Walking a labyrinth is a kind of pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage is an inward journey as well as an external one. It is traditionally defined as travelling, usually with some difficulty, through unknown territory, to a sacred centre, where something memorable has happened before. Often for us, that difficulty lies in simply letting go of our expectations and being present.
How to walk a labyrinth
The labyrinth is a kind of walking meditation. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, although, like any meditation, it is best experienced with an unhurried, contemplative approach.
The most important thing is to find and honour your own pace. Collect yourself before you step in by taking a few deep breaths. Create the intention within yourself to be present and to welcome whatever arises.
Sometimes you will be walking with other people. This is an opportunity to appreciate that we are all somewhere on the Path, trying to do the best we can. Be respectful of other people’s need for space and privacy.
What is a guided labyrinth walk?
A ‘guided’ walk means that a trained facilitator is present at the labyrinth event. If walking the labyrinth is a pilgrimage, the facilitator is like the person who provides for the pilgrims along the way: greeting participants as they arrive, assisting with any special needs, offering an introductory explanation for newcomers, answering questions.
What does the facilitator do?
The facilitator establishes and maintains a contemplative atmosphere, sets the theme and intention for the walk, and provides for the comfort and well-being of the participants. Seating arrangements and hospitality invite fellowship and the communion of shared stories. Flowers, candles, “stopping places” or altars, bells and selected music are all sensorial cues that enhance the experience of participating in an event in sacred space. The facilitator opens the event, acts as compassionate presence and witness for participants as they are walking, and conducts the closing ritual of thanksgiving. Many labyrinth facilitators (including Vanessa) have been trained by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, a pioneer of labyrinth practice in North America.
Approaching the labyrinth as a fourfold path – the 4 “Rs”
Some people prefer to go in with a specific question, a request for guidance about a situation, a prayer or sacred “centering” word.
The “fourfold path” expresses the fullness of life’s journey at different times: the joyful via positiva, the sorrowful via negativa, from which emerge the imaginative and inspired via creativa and the life-altering via transformativa.
1/ Via Positiva: joy, delight and awe.
Remembering — all your blessings as you prepare to walk; to be grateful to yourself for taking this time out, and your feet for getting you to the labyrinth!
2/ via negativa: darkness, silence, suffering, letting go and letting be.
Releasing —shedding your expectations and obstacles, doubts and fears.
3/ via creativa: creativity, inspiration.
Receiving — guidance, interior silence, peace, creative idea; whatever it is your soul chooses to nourish itself, however unexpected this may be.
4/ via transformativa: justice, compassion, interdependence.
Resolving —to honour your insights and give them traction in the world; to take the next step of your life. Like taking the first step into the labyrinth, this is an act of will.
What people say about walking the labyrinth
“I gained clarity and release” … “entered a peaceful space” … “I felt my heart open to compassion”… “eager to be part of a circle of light” … “lovely”… “I get a peaceful feeling here” …”you create a very safe place conducive to expression”
On a personal note
In May 2008, I re-visited the labyrinth at Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres on a Friday, when the chairs are cleared away. It had been nine years since I was last there, and I was grateful to be back. It was wonderful to see the labyrinth open to the public, although the explanatory signage was discreet and easy to miss. I was taken aback by the tourists ambling about taking pictures of the rose window high above us, oblivious to others who were trying to make the most of this rare opportunity to walk the path beneath our feet. Then it dawned on me: I could be on a spiritual path without any big signage or accommodations. For all I knew, the tourists were on their own spiritual paths, which happened to occupy the same space as mine that day. Wherever we were in our journeys, it made no difference to the labyrinth. It was there for all of us.