Walking the labyrinth is an ancient movement meditation. With focus, you walk a winding path from margin to center, following a single route in and back out. The process invites spiritual metaphors, encouraging you to reframe your questions and quests.
Don’t bother trying to read about it. Everything the books say is ridiculous. “It’s a map of your spiritual life.” “A microcosm of planet earth.” “A cosmic map of creation.” The claims get more and more grandiose.
Just walk, and see which metaphors come alive for you. Here are some that surprised me.
My professional life is a labyrinth: As I entered the labyrinth, I posed a question about a professional dilemma. For months, I’d been wrestling anxiously with it. As I walked, I thought of all the crazy turns my work life has taken. None were ultimately wrong turns, but sometimes I wasted a lot of energy. As I walked, I felt irritated with myself, impatient with the world.
I noticed an old fashioned streetlamp standing oddly near the labyrinth. “What was the artist thinking?” I wondered. “Lighting the way of the pilgrim? How obvious can symbolism get?” Amused, I laughed out loud. Of course the path back out from the centre felt easier; the familiar twists and turns felt expansive. Instead of anxiety around decisions, I felt gratitude for opportunities.
As I exited, I felt my labyrinth walk told a story of my life-cycle. When I was younger, I was wound tightly around my ambition. These days, I’d simply like to enjoy my work.
Creation is a labyrinth, and I mirror creation: Feeling whimsical, I challenged the labyrinth as I entered. “I would like to find myself! Show it to me!” As I walked, I noticed how well the labyrinth is set up for seeking. You enter and explore a quadrant in tight arcs. With a wide curl, you swing into another quadrant.
“This is exactly the path I’ve used to find myself over and over again,” I thought. “Study a field carefully, leap into a new one, study it and leap again.” But as I reached the center, I felt anxious; there’s nowhere to leap. Should I stand still, or take tiny steps?
Stalled at the center, surveying the labyrinth, I recognized a diagram of a famous kabbalistic creation theory. Before the beginning, says the theory, only undifferentiated Divine energy existed. At some point, Divine energy contracted itself, leaving a circular void. A ray of divine light blazed through the void, bending itself to create vessels to hold its own light. Some vessels shattered; others endured. All became part of the world we know.
In my own inner life, I recognize a void. An empty place, that can burn with intensity, holding feelings and fears. It propels me forward, to learn and explore. Learning never quenches it, only wraps around it, alternately hiding and fueling it. Yes, it hurts, but that’s not a failing, it’s just the way I am. It’s the way of all creation, and I am a creature.
Planet earth is a labyrinth. I brought my geeky self to the labyrinth one day, determined to quantify and memorize its structure. To specify the winding walk through concentric circles, quadrant by quadrant. As I walked, I counted: Enter Quadrant 1, double back, walk circumference; Enter Quadrant 2, circle round to 3 and 4…
Pausing in the count, I looked up. To the north, the castle, grey with faint patches of moss. East, the brown-bricked student residence. South, the glassy new white condominium tower. West, the matching low-rise apartments. Nestled within this quadrant of buildings: the lawn, the playground, the parking lot. Circling the labyrinth closer in: the tall straight pine, the deciduous grove, the old split sappy tree, the garden of broad-leaf greens. My gaze wound back out, from the plants, to the activity zones, to the building — a mirror of the winding path of the labyrinth.
Yes, I realized, anything can look like a labyrinth, a pattern, a journey, a path. Welcome to the labyrinth, a metaphor that helps you reframe it all.
This week I begin leading a spiritual practice group (“covenant” group, as we call it at VST) through the labyrinth, for students at the Vancouver School of Theology. We will be walking Maltese-style labyrinth on the grounds of the University of British Columbia.
This labyrinth was installed in 2006 and designed by Landscape Architects Perry and Associates, replacing the original grass inset created in (1997) by Rev. April Stanley, JoAnne Tharalson, Rev. Lynne McNaughton and Ginger Shaw.
Images: (1) The VST Labyrinth by Laura Duhan Kaplan; (2) Art by David Friedman