Labyrinths - Walking a Path to Inner Wisdom
by Laurel Vespi
Few would debate that we live in a hectic world. Our days are filled with multi-tasking, conflicting priorities and jam packed schedules. It's no wonder that we often find it difficult to pause and quiet our minds. Coupled with this frantic pace is a spiritual hunger that many people experience - alonging for a deeper connection to self, purpose and community. The labyrinth is a powerful non-denominational, cross-cultural tool that allows individuals to find inner quiet, balance and insight.
Although often confused with a maze, a labyrinth has no tricks or dead ends. Its design is unicursal, meaning that there is one continuous path that winds to the centre and the same path is used to return to the entrance that then becomes the exit. The path is always in full view, which allows a person to be quiet and focus internally while walking. No matter where you are along the path, you can always see the centre and the exit, which eases the fear of becoming lost or tricked.
The circular spiral pattern represented in a labyrinth is present everywhere in nature. From ripples in water to spiders' webs, or tree rings and fingerprints, the circular pattern is a universal archetype for life. Ancient spiralscarved into stone have often marked sacred spots. The circular pattern is also present across cultures and religious traditions. Whether in the aboriginal Hopi medicine wheel, the Buddhist sand mandala or the Kabbalah Tree of Life, all world regions contain some form of the spiritual path and include some sort of walking meditation tradition.
Labyrinths date back more than 4000 years. The two most common types of labyrinths are the medieval 11 circuit and the classical 7 circuit. The number of circuits refers to the number of times one walks around the centre before entering it. Theoldest surviving classical, or sometimes called Cretan labyrinth, is carved in the rock of a Neolithic tomb in Luzzanas, Sardinia and dates to 2500 - 2000 BCE. The earliest Christian church labyrinth dates from the 4th century and is located in Orleansville, Algeria. Although labyrinths are pre-Christian, they have beenassimilated into the Christian tradition as a path to salvation.
One of the few existing medieval labyrinths is set in the stone floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. It dates from 1194 and it is believed pilgrims may have walked the labyrinth to simulate a journey to Jerusalem. Gothic cathedrals were constructed using applied sacred geometry, a lost art of architectural design that results in a balanced and serene climate, perfect for spiritual reflection. Labyrinths, often included in the floors of these cathedrals, were also designed using sacred geometry. Medieval labyrinths peaked in popularity in the late 15th century and unfortunately many church labyrinths were destroyed in the 18th &I 9th centuries.
Contemporary labyrinths are not designed using the traditional form of the 11 or 7 circuit labyrinths. There patterns are more free form but retain the circular spiral design.
The labyrinth is currentlyenjoying a resurgence in popularity. As people become more aware of the potential of the labyrinth as a spiritual or meditative tool, labyrinths in many styles, both modern and ancient,areincorporated into many gardens, into hospitals and prisons, and of course buildings of worship. Portable canvas labyrinths alternative and flexible option when a permanent location is not available.
The labyrinth is a perfect metaphor for the journey of life.The path brings you to the centre of the labyrinth and of yourself. Like any, journey, the path has twists and turns opportunities for reflection and insight. There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. As in life, each of us must find our own rhythm and pace. The journey begins toward the centre encouraging walkers to release whatever burdens they might be carrying.In the centre there is an opportunity to pause and receive whatever wisdom is available from within or from the universe. The journey outward allows for the integration of this wisdom and continuing reflection on how it applies to your life in this moment.
Not only is the labyrinth a metaphor for life's journey, each experience walking provides its own metaphor. Being present to the questions that arise along the path, connecting to your physical self as you walk and noticing your emotions creates a powerful journey of self-reflection and personal growth.
It's not necessary to have access to a physical labyrinth toreap the benefits. Learning to draw the labyrinth pattern onpaper, visiting virtual labyrinths available on the internet, orutilizing a finger labyrinth, are all viable ways to create your ownlabyrinth experience. As in life, its not the route we take, but the journey that makes all the difference.
Laurel Vespi, MEd is a Certified Life Coach, author, and trained labyrinthfacilitator who partners with individuals and organizations to design fully awakened lives focusing on whole life balance, purpose and self-leadership.Visit www.stonecirclecoaching.ca to learn more.
The International Labyrinth Society - www.labyrinthsociety.orgVeriditas- www.veriditas.net