One of the most enduring and ancient symbols of sacred geometry is the labyrinth. There are three stages in walking a labyrinth: to shed or purge, to find illumination, and to reach union with all that is sacred and divine. When I need guidance, I walk a labyrinth. The answer always comes. When I need a walking meditation, the labyrinth is there for me.
Unlike a maze, where one encounters many dead ends and false paths, a labyrinth has one way in to the center and one way out. There are many patterns for labyrinths, but the best known are the Creatan seven-circuit labyrinth and the Chartres Cathedral 13-circuit labyrinth. The oldest known seven-circuit labyrinth was carved around 2500-2000 BCE at Luzzanas in Sardinia. The Chartres labyrinth was laid on the west nave floor between 1194 and 1220 AD. Today, labyrinths can be found in cities around the world, many of them open to the public 24 hours a day. There are seven in my city, most in churches, and one on the grounds of a hospice care center.
As one follow the circuitous path toward the center of the labyrinth, the process of shedding, or purging, occurs. It is time to be silent, to go within, to release. It is time to let go of those thoughts and feelings that separate us from the Divine. The path winds close to the center of the labyrinth, then near the outside, a metaphor for how we both approach and move away from the Divine, both within and without ourselves.
When one finally reaches the center, it is usually a surprise. Dr. Lauren Artress, in Walking a Sacred Path says, “Usually it is a surprise to reach the center because the long winding path seems so illogical. We don’t know we’re there until we’re there, which is often true in life.” The center of the 13-circuit labyrinth is in the shape of a rose, representing both the Virgin Mary and enlightenment. It is here, in the stillness of the center, that we find our own center, our own answers.
Union occurs when we wind our way out from the center, on the same path we have trod inward. The union phase aids us in bringing new insights gained from being in the center out into the “real” world with us. The outward walk solidifies our communion with the Divine within us.
When I travel, the first item on my agenda is to walk a labyrinth if one is available. When I have been on pilgrimages to southwest England, for example, I and my travel companion have walked the seven-circuit grass labyrinth in Glastonbury, setting our intentions for our pilgrimage. I normally walk barefooted so that I am connected to Mother Earth and as a sign of humility. I did, however, wear shoes when I walked a labyrinth made of beautiful, small pieces of colored glass!
For some days prior to December 31 each year, I meditate to find a word that represents my intention for the coming year. This past New Year’s Eve, I was torn between a couple of words that almost – but not quite – felt right. As I walked the beautiful 13-circuit labyrinth laid in stone on the sanctuary floor of a local church, harpists softly played background music. While I was in the center, meditating about my intentions for the upcoming year, they began to play the beautiful old Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” Tears streamed down my face as I knew, beyond doubt, I had been given the gift of “simple” as my word for the year.
Next: The Gift of Pilgrimage.