Yesterday, I listened to an episode of the Spirit of Things about walking labyrinths as a spiritual and meditative practice. Today, I was curious to try it out. So I tracked one down and went for a stroll. In the process I managed to renew my respect for the power of the mind.
You can glance above to see a photo of where I walked, and below to see a picture of the type of labyrinth I walked.
So what do you do? First, you drop the urge to bolt straight to the middle, ignoring the path, while yelling, “Ha! I knew this was stupid.” Then, you gather yourself, take a breath and decide to walk to the centre. You find an easy pace and slowly trace the path to the middle. When you are ready, you walk back out again. Simple? Simple.
From what I gleaned in the show, the trip along the switch-backing path to the centre encourages the mind to settle, settle, settle into the present until you arrive, still and centred, at the still centre of the labyrinth. Here you can stay to reflect and rest until eventually you feel it is time to leave. Hopefully you’ve found a bit of solace, or insight. Then you return to the normal world via the winding path you came in, bringing your new experience with you. The labyrinth is a symbol of journeying within and renewal. By walking it you hope to pull a little of that power into your life.
I set off. My feet crunched the gravel path with each step. At first it was amusing how close to the centre the path kept taking me, as if tempting me to cheat, but soon I stopped noticing that and I just plodded along. I listened to the birds flitting in the tree. I marvelled at how interwoven the path was. I listened to myself breath. Then back to walking: Left foot, then right foot, then left foot, then right foot. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Circling round and round, back and forth, outward and inward.
I reached the middle and took a seat on the flat boulder under the tree. At the outset, I’d thought I would feel a bit silly after trekking so long to end up sitting a couple of metres away from the entry. Instead I felt nestled away, safe within the curves of path, as if all that walking had invoked the labyrinth around me and made it substantial, if not tangible. The entrance and the occasional person walking nearby all felt very distant. It was easy to relax and fall into a meditative state.
In part, “meditative state” means to feel at home in the universe and to discover that everything is fine just the way it is. What a weight off the shoulders. I sat that way for a while, maybe twenty minutes, then I lifted my feet and lay along the boulder with my hands behind my head. It was like a beach holiday, crossed with gazing up at the stars. It was like laughing with friends or getting a massage. I must have lay there for another fifteen minutes, before deciding to go, even though I didn’t feel like moving.
As I traced the path back, it occurred to me that that was a pretty strong experience to have just because you walked around a tree a few times and had a sit.
That’s the power of the mind, people. Watch out.