"Nobody knows how and when the labyrinth symbol first appears in the Indian subcontinent. In Europe it first appears in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, around 2000 BCE, at first as petroglyphs on rock art panels and later on artefacts, found from Spain to Syria, and especially around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea."
"In the book Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: "...many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints." Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded, and they served primarily for entertainment, though recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence."
The gentle quiet of the Cathedral comforted me. Once in awhile people speaking with low voices or someone clearing their throat echoed without disturbing the soft ambiance. The late afternoon sun caressed the windows, casting rays undefined by sharp edges. All this was in direct contrast to the turmoil inside my being. Years had passed since I'd first traced the outline of the same image now at my feet. In a few moments I'd be walking a path that countless others before me had taken. Clearing my mind, yet remaining mindful I took a first step into the sacred space laid out for anyone to travel. All expectations I'd had for this journey had been dumped some months before. I felt completely alone. My spiritual essence was at an all time low, and if the Universe was listening, if there was a God or GodDess who cared, I didn't get the memo.
My family was falling apart, I was in the process of a divorce, moving, between jobs and the man I thought I loved more than the air in my lungs had disappeared. I was a wreck. It was a miracle that I'd been able to find the time to take a drive from my home in Big Sur to San Francisco for this event; however it seemed a choiceless choice. I didn't know what else to do and I'd already reached the end of my rope, tied a knot and was swinging. Nothing was flowing in my world with the exception of tears, so taking a walk in circles wasn't too far off my insanity meter.
Initially I kept my eyes down and focused on my feet, although I was careful and slow enough to make certain I didn't collide with anyone. There were four, maybe five others walking too. This particular labyrinth is large and can accommodate several people at once. As I walked, I'd occasionally pass a person. Like me, most kept their eyes averted and on the floor. My first sensation and conscious thought was that a hundred people could have been there, fifty in front of me and fifty behind me, yet regardless of how close we were it didn't matter where we were on the path, only one person could stand in a single place at a time although we were sharing a common goal. A phrase came to mind, "Be here now." I made a conscious effort to be present. More than I had in weeks. I turned my head from side to side, finally looking a little closer at my surroundings. How could it be that I was getting closer and closer to the center, but suddenly I was on the outer rim? I concentrated my being on the walk. One foot after another. Slowly, methodically, one step at a time until I was finally in the center of the labyrinth.
Hadn't I waited for years to make it to this point? I sat down in one of the six small circles and contemplated how I'd managed to arrive without any fanfare at the center of something so profound with only dancing dust in beams of filtered sunshine and strangers for company. I smiled. My teacher was right! It wasn't the destination that was the hero's victory, it was the journey there.
What Happens Next
You cannot stay in the center of the labyrinth. Regardless of how you arrived, you've got to leave.
One of my clients lost a child; in her deep sorrow she begged me for some guidance and I asked her to meet me in Joshua Tree to walk the labyrinth at the Institute of Mentalphysics. It was her first time in the Labyrinth. Letting her go ahead of me, I followed after she'd been in for a few minutes. From time to time we would pass each other; once in awhile she would reach out her hand to touch mine when this happened. The tips of our fingers would meet and we would smile, no words were spoken.
She stood at the center for a very long time, looking out along the desert horizon. Finally she said, "I have to leave this pain, but I don't know how." I grasped her shoulders and hugged her briefly, "You leave it at the center, and you come back to visit it when ever you need to. It doesn't go away, but the journey towards it becomes easier and less frightening." She took a deep breath and looked at me angrily. I waited for her to say something, however she turned around and began quickly moving out of the Labyrinth. When she reached the entrance she jogged back to the parking lot. I met up with her shortly. She had been crying and as I approached she blew her nose and wiped her face, "I guess I expected a magic pill or ritual or something. All I felt was empty. I'm so sick of feeling empty."
I nodded, "But at least you identified a portion of what you're feeling. That's something. The center does that, it guides you to examine what is happening right at that moment. You were able to move in to your pain and give it a name. There are other things in that pain that have names too. Keep walking the labyrinth. I promise healing will happen. I guarantee it."
Is the Labyrinth a sacred tool designed by ancient mystics to assist the devout seeker? Was it designed to confuse angry spirits or elementals who wanted to cause harm or mischief? As a spiritual life coach and intuitive soul healer I've used the Labyrinth countless times in my professional life with many clients. Each one of them will have a unique story about their experience with Labyrinth teachings.
St. Augustine said "It is solved by walking" hence "Solvitur ambulando". I've been a witness to incredible insights and growth after time spent working with the Labyrinth; however the labyrinth is not the healer, we are. Although it can show us the way, it is not the center of the labyrinth that is the the true hero of our journey. It is simply a metaphor for the center of our being. When we move out of our circle -- our mind -- we are able to create fundamental changes in our lives that are healthy and give us the opportunity to drop in to our hearts. We can sit in quiet contemplation (not meditation, that is a different type of sitting) and analyze our dilemmas or the latest crisis without truly recognizing the core or root of the problem. Nothing productive happens and we continue to react rather than respond, going around and around in circles with no end or beginning. It is my personal belief that The Labyrinth is a tender teacher, a sort of spiritual GPS. It offers up the opportunity for us to gain a new perspective and create a better reality for ourselves one step at a time.
The annual gathering for The Labyrinth Society is in Taos, New Mexico, October 20-24. As a life-time member and a true fan I'll be sponsoring the opening "Welcome" event Thursday evening. The details are on their website, anyone can register and attend. We hope to see you there!
If you are interested in finding a Labyrinth near you, the Labyrinth Locater (partially sponsored by The Labyrinth Society) is an incredible resource.