Journey to the Center, Pilgrimage to the Soul
Turn, turn, turn: there is a season to every purpose
No one knows for certain where the tradition of labyrinth walking began. Labyrinths have been found in ancient cultures from Greece and Crete to Egypt, China, Peru, Ireland, and Scandinavia.
Labyrinths have been created out of nearly every material available to human resourcefulness. They have been carved on wood, on a rockface, woven into the design on a blanket or basket, laid out on the ground with water-worn stones in the desert or on shorelines or in colored stone on the floors of villas and cathedrals, or cut into the living turf on a village green.
In Roman times, the labyrinth images were crafted from mosaic tiles. The path may be planted with shrubbery, shoveled in snow, painted on cement, rolled from a ribbon or rope – even outlined with plastic forks stuck into the ground, which I once did for a workshop in Lithuania.
~ Helen Curry, The Way of the Labyrinth: A Powerful Meditation for Everyday Life
The lore of labyrinths has a lovely human wisdom in it, describing a quiet spiritual exploration in which we focus on enacting a journey from the periphery to the center, followed by a return from the depths to the surface of life.
Some people say turning the body from side to side shifts the balance between the dominant and non-dominant hemispheres of your brain, changing your perception.
Some say the symbolism of walking a twisting path, surrendered to its eventual resolution awakens trust.
Some people leave things behind in a labyrinth. Some people work through anxiety and worry, some lose their stress or fear.
Some people have epiphanies. Some people find what’s been hidden in their thoughts.
180 degree turns: a possible physiology of the labyrinth
The hemispheres of our brain are discussed as specialized to logic (left) and creativity (right). Also, neuroscientist VS Ramachandran has theorized the left side of the brain conserves our ideas of how things are, ignoring information that doesn’t fit, while the right side of our brain keeps track of those discrepancies, building a-ha moments from them that overthrow our status quo perceptions.
We also have place cells in the hippocampus area of the brain that activate strongly when we are near the location associated with them, self-attending parietal neurons and visual tracking neurons that activate in perception of movement.
Disorienting our habitual wayfinding and perception neurology together with changes in our blood chemistry in response to novelty or stress: it’s not hard to make a case that more is going on than meets the eye – or makes sense to our logical minds – when we walk the path to the center of a labyrinth and enter the heart of our intentions.
Our favorite story of bringing the mystery of the labyrinth to everyday life was this one told by Eve Eschner Hogan
When I first found out about the labyrinth, I knew only of the ones at the Chartres Cathedral in France and the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. So, I began planning to take a “pilgrimage” within. When I mentioned the labyrinth to several of my friends, I discovered that there was a labyrinth painted in the parking lot of St. John’s Church on Maui, forty-five minutes from where I lived.
This was when I began learning about myself through the use of self-observation and metaphor regarding the labyrinth, because I immediately had my “spiritual attitude” mirrored back to me. I did not want to walk my sacred path in a parking lot! I had so beautifully romanticized the idea of walking the labyrinth that I actually flew 2,500 miles to San Francisco to walk it before I drove a few miles from my home for the experience.
Of course, I hadn’t yet worked with the concept of metaphors, so I didn’t realize what I was being shown. Instead, I took my journey to the Grace Cathedral thinking that it would be “more spiritual,” rather than realizing that we can, and do, walk our sacred paths in parking lots and shopping centers, in bathrooms, at work, and every day of the week – not just on Sunday. A place or day does not need to be deemed “sacred” for us to be on our path, as we are already on it, all the time, even right now, wherever you may be as you read this.
~ Eve Eschner Hogan, Way of the Winding Path: A Map for the Labyrinth of Life
In sweet morning light or with candles in the new moon, a path taped to the carpet in your den or laid in hand-hewn flagstones of an immense cathedral: if you are looking for a catalyst for change, a physical meditation or chance to look into your heart, walking a labyrinth could be your practice.
World Labyrinth Day May 7th, 2011
As part of this celebration you are invited to “Walk as One at 1” to effect a rolling wave of peaceful energy as the world turns. Walk in your local time zone at 1 PM.
www.veriditas.org Veriditas trains facilitators to guide walks and workshops everywhere from community parks to hospitals.
Labyrinthsociety.org Friendly and very informative site includes free downloads of finger labyrinths that you can trace or scale up and peg out in your own back yard.
Find a labyrinth near you
Way of the Winding Path: A Map for the Labyrinth of Life Eve Eschner Hogan
Exploring the Labyrinth: A Guide for Healing Melissa Gayle West offers instructions creating and caring for labyrinths and guidance for using labyrinth walks to foster creativity or healing, or finding the answers to questions.
Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth Lauren Artress the founder of Verditas.