Walking the Labyrinth: A Meditative Path
It was 1980 and “The Empire Strikes Back” had enthralled our cultural psyche. That summer at a church party, the only kid there was a boy younger than me who clearly had seen the movie too. As we ran off to play, he leapt and swung a plastic lightsaber which made electric whooshing sounds.
“Han Solo!” he shouted.
I wanted to be Luke Skywalker but he kept calling me Leia. Though she was a princess and I liked her side hair buns, Leia didn’t have a light saber or Jedi training.
Growing up, the Star Wars trilogy was among a few key films that had a significant impact on my imagination and spiritual development. The concept of the “force” validated my experience of the world. It spoke to a truth, of a universal energy that infuses all things that could be harnessed for good or ill.
As an adult I’ve explored how human energy can be cultivated by training and practice in various healing modalities.
The movie prequel, The Force Awakens was especially meaningful from a mature perspective. Some of the now aged original characters were called once again on a “hero or heroine’s journey. Best of all, the heroine Rey was a born Jedi who at first refused, but finally made the choice to accept her true nature and intuitively develop her skills.
Mythic stories such as Star Wars aren’t just entertainment; they tap into the archetypes that live in our individual and collective unconscious. This concept was popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero’s Journey. Myths represent the journey each of us takes in life, the gifts we must claim and important soul tasks that call us, a call which we may or may not accept.
Author Maureen Murdock expands on that theory in her book, The Heroine’s Journey. She writes that the masculine hero’s journey is focused outward on achievement, cultivating power and control in the world. The feminine journey is a descent into our inner life, a search for aspects of our selves that have been lost or neglected. It is about listening to our deep self and nurturing our creative gifts.
The archetype has awakened in this new year. What is calling us? With so many responsibilities and diversions vying for our attention, it can be difficult to discern “the call” of Spirit and our heart. Or we may hear it, but fear can create stagnation and prevent us from taking the necessary steps.
Sometimes “the call” is challenging such as navigating an illness, and we need to gather inner resources. Alternatively, perhaps our plates are too full and we crave space, to breathe and be.
A powerful, ancient symbol for this journey is the labyrinth. In our modern day it is used as a meditative walking tool, a way to “listen to our deep self.” Unlike a maze which has dead ends, the labyrinth has one continuous, winding path that leads to a space in the center, and the same path leads back out. One doesn’t have to figure out which direction to go, which allows the mind to relax into a more receptive mode.
The shape of the labyrinth is a spiral, a fundamental shape that is found in all of nature such as the spiral of galaxies and snail shells, how plant seedlings and fetuses unfurl from a central axis, and the double helix of our DNA. Thus the labyrinth is a template of life, a symbol of evolution and involution. It helps us to remember our connection with the movement of creation.
There are three basic stages to the labyrinth walk:
When you enter the labyrinth you are leaving behind the outward focus of the “ordinary world.” The focus now turns inward to connect with your inner world. Much like a sitting meditation let your mind rest on each inhale and exhale.
Another approach is to state a question or intention before you begin the walk. Let go of trying to find an answer, just pay attention to your experience. Walk at a pace that is comfortable for you.
As you follow the path, observe the feelings and sensations that arise in your body. There may be emotions such as worry, fear, anger, impatience, or you may have pleasant sensations such as lightness of spirit, a sense of freedom.
There is no right or wrong feeling, and no need to try to change how you feel in any way. The task is to simply allow what is there and keep walking. If someone else is also walking the labyrinth, each needs to respect the other’s solitude and pass by silently.
When you reach the center of the labyrinth, you may stop there and stand or sit for as long as you like. This space represents the center of your being, a sacred space to commune with God, a higher power or benevolent source of wisdom. This is a good time to pray, ask a question or meditate.
Walking back out of the labyrinth, most likely you will feel different than when you walked in. Perhaps you received an insight, a renewed sense of energy, clarity or calm. If nothing noticeable happened or you feel agitated, not to worry, the insight or energy shift may reveal itself later. After you exit the labyrinth, gently bring your attention back to the “ordinary world”.
Each labyrinth walk is a different experience, as it mirrors the present moment and your current internal state. The labyrinth can be a powerful tool for self-development, to connect with your inner truth, access guidance, promote well-being and feel more grounded in your authentic self.
Labyrinths can be found in many states across the US and around the world: in churches, gardens community centers, or you can construct your own. The Labyrinth Society has a comprehensive list of locations.
If you have difficulty walking or cannot access one there are virtual labyrinths and finger labyrinths available, which have the same meditative and centering effect.
May the force be with you.
Elizabeth Phaire is a Master Life-Cycle Celebrant® and Interfaith Minister. She officiates personalized ceremonies for weddings, baby blessings, funerals, and other rites of passage. A faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, she holds five certifications from the school. Her background and holistic lifestyle includes energy healing, nutrition, meditation, music, writing, and performance poetry. She draws from these sources to help individuals, families and communities to honor their transitions with authenticity and creativity. You can reach her through: www.elizabethphaire.com and on Facebook.com.