Walking the Labyrinth


We have a labyrinth at Shekina Garden!

After hours of dreaming and planning and drawing and thinking and a lot of weeding; laying down of rice husks, tracing out a path with large rocks and creating a small fish pond in the middle - done almost entirely by the amazing Joshua - we have a beautiful labyrinth in the Food Forest at Shekina Garden. (see this post for more about the Food Forest)

I've had a tiny bit of experience with walking labyrinths in the past, but since we have our very own, I decided I wanted to learn more about them. I've started running Labyrinth Workshops at the Garden, where we learn a little about the history of the practice of the labyrinth, and then try walking it ourselves. And I thought it might be worthwhile to share my research and thoughts here too.

Roman mosaic depicting the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth

Roman mosaic depicting the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth

For starters, let me clear up the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. In a maze, there are many paths and there's the distinct possibility of getting lost. A labyrinth is unicursal - meaning one line - there's only one path in, and out again. No decisions to be made, no possibility of getting lost. It is not designed to trick or confuse, the only decision to be made along the way is to walk... or not.

The term 'labyrinth' itself is Greek in origin, and there's a rich history of the labyrinth in Greek mythology - including the story of Theseus and the Minotaur on Knossos (ancient Crete).
There have also been coins found with labyrinths on them from Ancient Crete, which are up to 4000 years old! Cool!

In the realm of spiritual practice, the walking of a labyrinth has been used for meditation and contemplation in the Christian tradition for centuries.

The labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, France

The labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, France

There are a number of classical designs of labyrinth. Ours at Shekina Garden is based on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth design set into the floor of the cathedral, built in the early 1200s. This design is similar to other Gothic cathedral designs from around Europe. The Chartres Cathedral design is an 11 circuit design, whereas the Shekina Garden design is for a smaller space, and has 5 circuits.

People in Chartres who could not afford to make a pilgrimage - to Jerusalem or other holy sites - could walk the labyrinth in a symbolic way to represent to journey of pilgrimage. In this way, pilgrimage was more widely accessible by all - I love this idea!

The walking of a labyrinth is a contemplative practice. A quiet, slow, meditative and prayerful spiritual practice with many different styles.

Some ways we have experimented with at Shekina Garden include the following:

Using a Breath Prayer as you walk (eg: inhale "Guide me", exhale "Jesus")

Pick up a stone at the entry to the labyrinth to represent something you would like to release to the Divine. Leave it in the centre.

Hold your palms facing downward as you walk inwards, as a symbol of letting go. Pause for reflection and prayer in the centre. Hold your palms upward on the way out, as a symbol of receiving from the Divine. Perhaps join them together in prayer as you exit the labyrinth.

Some other ideas or prompts we have found helpful are:

Don't rush. Pause at the entryway, the middle, the end. Is there a prayer you can speak silently in your heart? Perhaps giving a bow, nod, or other gesture to begin and end the walk. Engage the senses. Observe the actual walking, mindfully - the journey, the path, the feeling of moving towards and away from a destination.

Sound interesting? Come walk with us, sometime!

(a post by Ro)