Labyrinth Walking: The Ultimate Doodle
October 13, 2011
— Chartes, labyrinth
I’ve stumbled upon two labyrinth articles in the last two weeks. Coincidence? Not really. By the time anything gets to me, the trend has already been mainstream for ages. In this case, the global practice has been around for 4000 years.
My idea of a labyrinth at the time descended into a fuzzy recollection of an 80’s movie aptly called Labyrinth (too bad I recently cancelled my Netflix account like the other 1 million customers).
I quickly learned the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. A maze is designed to confuse the walker with dead ends, twists, and loop backs. My memory of getting lost in the giant, Great Corn Maze of 2006 around Halloween flooded back…
A labyrinth, in contrast, is unicursal: one way in and one way out.
This trek can’t get any simpler.
I felt intrigued to seek a real labyrinth after reading how people’s lives can change with labyrinths. By the power of Google, there happens to be a public labyrinth at a church about 10 miles from my abode! Since they clearly welcomed everyone on their site, I dashed into my trusty car.
My dusk arrival revealed a people-free courtyard. Schweet!
It turns out that the church has the Chartes type of labyrinth, named after France’s Chartes Cathedral. This labyrinth construction is painted concrete in a corner courtyard flanked by Roman columns. The “material” for labyrinths ranges from stones, marble, grass, dirt, and virtual. It’s possible that Medieval labyrinths were originally created for people unable to make real life pilgrimages. Labyrinths are now found on hospital grounds, spas, parks, and private gardens.
Viewing it: looks like a brain! The planning for the first labyrinths must have come from one gnarly doodle before the prototype.
Walking it: looks like our sinuous intestines! Talk about going with your gut.
Feeling it: walking barefoot on the concrete felt solid, with patches of coolness, mixed with crunches of dried leaves. Walking the folded, stacked curves conjured up bad Disneyland ride lines for a flash.
With a 4000-year history, there can be a process to walking labyrinths, of course. There is ultimately no right or wrong way to walk labyrinths; just ask the kids playing in them.
There can be three “phases” in walking labyrinths, which can enrich the seeker’s experience.
- Entering: release all your mental anchors.
- Centering: the core can represent obtaining enlightenment. Some people meditate in this spot.
- Exiting: embrace your newfound epiphanies, direction, and lightness.
The walking mediation afforded by labyrinths works for me, versus sitting down through Buddhist zazen in a zendo or in my living room. The Chartes style allows the walker to traverse all four quadrants, weaving between the outer rim and center. The conceptual idea of “walking your path” in life becomes more real. I found myself ruminating more than releasing any mental weights this time.
Reaching the center offers a nice respite, even a micro accomplishment. It’s always a different perspective when one lingers at the center. I walked back in the same pace as I started. However, I swiftly reached the end and didn’t want it to end.
I saw that having one way in and one way out of labyrinths is a metaphor for life and death. Pause on that one for a moment.
I wondered if I had been on one crazy, long maze up to now or if I had always been on my one path in my own invisible labyrinth? I’ll be back regardless.
Try the labyrinth locator for yourself.