Walking the Labyrinth: A Contemplative Practice Part 2
By Kathy Keary
May 2, Saturday, is World Labyrinth Day, a celebration promoted by The Labyrinth Society. On that day at 1 p.m., no matter what time zone one is in, everyone should walk a labyrinth with the aim of sustaining a 24-hourlong “wave of peaceful energy across all time zones.” They call it “Walk as One at 1.”
This year we can’t gather together as we have in the past for a communal labyrinth walk, but people can walk on their own and keep that “wave of peaceful energy” flowing. As an aid to individual walkers, I’m including three articles on the spirituality of the labyrinth in this series on The Contemplative Life.
This article will explore elements you may want to consider as you engage in the contemplative practice of walking the labyrinth. The point is not to burden or stifle you with methods but to introduce you to possibilities you may find palatable. As with all contemplative prayer, allow the Spirit to be your guide.
As we mentioned in our previous article, we prepare to walk the labyrinth by discerning before we begin the technique we will employ to stay in the present moment. I refer you to that article for possibilities to consider.
You may then be motivated to ponder your intention for walking the labyrinth. There are many possibilities such as meditation, resting in the divine, spiritual transformation, worship, discernment, finding a sense of purpose, stress reduction, healing, grieving, addressing family issues, problem solving, and letting go of something.
It is advisable to pose your intention as a request for divine guidance or insight versus suggesting the answer or solution. Be open to the unique gift the Spirit will offer as you journey through the labyrinth. You may not arrive at an immediate insight following your walk; however, thought patterns, emotions, energies, ideas, and questions may surface, perhaps subtly, that will eventually blossom with significance.
Shed any expectations of what will occur as you walk the labyrinth. Being open to the surprises of the Spirit can be transformative. You will enrich your experience if you stay in the moment allowing the Sacred One to lead you and work in you.
It can be enlightening to take your emotional temperature before you begin the walk. How are you feeling on a physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional level? I refer you to the attached feeling chart (see right) to pinpoint where you are in this regard. It can be illuminating to compare how you were feeling before the walk with how you are feeling after the walk. The change that has occurred may speak to how the Holy One worked in you through this contemplative practice.
You may be moved to pause for a moment before you enter the labyrinth capturing an opportunity to stand still and embrace the silence. Allow this moment of tranquility to set your pace as you proceed. This practice may encourage a stance of being in the present moment.
Proceed into the labyrinth one step at a time with your mind totally focused on your walk. As you empty yourself of distractions and ego, you will find that you are not only traveling to the center of the labyrinth but also to your own center where you will find the Indwelling Spirit of God.
For many the center represents the Divine, God, the Holy Spirit, Christ, Buddha, the city of God, the essence of truth, the image of the still point within, or the divine feminine. I find it edifying when I reach the center to close my eyes and hold my arms out with palms up signifying that I am receptive and open to whatever God has in store for me in this moment. I have never left the center empty handed. The treasures I have been given have varied: love, peace, kindness, presence, mercy, and compassion are some examples.
It may be difficult to leave the center, but often the journey out is the most fruitful part of the walk. As you retrace your steps out of the labyrinth, reflect on your experience. Absorb what has transpired. Allow any new perspectives to sink in. Ponder how to integrate new insights into your daily life. Meditate on how the experience has changed you. Contemplate on how you will take the gift that was offered to you back into the world. Savor your encounter with the divine.
Accept what this experience offers you. You may be surprised by the guidance or the gift that you receive. Perhaps it is not what you anticipated. The labyrinth draws us deep within ourselves where our inner wisdom dwells – where the divine resides. With that said, of course, there will be surprises!
You may be moved to pause before taking the last step out of the labyrinth to say a brief prayer. This may be a prayer of gratitude, of acknowledging the divine with awe, or to honor the walk as a sacred experience.
During our labyrinth workshops at the Precious Blood Renewal Center, we typically gather after the labyrinth walk for reflection comparing what our intention before walking was as compared to the actual experience. We take a look at how we are feeling on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level as compared to before we engaged in this contemplative prayer. Individuals may find it helpful to reflect on how they will implement any guidance that they received. Reflecting on surprises can provide additional insight. Meditating on how the experience changed you can be edifying. It may be spiritually enriching to express yourself with words or art as you honor your encounter with God.
Stay tuned for our next article where we will delve into a reconciliation labyrinth, which is the type of labyrinth that we have at the Renewal Center.
Note: New articles in this series will be posted to the website every Monday and Wednesday. The full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles
[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]
Image at top is the Reconciliation Labyrinth on the campus of Precious Blood Renewal Center, Liberty, Missouri.
Labyrinths for Our Time
In the video above, the world’s preeminent labyrinth historian, Jeff Saward, talks about the appearance of labyrinths over 4000 years ago and their ancient use in Europe, Africa, the Far East, the Northern Isles and the Americas. The Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley, a pastor of the American Baptist Churches, comments on the nature of walking labyrinths as a group, joining together with others in community as a joyous experience.