The Labyrinth: Stepping into the Sacred Path

The labyrinth is itself an astoundingly precise model of the spiritual understanding of the universe. Not only are the exact cosmic rhythms built into it, but as well, the other sacred measures that represent our relationship to the ‘journey back’ to our spiritual wholeness.
— Keith Critchlow
labyrinth in new rainier vista, seattle, wa (USA)

labyrinth in new rainier vista, seattle, wa (USA)

Today is World Labyrinth Day! Did you even know such a day existed? Such a designation joins the ranks of days, weeks and months dedicated to a cause and a purpose. And hopefully, such an emphasis does indeed bring a broader awareness to an ancient tool that can be used to facilitate spiritual growth and awareness. World Labyrinth Day, a project of The Labyrinth Society, is a day "designated to bring people from all over the planet together in celebration of the labyrinth as a symbol of a tool and healing for peace." (The Labyrinth Society 2013 promo materials)

A powerful symbol, labyrinths are usually in the form of a circle with a meandering but purposeful path, from the edge to the center and back out again, large enough to be walked into. Each labyrinth is unicursal, that is to say it has only one path (whereas a maze is multicursal-they offer a choice of paths, some with many entrances and exits), and once we choose to enter it, the path becomes a metaphor for our journey through life, sending us to the center of the labyrinth and back out to the edges via the same path. In this way, it becomes a microcosm of a pilgrimage or a sacred journey. We journey inward to discover more of ourselves, to encounter God, and even to receive healing or answers. And like a pilgrimage, after we go, we must return back home, bringing back the "boon" and the blessings that we received at the center. The labyrinth is a spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves, to our collective community on our earth and in the cosmos, and to the Divine Light that resides and calls to us from within. In choosing this ancient winding path, and surrendering to it, the soul discovers healing and wholeness.

Lauren Artress, author of  (1995, The Penguin Group), writes about how this ancient symbol and method connects us to the greater community of things:

Labyrinth at Columba's Bay, Iona Scotland
Labyrinth at Columba's Bay, Iona Scotland

Based on the circle, the universal symbol for unity and wholeness, the labyrinth sparks the human imagination and introduces it to a kaleidoscopic patterning that builds a sense of relationship: one person to another, to another, to many people, to creation of the the whole. It enlivens the intuitive part of our nature and stirs within the human heart the longing for connectedness and the remembrance of our purpose for living.

We see this pattern repeated all around us in nature-the unfolding curls of the fern, the spider's web, galaxies spinning outwards from themselves. And when we engage this shape, with our eyes, with our fingers and with our feet, we are connecting ourselves to the Creator who manifested this sacred symbol and we come away with a sense of release, illumination, and union to God and ourselves.

A group of women walking the labyrinth at The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, WA
A group of women walking the labyrinth at The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, WA

While people are universally drawn to this symbol and its rich metaphors, surprise at the inevitable soul-work is a common response after participating in walking the labyrinth. I recently convened a pilgrimage retreat for a group of women in the San Jaun Islands where we walked a labyrinth to further explore the archetypal stage of transformation. Many of the participants had never walked a labyrinth before and, while curious, were doubtful they would be moved or have any kind of soulful experience whatsoever. It was a thing of divine mystery and beauty to witness the unfolding of personal discovery, even while walking the path together.

One woman expressed how she was dubious of the whole process up until reaching the labyrinth's center. However, at the moment she reached the center, which was met with surprise as the long, winding path can seem so long and delusory, she was moved to tears. Relinquishing herself to a posture of kneeling, she remained at the center for quite some time experiencing a sense of release and profound clarity. Another woman scoffed at the potential for an emotional, spiritual experience, and she too was taken off-guard by what she believed to be a very clear message from God for her life.

These women, and people around the world for ages, have expressed how empowered they feel after walking the labyrinth. This sense of union provides a grounding effect that allows the "seeker" to integrate what they experienced at the center with their exterior life, which was, in a sense, left at the threshold of the labyrinth. People desire a transformative spiritual experience that will energize their lives in such a way so to live forward in authentic, integrated ways. We want to serve the world with compassion and self-awareness, believing we were created for a unique purpose that only we can fulfill. Walking out of the labyrinth empowers the seeker to move back out into the world, renewed, inspired and directed. This is what makes the labyrinth a particularly powerful tool for transformation.

Solvitur ambulando...It is solved by walking...-St. Augustine

Watercolor labyrinth by Peg Conley
Watercolor labyrinth by Peg Conley

May this day extend an invitation to your soul--an invitation to get up and go and engage an ancient practice that facilitates relinquishment, illumination and insight. This process is a gift to our souls and to our surrounding world as it nurtures in us a call to live forward with wholeness and authenticity. May you be blessed as you step into the sacred path!

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Further resources for learning about labyrinths and discovering how you can incorporate them into your spiritual practice:

Want to find a labyrinth near you? Use the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator!

Christine Sine's Godspace blog

The Labyrinth Society

Veriditas