Labyrinths

September 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been a summer of labyrinths. Of discovering them – at Canterbury, at our campsite in Scotland, and in the North Yorkshire Wolds; and of watching my family making them – patterns in the sand by the seaside, and using grass-cuttings on a lawn.

Whereas a maze offers you many routes, with choices and dead-ends, a labyrinth has only one way to the middle. You follow it, and then there is nothing for it but to turn and follow the path to the exit. All you need to do is to keep going in the same direction. In a maze, your aim is to find the middle. In a labyrinth, the invitation is to find more of yourself.

Earliest labyrinth designs appeared over 3,500 years ago, and it has been found in many different cultures, and in both secular and religious contexts.

There’s something deceptively simple about the process of walking a labyrinth. If you’re able to walk or wheel-chair round it, it offers no physical challenges.

At its best, though, it is an exercise in focussing and reflection. When I am most focussed, I find that meaning arrives for me, whether I’m holding a specific issue in mind or holding myself open to whatever may emerge. The first few steps follow broad sweeps around the outer rings of the labyrinth: it feels as though I am gathering information, discovering the broad context of my concern, building up ideas and potential. The latter paths twist and turn towards the middle – the end of the path is visible, but still no straight way will take you there. New insights, possibilities, actions become more tangible.

A pause in the middle – is this where I want to be? Often I feel a temptation to walk straight out of the labyrinth, across the paths, as if I’ve achieved all I need to. But the way out is the way in, and the middle is only half-way. There is more to learn, and though I am still the person who entered the labyrinth only a few minutes ago, I may not be the same person who will leave. The change is within the process of attention to the path and to the present moment.

There is a growing interest in the therapeutic, creative and personal development aspects of labyrinths. They are quick and easy to draw, and I’m guessing they could be used in all sorts of ways with individuals, teams and organisations. Clearly there is much more for me to learn and experiment with.

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