Once we begin walking a spiritual path, we are opening ourselves to soul work whether we know it or not at the time. Once on that path, there is no going back – it envelops us and it snowballs.
After having walked a few pilgrimages now, I still ask, ‘why’ do I walk? Why am I choosing this particular Camino? Why now? When a pilgrimage is being planned, is there consciously a reason or purpose in our minds? Do we have an agenda? And the age-old question arises: what draws you? or calls you to your first Camino? And, to return again and again.
Of course, there can be many reasons why someone makes a decision to walk:
to have an adventure
time out for self
rediscovering one’s faith
contemplation and reflection
to drink in the silence
to be present to life
grief and loss
to know, or, to meet yourself
deeper spiritual growth.
Or you can be like my husband Mike, who said he ‘just liked to walk’(or so he thought at the time).
How do we define ‘pilgrimage’? Peter Cousineau (The Art of Pilgrimage), and others who have written about pilgrimages, describe a pilgrimage as a journey to a sacred place—somewhere special for you. It could be a sporting ground, a cathedral or, like me, the home of my ancestors.
Like the pilgrimage, the labyrinth has also undergone a resurgence in recent times. The history of the labyrinth dates back thousands of years. There is evidence of some drawings in Russia dating from the Bronze Age 5,000 years ago. Some Roman designs pre-date religion. In ancient times, when people were unable to walk a pilgrimage, perhaps due to bad health, too dangerous or lack of time, they would walk the labyrinth as their sacred path.
Pilgrims and monks have been depicted in art work to walk the labyrinth on their knees to humble themselves before the Divine. The labyrinth is an ancient sacred pathway – it has been a spiritual resource used by pilgrims for centuries.
There are three words, Release, Receive and Return which are the basic guidelines for the process of walking a labyrinth. There is however, a fourth word that can be used either at the beginning or end of a walk – the word, Remember – to remember who you are and/or where you are in life.
Cici giving her talk
There are many amazing designs. All with a circuitous path. The main traditional designs are the Chartres which is an 11-circuit medieval labyrinth. It was placed into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France in 1201; there is the 7-circuit Classical which has a different patterned shape in the centre than the Chartres. There is also one in Scandinavia, which is a 15circuit, built by the Vikings and fishermen.
It is said the fishermen would walk the labyrinth before going out for their catch.
Some other more contemporary styles of labyrinth are: Peace, Reconciliation, Star-centre, Beach, Heart, Santa Rosa and Processional to name a few.
As well as being many different designs, there are many sizes and forms as well. They can be large enough to walk on or small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. Finger labyrinths come in many sizes and materials and are another meditative tool which has become very popular.
In this modern era, apart from churches, labyrinths are found in public parks and gardens, private gardens, hospitals, universities, hospices, community and retreat centres.
A labyrinth is often confused with a maze – which it isn’t. A maze has a separate opening and a separate exit. It also has obstacles and/or dead ends and it is designed for you to lose your way. Whereas a labyrinth:
has only one entrance – a starting point – a way in.
has a destination – which is the centre
a way home – which is the way out.
has only one opening which is both the entrance and the exit they are one in the same.
Some people often say they will still get lost and lose their way. Well, metaphorically they may lose their way; however, a labyrinth is designed so you will always find your way, either to the centre and the way home if you do miss a circuit, or turn-around point, it doesn’t really matter – just look around and hop back into it, or, walk to the centre and make the return journey.
We have come to learn, when we walk a pilgrimage, it isn’t often complete until we find our way home and process the experience. So it is with the labyrinth, what reveals itself to you on the way, and at the centre, is then processed on the walk out, or, the coming home. Bear in mind, like a pilgrimage, some people don’t get anything out of walking the Camino and are disillusioned and frustrated – the same can happen in the labyrinth. Yet you can walk on another day and receive so much.
As with a pilgrimage, there is no right or wrong way to walk. It is always important for you to find your own pace. You walk your own Camino, and so too, you walk your own unique way in a Labyrinth. You can take as much or as little time as you want. This is about you and your inner journey.
When about to begin your walk on the labyrinth you will be stepping from your outer world into your inner world. I would like to mention a couple of different ways you could approach this. One is to approach the walk with an open mind and open heart. Perhaps a tiny meditation to ground or centre yourself.
And the other could be to set an intention or to ask a question, which could be something like, ‘What is it I need to know’? What healing needs to happen here?’ or, ‘Who am I now?’ ‘What is my purpose?’. The metaphor for your journey may be reflected back to you offering insight and/or opportunity to discover more about yourself. You will know what feels right for you. Then allow the experience to unfold and see what comes to you in the moment.
The beautiful stone labyrinth at Amberley, based on the 11 circuit one at Chartres, France
On the labyrinth path we meet anything and everything. ‘’Stuff’ can come up for you on a pilgrimage as on a labyrinth: You may find yourself confused or feeling ‘lost’. You may have an awkward moment as you meet a fellow walker on the same path. You may become irritated there are too many people in the labyrinth. Maybe you are determined to find an ‘answer’ but instead, experience nothing at the time.
I have known the Labyrinth for quite a few years now. Ironically, I first discovered the beautiful stone Peace labyrinth when I visited Tumut in NSW delving into my ancestral trail which was a strong point in my life at the time – not only with my family but also to know more about ‘who I am’ now.
When we arrived back from our first pilgrimage in 2016, I was so full of the experience, in fact, still so raw. I felt like I was operating on auto pilot. I needed to find a way of drawing it all out. I wish I had one of Harry Potter’s wands to unlock and reveal the hidden messages – aparecium! One way was to put it down on paper which turned into a book, titled Happiness Is That Way – 55 Days on the Via de la Plata. And the other way, which was so beneficial and spiritually comforting, was to walk the labyrinth – it fulfilled a deep need for the longing to be back on the Camino. It was almost like a purging as the experience felt so overwhelming.
I will be honest in saying that I wasn’t finding the nurturing I needed from any other sacred space at the time other than the labyrinth. It was, and is, a space where I can connect with a sacred path reminiscent of the pilgrimage. A place where I can lose myself on my inner journey for a short time.
You may be inspired to speak to your friends and/or community about gathering in the first week of May to recognise World Labyrinth Day. This is a global event where people of all faiths and cultures come together on 6 May to ‘Walk as One – at 1’. Please take a moment to go online worldlabyrinthday.org. Note: If you are in an educational setting and wishing to organise an event, small or large, the date is 5 May. Remember to register your event online so organisers around the world can see what everyone else is planning and how they will be experiencing the day. You will no doubt motivate and inspire others.
If you would like to know where labyrinths are located globally, especially if you are on a Camino, there is a Labyrinth Locator online. The ALN (Australian Labyrinth Network) has one on their site as does Veriditas in the USA, founded by Lauren Artress. She has been instrumental in the resurgence of the labyrinth and has worked tirelessly to educate others thus allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy the labyrinth and all it has to offer us in modern times.
Lauren describes the labyrinth as a path of prayer, a walking meditation, a symbolic pilgrimage, a crucible of change, a watering hole for the spirit and a mirror of the soul. The rediscovery of the ancient labyrinth has provided us with a spiritual resource. Sitting in ‘still’ meditation is still wonderful however it is great to know we can enjoy a walking meditation too especially for those who have a need to move.
Walking the Labyrinth has emerged today as a metaphor for the spiritual journey and a powerful tool for transformation. This walking meditation is an archetype, a mystical ritual found in many religious traditions. It quiets the mind and opens the soul, evoking a feeling of wholeness. (Lauren Artress)
I leave you with this blessing:
To bring in the new
May life’s harsh realities grant you blessed peace;
May the Universe embrace your fragmented heart;
May the Spirit of Kindness kiss your troubled brow;
May Mother Earth ground you in all her nourishing goodness;
May Father Sky shine his loving moon to guide you on your path;
May Divine Spirit shower you in love and nurture your courageous soul.