During a period of great change, when it’s easy to get drawn off center, few things in the material world act as tools to anchor us in the core of our spiritual Self. But I awoke one morning recently at three a.m. with a dream that consisted of one image. It was the five petaled form at the heart of the labyrinth I’d walked earlier in the day. The image struck me so much because it was still, solid and anchored. It was the perfect way to symbolize and embody what I needed most at that moment – to be centered.
I was in a period of personal turmoil. Though I had the joy of the release of my first book, my relationship was falling apart. Between the demanding travels for the book launch and the souring marriage at home, the core of the labyrinth I’d walked gave me a deep sense of calm abiding. Though I was being drawn out and moved through a hectic and troubled time, the heart of the labyrinth reminded me to remain connected and anchored in that deep place of inner quiet.
Labyrinths have been tools used by many cultures around the world. It’s interesting that they were torn out of some French cathedrals because they were considered by the clergy as pagan. Perhaps it’s the power of these simple, circular passages inward to guide us deep within our own hearts and minds, deep into the natural peace within us that threatened the clergy’s own sense of power over the spiritual activities of others. This self-guided experience of putting one foot in front of the other on the only path, cut past the need for them to intervene and opened up a direct root to inner spiritual connection.
I’m convinced that labyrinths reveal the natural spiritual tendencies within us if we’re open to them. They help us to go inside and some say they even bring balance between the left and right brains, between the masculine and feminine sides of us and between the material, mental, emotional and spiritual realms within us. Walking them offers a generic spirituality in a world in need of some kind of value and meaning. A study by the American Psychotherapy Association finds labyrinths may serve a holistic function and bring more balance to our lives. It postulates this is the reason behind their renewed popularity. It concludes that they’re used in hospitals, prisons, schools, churches and universities to aid people seeking more balanced psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
I’ve walked them in parks, at retreats, at Duke University’s Integrative Medicine Center and each time the experience is different, most likely because I am different and so is the space. Some seem conducive to focusing on the breath and helping me to connect with nature – my human nature as well as the plants, animals and elements around me. Others, like the table-top sized wooden finger labyrinth at a Catholic retreat center, seem more to offer a physical focus for my chattering mind and body while my elevated mind soars into higher places. In this elevated space, I am open to receive insights and inspiration.
Labyrinths seem to have a resurgence and become popular in times when society is expanding rapidly and undergoing great change. He says that a resurgence in their use occurred in the middle ages up to the Renaissance period, at the turn of the 19th century and its recurring again today. Walking them can help to make sense of challenging times. They are metaphors for the process of life and its connection to the spirit. By following the path and trusting the process, we can make it to the center – the strongest and most confident point and return renewed and revitalized. For many people seeking to calm the mind, it’s a good alternative to a sitting meditation. The walking movement, combined with the breath and a mantra or prayer can elevate one into a place of wellbeing and peace.
When the phenomenal world seems to be rushing by too fast and events seem to carry me on a fast current down river of life that has a lot of white water, I find comfort in this place. It’s a reminder that this place of peace and oneness of mind, body and spirit is ever present within me, even as the days rush by and all that I’d imagined was solid and unchanging disappears.
In the days when I can’t find the time to go out and walk a labyrinth, I keep an image of the center of the labyrinth by my desk acts as a vital reminder of its power to keep me focused inward on the spirit and act from the integrity it gives.
Debra Moffitt is the award winning author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life and “Garden of Bliss: Cultivating the Inner Landscape for Self-Discovery” (Llewellyn Worldwide, February 2013). A visionary, dreamer and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices, writing and creativity in the U.S. and Europe. More at http://www.awakeintheworld.com and on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/DebraMoffittAwakeintheWorld