Learning about the Labyrinth!
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The labyrinth was painted on the grass.
The "seed pattern" was easy to draw.
Every conference seems to have one person who is a nuisance.
Life lessons in the labyrinth.
Better than therapy
|My introduction to
the labyrinth was at a spring, spiritual retreat conducted by Journey into Wholeness,
an organization that integrates Christian spirituality and the insights of Jungian
psychology. We were meeting for a weekend in Tifton, Georgia at Saint Annes
Presbyterian Church. A classical seven-circuit labyrinth had been drawn on the grass with
yellow, surveyors spray paint. The labyrinth was alluring against the green grass with its
bright color and somewhat lopsided, hand-drawn shape.
At the opening ceremony of the conference all participants were invited to spend some time walking the labyrinth during breaks. I was already familiar with the labyrinth but had never walked one. When I visited Chartres Cathedral in France, I noticed the labyrinth but made no effort to walk it.
The "Seed Pattern"
Early in the conference a friend showed me the "seed pattern" used for drawing a seven-circuit labyrinth. This design intrigued me and I began trying to perfect the drawing of the labyrinth. As I sat in the lectures and workshops my mind would wander to the seed pattern, and I would begin to draw. I doodled the design though session after session until I felt that I had an understanding of the structure of the labyrinth.
Still, I did not walk it. I walked around it and looked at others walking. It was at my wifes urging that I finally stepped onto the path of the labyrinth.
This was during a break time between the lectures and workshops. We had about ten minutes before the next session. I had told a casual acquaintance that I would attend the lecture he was giving. It was about a topic that I taught and knew well. I thought I would probably not learn anything new, but I agreed to come out of politeness.
Walking the Labyrinth
My wife and I entered the labyrinth separately. While walking slowly to the center, I began to realize that this was going to take longer than I thought. Remembering my commitment to the lecture, I started walking faster.
Perhaps like me, you have attended retreats, conferences, or workshops and noticed that there is always someone in attendance who seems to talk too much, asks irrelevant and distracting questions, and in general becomes a nuisance. There was one such person at this conference. He seemed totally out of place but was loudly and annoyingly present wherever I went.
Now, that I was finally walking the labyrinth, he was here as well. Hearing a loud voice as I neared the center of the labyrinth, I looked up and there he was. He was standing in the center of the labyrinth and loudly praying. I thought to myself, "How inappropriate. What does he think he is doing? Maybe he will leave before I get there." Nearing the center and moving away again as the path turned I saw he was still there and still loud. I continued thinking, "What a nuisance. Doesnt he know that he is bothering everyone?"
Now, as I was finally preparing to enter the center he was still present. Others were considerately coming and going. They stood in the center for a few moments and then moved on to give room, but not him.
Arriving at the center and looking around I realized that he was standing right up at the top edge facing out, and he was in "my spot." That spot was just where I wanted to be. It seemed the best place to get the full labyrinth experience. I decided to wait but he just kept praying and standing.
Time pressure was building. There was this lecture to attend. So, in frustration, I turned and hurried out.
The workshop was quite interesting, and I did learn one new and very useful thing.
Later, thinking about my labyrinth experience, I realized that I had been offered two very powerful lessons in the short span of about ten minutes. They were not new lessons. Life had offered them before. It was not that I did not know the lessons, but that I had ignored them.
The first lesson was about my rigidity and inflexibility when I make a decision. I had said I would attend a lecture that I did not really need to attend. There was no obligation. I could have changed my mind about attending the lecture when something more interesting, the labyrinth, was offered, but I did not. Instead of staying and exploring the labyrinth, I chose to rush through it and meet my commitment. The lesson was simple. It was that a little more spontaneity of choice might enrich my life.
The labyrinth is a symbol of wholeness, and it has only one path. We are all on the same path, and we are all equal on that path. The labyrinth is a place without judgement, yet I walked it full of judgement for the "man in the middle." I selfishly wanted my peace undisturbed (even by praying), and I wanted my place in the center. The labyrinth would give me neither. It gave me something better insight into myself.
Walking the labyrinth my momentary egocentric and judgmental mindset was revealed along with the suggestion that it might not be just "momentary." The "man in the middle" was obviously in distress and seeking consolation. I was so caught up in myself that I was unavailable for help. Compassion was required but none was found. The second of the lessons was a confrontation with my judgmental nature.
Both lessons took about ten minutes. Meaningful insights were offered. Months of psychotherapy could have given less. I came to understand that the labyrinth was indeed a significant tool for transformation. My initial intrigue with the design became a commitment to learn more about the labyrinth and to teach to others. This web site is one result.
I am now more quickly able to catch the inner judgmental voice and to try to silence it. Becoming more spontaneous remains a more difficult challenge.
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