By Judith Joyce

Labyrinths are ancient patterns, which are enjoying a resurgence of popularity as tools for walking medi-tation. They have one path leading to and from the center, which literally helps us find our center and become centered. I initially was attracted to the labyrinth because walking meditation seemed tailor made for me as I could never sit still and quiet my mind as traditional meditative techniques suggest. It has proven to be a very powerful tool for me on many levels. One of those levels has been the way the labyrinth metaphorically mirrors my life and life patterns. I have seen that I walk the labyrinth the way I live my life and if I can walk as an observer, many of my life patterns are revealed.

From the first time I stepped onto/into a labyrinth, I was struck by the twists and turns, which are also so common in life. The center seemed so close as I rounded a couple of turns. “I’ll be there soon, this is quite fast and easy”, I thought. Then I quickly found myself on the outer edge of the winding design wondering how I got there and when I would ever reach the center, which seemed to elude me. You see I’ve been looking for my center all my life with only fleeting moments of connection. I soon realized my life’s search for the center was playing itself out right there on the labyrinth!

The ebb and flow of life’s dance is so beautifully and effortlessly choreographed on the labyrinth. People walking parallel or on the same part of the path soon are at opposite sides of the design. Whole groups can be closely clustered together in one part and then quickly spread all over the path. Each person has a role and yet the Divine Choreographer is in charge of the whole production. A wonderful thing to remember!!

Speaking of dancing, after a couple of years of frequently walking the labyrinth, I found myself dancing along the paths rather than walking. Even though my childhood dream was to be a prima all ballerina, I hadn’t danced at all in recent years. I believe I was being reminded how much dance nurtures my soul and to bring more of it into my life.

Once during a life transition, I realized as I made the hairpin turns on the labyrinth that I had no idea what was waiting for me around the next turn and yet, while on the labyrinth, I felt completely safe and protected. Each time I step onto a labyrinth I feel I’m stepping into the outstretched arms of God/Goddess, All That Is to be held and loved unconditionally. For me, it’s a wonderful reminder that each step of my journey, in fact my whole journey, is taken in the arms of Spirit. So how can I fear the next turn in my life if I’m walking in/on the carpet of Spirit?

During the first year or so, I would start to cry, feeling a deep longing in my heart each time I stepped onto a labyrinth. I finally realized that this was my soul connection to labyrinths being reignited, creating a feeling of “coming home” to my soul through which I would find my authentic self.

One symbolic way to describe the spiritual journey taken while on the labyrinth is through three phases:

1. From the entrance to the center is a time of surrendering, opening, letting go of whatever is blocking our road to peace over a particular situation/issue or in our life, in general.

2. Thus we are open when we reach the center to receive and experience enlightenment or illumination through touching the light of Spirit, God/Goddess, Source or our light within, however each of us defines that.

3. Once we’ve experienced enlightenment or illumination, we retrace our steps on the path exiting the labyrinth at the place of entry. This phase of the journey is one of integrating the light/guidance received and actively bringing that light (I believe in the form of our talents and passions) into the world to serve others.

At one point in my life, I loved being in the center of the labyrinth wanting to stay there forever. The thought of going back out into the world was most unappealing. That was mirroring my life feelings at the time. I had a deep need for spiritual connection and wasn’t feeling very safe “in the world”. I soon realized that the journey isn’t over until I’ve brought the light, strength, courage and joy I’ve received from my connection with Spirit into the world to do the service I‘ve been called to do with the gifts I’ve been given.

Walking the labyrinth also helps us reconnect to our natural rhythms, which most of us have lost as we live at warp speed these days. I saw how easily I could adapt to the speed and rhythm of someone walking in front of me, quickly releasing what was true and comfortable for me rather than go through the agonizing experience of passing them.

A frequent walker gained a powerful insight when she realized that each time someone walked toward her on the same path, she immediately stepped off the path to let him or her pass. She then frequently forgot to step back on her path and therefore, got lost (which we say you can’t do on the labyrinth). She realized she had been relinquishing her path/needs in favor of others for years which was why she continued to feel lost and disconnected from her own path.

Another pilgrim walked directly out from the center of the labyrinth without retracing the path. As she watched others walk, she couldn’t understand why it took them so long to complete their walks. She soon realized that they were following the path back out from the center. She admitted that this was exactly how she lived her life – never finishing anything.

Some people who don’t like structure create their own paths, walking all over the labyrinth in their own way or walking straight to the center – “cutting to the chase” – which is quite reflective of their life patterns. A woman who had experienced many losses in her life found that she felt a wall before her as she approached every turn. As she reflected on this, she realized that many turning points in her life had been very painful and that the wall was her fear of what was to come. She experienced profound healing during her walk as she felt the love and protection of God with her on her journey.

A young woman who was using a finger labyrinth recently called me to ask about some of the feelings she was experiencing. She said she frequently felt compelled to stop at various points on the labyrinth, most often at the turns. I asked if she was experiencing any transitions in her life. She said she had just had a baby and was moving into a new home that week. I suggested that she use journaling, drawing, painting, etc. as wonderful ways to gain clarity about what the feelings, images, memories, etc., that arise during time on the labyrinth can mean.

It is important to say that all insights gained don’t feel great at first. A woman came to me in tears after her walk to say that all she felt during her walk was rage and a strong desire to push everyone else off the path. She was very distraught with these feelings and clearly judging her experience as “wrong” because she thought everyone else was enjoying himself or herself. After questioning her, she revealed that there was much to be angry about in her life whereby I encouraged her to stay with her feelings. I believe they were coming up at the perfect time for her to feel them and process what was going on. I have learned to trust the perfect timing of whatever is shown to me on the labyrinth and to remember that this container provides endless ways to process and gain insights into my life/spiritual journey and release patterns that no longer serve me. All that is asked of me is to have faith, be present and put one foot in front of the other!

Judith M. Joyce, Vice President of The Labyrinth Society, is a personal development coach, workshop and seminar leader, speaker, Interfaith Minister, Second Degree Reiki Practitioner and Human Resources Consultant. She founded Spirit Matters to increase awareness and strengthen our connections to ourselves, to others, to Spirit and to the world.

Having ‘discovered’ Labyrinths in 1995, she founded the Community Labyrinth project in 1996. In addition to building labyrinths for personal and public use, she conducts labyrinth walks and leads programs in the Northeast and abroad using both the seven and eleven- circuit patterns.

Ms. Joyce uses finger labyrinths in her private coaching practice and integrates labyrinths into stress reduction, teambuilding, conflict resolution, creativity and creative problem solving seminars for groups and businesses. Of particular interest to her are the experiences people have while walking the labyrinth and the positive effects the labyrinth appears to have on certain diseases and disorders.

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