The more that I write and speak to groups about spiritual direction, the more aware I’m becoming of the rapidly growing interest in the labyrinth. Throughout the world, people of all denominations are discovering its many gifts by including this sacred tool in their own spiritual practice. While the origins of the labyrinth are shrouded in the distant past, it still has much to offer and teach us today. If one is able to relax and approach it with an open mind, the spiritual benefits of this walking meditation can have a significant impact on most anyone.
When I teach about the labyrinth, one of the first things I do is to make the distinction contra mazes. A maze is meant to challenge and confuse the user. By contrast, a labyrinth has a single path by which one progresses to the center at one’s own pace, remains there as long as one wishes, and returns via the same path to the entrance/exit. There is no "wrong" way to travel the labyrinth. This time spent within this sacred space is yours to experience in ways uniquely your own, although you may find it helpful to process your experience with your spiritual director or pastor.
Now, a major problem in going deeper and developing a regular spiritual practice is that most of us don’t have a 40 foot Chartres replica labyrinth in our back yard. And while they are becoming more prevalent, it can still be difficult to find a publicly accessible labyrinth. One tool I’ve found helpful is Worldwide Labyrinth Locator. A ministry of Veriditas and the Labyrinth Society, the website is an easy-to-use database of labyrinths around the world, containing over 4200 labyrinths in 75 countries. I used this resource to find the labyrinths close to my home and help others locate one close to them. It’s a nifty tool!
Another work around to actually not having a physical labyrinth to walk is the use of “finger labyrinths.” Again, let me encourage you to let go of any thinking which dismisses the finger labyrinth as less “real” than a full scale, walking model. Tracing the labyrinth offers many of the same gifts as walking it does, with a number of added advantages and possibilities, foremost among these being portability and accessibility. They are ready for use 24 hours a day, regardless of distance, location, weather, or health/mobility issues. Approaching the finger labyrinth with an expectant spirit and an open heart can lead you into amazing experiences.
How To Actually Do It
1. Either purchase a finger labyrinth or print one from the Internet.
2. Choose a quiet place where you can focus and walk your finger labyrinth without being disturbed.
3. Place your labyrinth in front of you. Enter the entrance of your finger labyrinth with the forefinger of your non-dominant hand. If using your non-dominant hand is awkward or uncomfortable, you can use the forefinger of your dominant hand instead.
4. Trace the pattern of the labyrinth with your finger. Clear your mind of extraneous thoughts and focus solely on following the path of the labyrinth.
5. Walk to the center of your finger labyrinth and rest momentarily. Take a few moments to just be in the center of the labyrinth. Explore your thoughts and feelings. Observe what thoughts, emotions, memories, pictures, and so forth come into your mind. Notice whether you feel a sensation of peace and serenity. Notice if your mental chatter has become quiet and if you have a sense of well-being.
6. Retrace your path out of the labyrinth.
7. Sit back, take a deep breath and relax. Observe how you feel. Record your experience in your journal for future reference and/or sharing with your spiritual director.
As a spiritual director, retreat leader, and workshop presenter I am very interested in helping people who are drawn to the labyrinth to begin their own practice with this profound and deeply rewarding spiritual tool. As you begin to honor the path and attend to the movements of the Holy Spirit during your labyrinth time, you may very well find your spirit embarking on a significant inner pilgrimage into peace, into deeper understanding, into the mysterious presence of the Divine.
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