Labyrinths have existed for thousands of years; they appear in many faith and cultural traditions and in many parts of the world, from Iceland to Indonesia, from Arizona to North Africa. They appear in many forms: rock carvings, pottery designs, ancient coins, tiles and earthworks (cut into the ground, or with lines of stone). Britain has eight of Europe’s ancient turf labyrinths.
A labyrinth is not a maze; mazes have many paths (multicursal) and dead ends, designed to confuse. Labyrinths have a single (unicursal), convoluted path to the centre and back again; if you are walking a labyrinth, you can usually see the whole design, though concentration is needed to follow the path.
Walking a labyrinth is a peaceful experience. We don’t know how labyrinths were used in ancient times, but there has been a modern resurgence of interest. People walk labyrinths for many reasons; for relaxation, stress and anger management, for a quiet meditative break in the middle of a busy day, for spiritual development, or simply to relax and enjoy the walk with time for oneself.
Walking the labyrinth is time for you: time to allow your mind to quieten and to let go of the burdens and worries of daily life. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but these suggestions may be helpful.
Respect the quietness of the labyrinth, for the benefit of all who walk there. If you want to pause or rest, just do so.
As you enter the labyrinth, take a few moments to let go of the outside world and concerns. Be aware that you can trust the path as it twists and turns. Take your own time to walk to the centre; walk at your own pace.
If you find that you want to overtake another walker, do so with care, and keep your eye on the path that you are following so that you do not miss your way. (Even if you do mistake your path, you can only end up at the centre or at the beginning – you can’t get lost).
When you reach the centre, you can choose to spend some time there: this is a resting place, time to receive and absorb the experience.
As you return, reflect on your path. These are your first steps out towards the world, taking the peace of the labyrinth with you.