? Step up to the entrance. Pause. Breathe.
Find your quiet center. Feel the
earth beneath your feet and the sky in your lungs. Reach for the sun, the stars, the moon, and
sense the balance in your earthly body. Walk from your center, perhaps peeling
away layers of mask and costume, leaving them behind as you walk. Becoming more and more your authentic self as
you walk. Pausing when feel it, moving
forward when you feel it. Stepping into
the labrys at the turns if they call to you.
And then returning to the path.
Arrive at the center as your true and open self. Wait there for as long as you will. And then rise, and follow the same path,
winding your way back out.
I have another story to tell you. Years ago, a group of us had taken the canvas
that we painted to Millersville University at the request of the interfaith
chaplain, and set it up in the student center for finals week. I had family visiting from England and Canada
during the same week & wanted to share this interest of mine with
them. I come from an interesting family. We are a diverse collection of intellectuals
and mystics, healers and computer programmers.
My aunt is a very rational, intellectual Oxford tutor of
anthropology. As our family walked
together in silence, she began to weep.
She wept, and she cried. And then
she rested in the center, and emerged tender and open. Later, as we were walking out of the
building, she asked me about it. She
wanted a rational explanation. I told
her many of the things I’ve told you, about metaphor and about encountering
ourselves on our life’s journey. About
the connection we can make to our deep selves, to the divine. And she said, “That’s impossible. That doesn’t make any sense.” I looked at her and replied, “You are the one
who just had the intense experience.”
So, if you remember nothing else, remember this. There is no right way and no wrong way to
interact with a labyrinth. There is only
what your body and spirit call for. In
Please do not copy, share or reprint this without my written
permission. You may contact me at LabyrinthHerbs@aol.com
Copyright 2013, Sarah C Preston