The labyrinth is a tool for prayer, a walking meditation. This is a personal tool, just one among many used for prayer and meditation. As with any other tool, continued practice produces more and more comfort with its manner of “speaking” to our lives. Using everything that occurs on the walk as a metaphor, the labyrinth becomes an effective mirror for life, a reflecting pool of sorts.
A labyrinth is an ancient design, which has been found in all religious traditions in various forms. Its history spans the globe as well as thousands of years. The Christian labyrinth was first developed around the fourth century and is believed to have provided a “pilgrimage” experience for those unable to make the dangerous and expensive trip to Jerusalem.
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth offers no tricks, puzzles or dead-ends. The design forms a winding unicursal path which leads toward the center and back out again. This sacred path in a sacred circle simply leads to a deeper connection to God, others, and ourselves.
There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but one time-honored method seems to have proven effective for many in walking the labyrinth. This method is the Christian mystical three-fold path of purgation, illumination, and reunion. We also call this the three R’s — Release, Receive, and Return.
Release, the initial stage, begins as you enter the labyrinth and continues all the way to the center. This is an opportunity to release the details of everyday life, the lists, the busyness, and the countless thoughts. Facing the palms downward, allow all of these thoughts to just float away. This act of shedding works to quiet the mind and still the soul, opening it up to the silence of the Spirit.
Receive, the second stage, is found at the center of the labyrinth. Walking in with an open mind and open heart, you can receive whatever is there for you. Staying as long as you like, you may sit, stand, or even lie down. This is a place of meditation and prayer. When you feel “ready” or “full”, as after a wonderful meal, you simply follow the same path back out of the labyrinth.
Reunion, takes place once you begin the path back out of the labyrinth, joining with God to bring into your life what you have received in the center. With each step, there is a sense of gaining strength and integration, encouraged by the experience to walk into new areas of growth and awareness.
There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Walk with an open mind and an open heart and receive whatever is there for you. Release your expectations. Focus on your breath. Find your own individual pace. There is one way in and one way out. Those going in will meet those coming out. You may pass others on the path or allow them to step around you, do whatever comes naturally. Use everything as a metaphor.