Friday, March 4, 2011
Early Encounters of the Labyrinth Kind
Labyrinths and mazes have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a child, this fascination was in the form of playful challenges and games. I remember while visiting the dentist office I would hurriedly page through the Highlights for Children magazine to the maze page, hoping that some previous patient hadn’t already completed the challenge. I still have the labyrinth game I received at age 12. It was the only desire on my birthday wish list that year and it occupied many hours of my time as a young girl.
As an adult, when I began studying peacekeeping, spirituality and mediation, I was led to encounter the labyrinth in a new way, this time not for games, but as a tool to support spiritual exploration and self-awareness.
My first encounter on a canvas labyrinth was far from pleasant, but the result was life changing. I walked a large 36 foot canvas labyrinth, similar to the above photo, as part of a breakout workshop at a national church convention.
There were 30 or more people walking this labyrinth at the same time, and I was fully occupied by trying not to lose my place on the path amidst the crowd. So much so that I was entirely unable to release that anxiety and breathe into a contemplative mindset. I was so relieved by finally reaching the center that I felt exhausted. Yet, as I stood in the center, I observed others on the labyrinth path who appeared joyful, tearful or otherwise immersed in a deep prayerful experience. Captivated by the observance that this labyrinth encounter offered the potential for much depth in human spiritual experience, I returned to the labyrinth room later when no one else was walking. There, by myself, I could explore the mystical meandering path with a calm heart and spirit. Inspired, I returned to the labyrinth several times during the conference week. Each time my labyrinth encounter was different. It became a quiet refuge from the busy conference setting.
Intrigued, I returned home and began to research labyrinths. I mowed my first labyrinth two weeks later into a clearing on our five acre property. This labyrinth lasted through the winter. These early days were the first steps on a journey of delight. As I worked with the labyrinth form, I re-connected with my creativity in a way that was integrated with my spiritual path. The journey served me through periods of grief and personal challenges as well as joyful celebrations.
While I define my childhood fascination being related more to puzzle mazes, I was delighted to revisit the Highlights magazine in October 2004 to discover an article on labyrinths. See http://www.thefreelibrary.com/_/print/PrintArticle.aspx?id=128446057
It teaches children the same method for drawing a pattern as I explored in my early research, and suggests walking the labyrinth to think through a problem, relax before a test or sports match, calm down when angry or cheer up when feeling sad. I am encouraged by the thought that children of today will grow up learning about the labyrinth not just as a game, but also as a process to experience and embrace life.