I led a group of walkers in the labyrinth at Morningstar Lutheran Church. It was in the 40’s and people were bundled up tight. This intrepid group came because they wanted to feel the power of peace that came over them in prior walks. The “newbies” were there because their friend said the labyrinth would surprise them.
We wrote about what we’d like to let go of to make room for wonder, for peace, and for all the things life is really supposed to be about. After (safely) setting fire to what they’d written, the walkers set foot on the winding path. I walked clockwise around the lunations of the labyrinth, holding and containing space for their journeys.
As we walked, I noticed the slight tinkling of the wind chime high in the trees. I felt the crunch of leaves underfoot. The air was brisk. I heard the swish of people’s arms against their jackets, and noticed everyone slowing down as they moved further into the labyrinth. As they stood in the center, I felt such satisfaction in knowing that the labyrinth was doing its job – allowing everyone to have the experience they were meant to have.
As the walkers worked their way back out, I switched direction and walked counter-clockwise to shift the energy back toward the outer world. Each person turned and stood for a moment to acknowledge what they’d received as they walked, then sat down to quietly reflect until everyone was finished walking.
When we settled down for a chat, one walker said she’d been “pushed out” by the labyrinth, ending up back at the entrance far sooner than she expected. She said she’d asked a question and gotten an answer quite quickly, but didn’t like the answer she received. When she started over in the labyrinth, she again found herself having taken a “wrong” turn somewhere and was back at the entrance quite quickly. As my teacher likes to say, “everything that happens in the labyrinth is a metaphor.” When I asked her where in her life she was experiencing this same phenomenon, she laughed. The labyrinth did its job.
Another walker said she’s been holding onto something at work – something annoying that she wanted to release. As soon as she burned her written statement, she felt free and was able to enjoy some calm and freedom as she walked. The labyrinth did its job.
The labyrinth always does its job which, as I see it, is to allow us to bring what we need to let go of, to examine or to ask for help with along for our walk. The group is silent, but messages always come, probably because we’ve slowed down enough to notice what life’s been trying to teach us all along.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to build a labyrinth on Martha Beck’s North Star Ranch in Central California. With the help of some friends on her ranch, I laid out a pattern and my helpers and I laid stones we’d gathered from all over the ranch as well as the surrounding area. I love all my creations, but this one has always held a special place in my heart. Since I live on the other side of the country, I’ve only had a chance to walk it a time or two since it was created.
Last time I was there, Martha apologized for the condition of the labyrinth. She was worried that I’d be disappointed by the amount of leaves and twigs along the path, or upset that some of the rocks that had been kicked by horses. I reminded her that labyrinths, whether indoor or outdoor are pretty ephemeral; they change in nature with each walker’s steps (and energy), and even more so BY nature. Horses, squirrels, deer, fox, bears and many other creatures make their way through the arroyos of North Star Ranch. They all leave their mark, just like the ancient fossils found in the rocks that border the labyrinth’s path, changing it as they walk through it in their own way.
Martha recently decided it was time to sell the ranch and move on. She created this video to share a story about some of the magical experiences she and others had there. The first thing I noticed when seeing the labyrinth was the grass. I’d only been there in either summer or during a severe drought. It was amazing to see all those new, green blades growing in the center of the labyrinth and along its’ sides. Some people might be upset by the “mess” of it, but not me. The labyrinth’s just doing its’ job, quietly supporting life – spiritually and ecologically – just by its’ presence.
I wonder who will next live at the ranch, and who will walk the path we created. I’m sure the labyrinth they find there will look different than it looks today, and I’m glad for that. Stones erode, mulch fades, grass grows or dies, twigs fall…it’s all as it’s supposed to be. The labyrinth will live on in whatever form it’s meant to, for as long as it’s meant to. Kind of like us.
During a recent walk with my Charlotte Labyrinth Walks Meetup group, I noticed that one of the walkers did something unusual: he entered the labyrinth and walked straight into the center, where he remained for quite a while. He then walked out of the center, following the path outward. Shortly thereafter, he turned around and followed the path back into the center.
I usually start off the walks by telling people a bit about labyrinths and always remember to say that there’s no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. And yet I found myself looking at what “the guy who ignored the path” was doing, wondering why he chose to do it a different way, and what that was about.
When we gathered in a circle after the walk, I told him I’d noticed. He said he felt a very strong pull to start at the center, and then go out into the world, so to speak, and then back to the center. “Why wouldn’t I want to go to the center first,” he asked.
It’s never occurred to me to do that. I want to try it the next time I’m in a labyrinth. And, I’m going to take some time to think about where else in my life I’m blindly following some path because that’s the way I’ve always done it, or have been taught to do it, or because others are walking a certain way.
After all, isn’t it a good idea to get centered, to ground oneself in peace before heading out into the world? For some of us, it just makes more sense to turn a traditional path “backwards.” I’m grateful for his lesson.
Where in your life could walking in a new way provide some new perspective?
The labyrinth is a beautiful way to slow down. Following a single path as it winds toward the center and back out, the mind gets usually becomes quieter. Our pace often changes. Whatever happens, we’re changed a bit for having walked.
If you’ve never walked a labyrinth before, here are some resources to get you started:
- Read about them: Veriditas, an organization dedicated to inspiring personal and planetary change and renewal through the labyrinth experience, offers this info.
- Find a labyrinth: The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator offers a comprehensive listing of indoor and outdoor labyrinths.
- Walk with your fingers: Finger Labyrinth HD is available on iTunes for free. Let your fingers trace the path in the labyrinth on your screen!
I spend lots of time talking with people about what their best lives would look like. On the surface they’re searching for things like a new career, or a new home, or a new relationship. Some want to write a book or build a new company. Others want to volunteer for a worthy non-profit. Many want to travel the world.
What they’re really searching for is a feeling. They believe “When ______________ appears in my life, I will feel __________________.” Whether it’s a new love, a promotion, the car or dining room table you’ve lusted after for years, or pretty much everything else you want, there’s always a feeling you believe you’ll feel upon the attainment of that desire.
At the core of pretty much everything we want is peace, love, or connection. To me, that feels like coming home. A feeling of relief, of being able to exhale. Of letting my guard down and trusting that all is already well. It’s sort of like the “ahhh” you feel when you take off a tight pair of shoes or pants. I don’t know about you, but that moment’s pretty heavenly for me!
My friend and teacher, Martha Beck, and I recently welcomed a new group of coaching students to her training program. During our call, she said:
“Every prayer you’ve ever prayed,
every longing you’ve thrown out into the Universe
was heard and answered immediately,
and the answer was always ‘yes.’
BUT…the Universe never sends your mail
to any place but your real address.
Your real address is peace. It’s self-love. It’s calm.
In that moment when we can go home, we can collect all our mail.“
It’s our job to keep finding ways to return home and collect our mail. Some people pray. Others meditate. Still others find home in creating art. There are so many ways to connect and feel the abundance of our Universe. It’s just a matter of finding which ones work for you. The important thing is to try, and to notice what feels best.
For me, “home” is in the labyrinth, where I can walk slowly (or not), pray (or not), and create enough quiet sometimes that I’ll spot the mail that’s been waiting for me to find it. Home’s also in a certain red Adirondack chair, tucked under some trees, down on Wildflower Pond (which happens to be in my backyard). When my hands are in dirt, or when I’m standing quietly with a horse, I’m home, too.
Where’s home for you? Have you gotten any good mail lately?
I’ve started using my finger labyrinth to walk each morning while enjoying my garden. It’s a grounding ritual, calming me for the day ahead when a “regular” walk on a labyrinth isn’t convenient. This morning, I got lost. While tracing my finger in the grooves of the path, I somehow ended up in the center of the labyrinth, twice.
I noticed the thoughts:
- You’re doing it wrong!
- This is what you get for not paying attention.
- How’d you end up back here?
And then I laughed. Once again, the labyrinth is a metaphor for how I walk the path of my life. I’m quick to judge, slow to forgive, and convinced I have to do it right all the time!
Am I ever really lost? Or, am I just on a part of the path that’s unfamiliar or doesn’t meet my expectations of where I’m supposed to be? When I got over myself, I realized that ending up in the center again was exactly what I needed this morning. I got another opportunity to stop and receive, noticing all that was around me – a breeze, bluebirds flying in and out of their nesting box, a wren in the birdbath, and a trio of ducks walking just outside the fence on their way to the pond. Life was calm, and I had the chance to be that way, too. And wasn’t that exactly my intention for my “walk?”
Note to self: Trust the path. It’ll always give you what you need.
Last week, I hosted a labyrinth walk in Austin, TX. Twenty-two people made their way along the winding path of my portable labyrinth. Some were walking slowly, some backwards, some dancing, some twirling. Some were crying, some were laughing. All were moved during their pilgrimage in JW Grand Salon 3-4 at the JW Marriott Austin.
A hotel ballroom and a canvas labyrinth ringed with battery-powered tea lights may seem an unlikely place for a pilgrimage, but I’ve learned over time that pilgrimages take place in the most unlikely of settings. Whether there’s walking involved or not, we set out on a path, leaving the unknown. We experience a “road of trials” (think: Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey) in the form of twists and turns. We arrive at a quieter place, at the heart of things. In the labyrinth, it’s often the center (but not always). We receive information – a feeling, a word, a knowing, an emotion, a decision – that we take with us as we make our way back to the place or community from whence we came. We’re the same, and yet not at all.
Pilgrimages are intentional. We set out to learn something, to find a rich experience that will inform our lives. They don’t always have to involve a long trek or even a walk, but they’re good for our souls. Where will you go on your next pilgrimage?
When I imagine the upcoming Gathering of Wayfinders, I picture a very large group of shiny, happy people who are my tribe. We’re all bringing our divine, silly, funny, just a tad messed up, wrinkly, goofy, boisterous selves to hear Martha Beck talk about her latest book. It’s gonna be a blast. And it’s gonna to be crowded. And the energy’s gonna rev up high.
I love finding ways to take that energy home, but to also wind it back down a bit because – at least for me – that level of “buzz” is unsustainable. I need space for quiet so I can make meaning out of what happened. The best way I know how to do that is to walk a labyrinth. Walking’s always been my preference…I’m not so good at the sit-on-your-cushion-in-the-lotus-position kind of meditation.
Labyrinths aren’t mazes; they’re not designed to trick you or create decision points. If you follow the path, you’ll arrive in the center. And if you follow the path back out from center, you’ll end up where you started. Or not, actually. There’s something about walking in those curves and turns that quiets the mind, allowing you to slooow waaay down. And that’s a very good thing.
I’m always a little different for having walked a labyrinth. Occasionally, the transformation feels big, like there was a “lightning bolt from above” kind of message. More often, though, it’s subtler than that. An idea might float into my head. Or I’ll feel the urge to skip. Mostly, I get calmer. And that’s a very good thing, too.
I’m bringing my canvas labyrinth to Austin this April. Maybe you’ll join us and experience some very good things of your own.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved travel. My parents and I would drive seven miles from our home to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on a Sunday afternoon and we’d sit on the outdoor rooftop terrace and watch the planes take off. (You could do that back in the 60’s!) We’d look at the tail art on the jets and try to figure out where the plane was from and where it was headed. We’d watch people arrive at customs (you could do that in the 60’s, too) from the second floor of the international arrivals building, making up stories about where the luggage had been. I even worked at JFK during my summer breaks during my college years.
My well-traveled European parents and I had lots of conversations about the importance of understanding other cultures and how getting out into the world shaped who they were and who I’d become. Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of stamps in my passport, having set out to see the world and learn more about it – and myself.
What I know for sure is that you don’t always have to go far to learn a lot. Setting out on a walk around the neighborhood can feel like an adventure just as much as getting on a plane does. And, you can be just as confused in a gorgeous setting half way around the globe. What matters is how present you are, wherever you are. When you slow down enough to use all of your senses, really allowing yourself to be fully immersed in whatever emotions or physical sensations are present. THAT’s when the adventure comes alive, whether it’s in your backyard, along an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain, or walking the twists and turns of a labyrinth.