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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Labyrinth Meditation

I’m always looking for new experiences. So when I read this description of an upcoming event in the area, how could I resist?

This month's meditation will be a special summer edition, a Labyrinth meditation, which will be held outdoors.

For centuries, labyrinths have held great spiritual significance. Labyrinth patterns have been found on pottery and clay tablets dating back 4,000 years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Spaniards, Native Americans, Vietnamese, and South Americans have used labyrinths for thousands of years to draw closer to the divine. During the Crusades, Christians walked the labyrinth to simulate the journey to Jerusalem, in Native American culture, the labyrinth is called the Medicine Wheel, and the Celts described it as the Never Ending Circle. In mystical Judaism, or Kabbalah, The Tree of Life has been likened to the labyrinth.

The labyrinth has been called a metaphor of life’s journey.
This sounded too interesting an opportunity to miss. I had seen something about labyrinth use in Native American traditions. The labyrinth patterns have been found on artifacts all over the world – including in the Americas and Australia. It has been hypothesized that Native Americans arrived on this continent between the time dogs were domesticated (at least eleven thousand years ago) and the time horses were domesticated (less than six thousand years ago). This theory is based on the fact that there were domestic dogs in the Americas, but there were no horses until the Europeans brought them here.

If, as the similarities suggest,the labyrinth idea was carried by the earliest settlers of these continents, then it must date back close to six thousand years. That is fascinating to me.

It was a beautiful July evening. My kids and husband had plans for the evening, leaving me free to check out this labyrinth meditation. The Unity Church where this was being held was over thirty miles from where I live, so I got myself together early, anticipating rush-hour traffic. After a drive which was free of anything one might associate with rush hour, I arrived at my destination a half hour early.

My usually internal chaos began to fight with reality, bringing some panic as I approached the church. I often feel like an outsider in places of worship. Knowing that is a learned response doesn’t make the feelings go away.

Once inside, I could see the Labyrinth through the large windows on the other side of the building. Someone had set it up using stakes (sticking out of the ground about six inches) and what looked like orange tape. I wished I’d brought a camera. I was instantly intrigued by the pattern of orange on the summer-green grass.

Will we stand around it?
Will we walk inside it?

This is the pattern used for the labyrinth.

This pattern is called the Chakravyuha. According to the Mahābhārata, (one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India) It is supposed to look like a blooming lotus flower. The story and this particular labyrinth pattern is thought to date back to about 400 BC.
While I was researching labyrinths in order to write this review, this morning, I came across these paragraphs:

When walking through a labyrinth, your body tends to turn back and forth - first you're moving right, next you're going to the left, with a 180 degree turn each time. This causes you to shift your awareness from the right side of the brain to the left, and then back again. It is believed that this is one of the reasons why a labyrinth walk can induce varied states of consciousness.

Consider for a moment what problems -- either physical, spiritual, external, or emotional -- you would like to find a resolution for at this time. As you walk towards the center, you will begin working out solutions for your problem.
You can read the rest of this article here

This sounded so much like what I do in the DNMS sessions with C that I have to wonder how much of a role the left/right shift actually played in my euphoric feeling last night.

For a Wednesday night, the Unity Church seemed pretty busy. People were talking in the hall, while others were carrying guitars and other instruments. A book store was open and several people were milling about. I asked if anyone knew what was going on with the labyrinth meditation, but those I spoke with said only, “Well, there is a labyrinth in the garden… they built it this afternoon.”

Standing around there I was beginning to feel very out of place. I was refusing to let myself give into panic, but I was considering the options.

My car is only a few steps out the door.

At around seven fifteen a group of women, all with a purposeful gate and friendly demeanor, came through the doors. I asked them if they knew about the labyrinth meditation.

They did. They welcomed me warmly and invited me to join them outside, to wait near the labyrinth. I began to feel much calmer.

One woman was wearing an ID around her neck, which said “Chaplain”. I am so ignorant of terms like this that I really am still not certain what that means, but I gathered that she was somehow connected to the church. As we all sat outside on a patio and waited for the festivities to begin, we introduced ourselves.

The topic of religion and spirituality was a natural at an event like this. It was quite obvious they all knew each other, but they did their best to make me feel included. They asked me what had brought me to this event. I told them I'd found the announcement online, that it sounded interesting, that I hadn’t been raised in any faith, but I have been looking into all the possibilities, recently. I mentioned my fascination with Shamanism, and said I had been to the Unitarian Universalist church a few times.

The Chaplain said I should come by on a Sunday.

She said it calmly, with a friendly, relaxed face, but I was wary of being coerced. A memory from my childhood flashed in my mind.

I had accompanied my grandparents and my great aunt to a Southern Baptist church when I was around ten years old. There wer people walking up to the front, in tears, and I was not at all certain what was going on. In all honesty, I'm still not clear what this was about. I was already kind of afraid, seeing these adults crying as they approached the altar. Then, my great aunt turned to me and asked if I ever felt lost.

I had no idea what she meant by this and I knew I didn't have time to figure it out, then. It was obvious to me that the wrong answer to this question was going to lead to me having to walk up that aisle in tears, just as I'd seen these adults do. My grandmother, who was standing on the other side of me put an arm around me and pulled me to her, while she chastised her sister.

I have not thought of that in so many years, but right now I can almost feel that protective arm around me.
I told the Chaplain that this was a long way from my house, and then changed the subject as quickly as I could. I asked if the Unity Church is like the Unitarian Universalist Church - since this is the only church I've attended in recent history.

The answer was no, and then was softened to, “not really.”

There was an awkward pause. Choosing her words carefully, the Chaplain told me that while the Unity Church did follow the teachings of Christ, they did not acknowledge his divinity. I wish I could remember exactly how she said it; what you are reading here is only my interpretation.

It’s interesting to me that I may have, in my wanderings, stumbled onto the only two “churches” that do not consider Christ to be the one and only savior. Of course, I don't really know this, but I can tell you that there are a lot of people in the Baptist church I occasionally attended as a child with one grandmother, and the catholic church I occasionally attended with my other grandmother, who would not be very receptive to this concept.

I had the sense that there was tension among all the women around me as they waited for my response.

I said, “So you think of Christ more as a prophet.”

Someone repeated the word Prophet, and there seemed to be a silent sigh of relief all around me as the Chaplain smiled and nodded.

By seven thirty there were around twenty people outside on the little patio. A woman came out and told us that we were meeting inside, first, and we all filed into the hall and then into a lovely chapel. I can’t tell you what it was, exactly – the bright light coming in, the soft meditation music, the air which seemed to be slightly perfumed with yesterday’s candles or incense – but something made me feel very comfortable.

A man went to the front of the room to join the woman who had called us all inside. I had a strong sense that I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t place where it was. When everyone was seated, he asked that we, one at a time, say our name and then one word of “intention”. I listened as others said their names, but was really focused on the word that followed. I loved what I was hearing – peace, wisdom, stillness, courage, harmony, understanding, strength, and all were said with conviction.

I had a dozen words swirling in my head, from which I would have to choose just one. I felt a renewed need to let go of some things that had been dragging me down all week. Letting-go was really what I wanted to say, but it was two words and – me being me – I had taken the instructions very literally. The word I chose was “Release.”

Next, they explained what was going to happen. We were going to do a group meditation in the room, then they would signal us to go outside about five at a time. Once outside, we would walk the labyrinth, in silent contemplation. While we would all be in the labyrinth at the same time, it would be easier to navigate if we were spaced out a bit.

A labyrinth has only one entrance, which is also the exit. It was suggested that we take a moment to think about our word of intention before stepping inside the labyrinth. We would follow the path, which would lead us eventually into the center, and then take a moment of contemplation before turning around and heading back out. At times there would be people going both ways on the three-foot-wide paths. When we had completed the labyrinth, we were to come back inside for a closing meditation.

It sounded simple enough. I admit, there was a moment when I wondered if this was really going to be worth the forty-minute drive.

It was.

There are some experiences one can hear about and get a pretty good understanding. I am going to do my best to share this with you, but there really was something about physically walking the path that brought home fundamental truths I’ve been trying to solidify in my mind for some time.

The music was turned up just a little.
Words of meditation were spoken in a soft but deliberate tone.
I closed my eyes and put my hands, palms up, on my knees.
I went pretty deep with my meditation, almost forgetting where I was. Sometimes this seems very easy for me, and this was one of those times.
I was a little surprised by a tap on the shoulder. The man said my name, which surprised me as well. He remembered my name. He signaled that I should move outside.
I walked through the door and saw shoes lying here and there and I know I smiled. The idea of feeling the grass under my feet seemed exactly right. I kicked off my sandals and approached the entrance to the labyrinth feeling a connection to the solidness of the ground beneath me.


The energy was really strong as I passed the threshold. I put my foot down inside and then took another step and from that point on each time I placed my foot on the ground it was with intention.

Once or twice, I worried if my pace was all right. I wasn’t gaining on the woman in front of me, but I wondered how close the man behind me was. I admit I stepped outside my meditative state long enough to check on that as I rounded the first bend.

While the initial turns took me towards the center, the path then began to lead back towards the outer edge. I think that is when I had my first feeling of excitement. Suddenly, I understood the connection between the labyrinth and life. There seemed to be a real correlation between the path I was walking on that summer grass and the one I had been traveling since my birth.
Each step I took made this feeling more clear.

I am on my own path.
There are people traveling in the same direction as I am, but we each have to walk the path in our space, at our pace.
I see people who seem to be going the wrong direction, but I know now that in reality they are only a little ways back or further along on the journey.
I could try to step off the path, to push my way onto another lane and continue in another direction – but in reality it would not take me anywhere except where I am meant to go, anyway.
I will be led to the center and then there will be nowhere to go but back out.
We all begin and end in the same place.
We all follow our own path.
We all walk together and alone.
We must make room for others to pass us at times, stepping aside while still continuing on our own journey.
In the end, we will all reach the same destination.

I saw the first person step out of the labyrinth and I thought of my mother, so much nearer the end than I am. I felt such sadness for her, in that moment – not because her journey is closer to over, but because of how narrow and dark her path has been. I realized that she could not have been or done anything different.

This was her life path, these were her lessons to learn, and it wasn’t about me at all.

I’ve had such anger at my mother for the last few weeks - old anger, ancient in terms of our lives here on this Earth. Suddenly I felt a shift, a softening… and it was so overwhelming I actually teared up.

Back and forth, the labyrinth led me. The energy of others was strong and I felt I must have been exuding energy of my own.

The person in front of me slowed down and I realized we were nearing the center. I stopped briefly before turning onto the last lane that led to a small circle. I took three slow steps, and then a fourth brought me right into the middle of the circle.


All around me people were slowly wandering their paths, seemingly in every direction and yet I knew that they were all really on the same path as I was.

The only path
In and then out
Guided, led, brought to where we need to be

While it may seem as if there are infinite ways to wander, the reality felt so clear to me, right then. We are all heading back to the place where we started. On the way, we will sometimes face the center and other times it will be behind us and hard to find. At times we will find that center and if we look up at that moment we will notice that all around us life is going on as it does, as it must, and then we will turn to be a part of it, again.

We will spend our lives moving in and out
Moving away from birth
And towards death
But always
We are being guided on a path that will lead us where we are meant to be
which is right back where we started.

I felt exhilarated as I made the trip back out. While I followed the path towards the edge, towards the center, towards another edge, I knew that no matter where the path led I would eventually be at the starting place, again.

I was heading back home, to a place I knew, with a journey behind me that was carefully planned and marked off so I would not get lost -- and as planned, I found my way out and paused once more before stepping away from the labyrinth.

I found my shoes.
I walked inside the church and took the same seat I’d had before.
The music was soothing and sweet.
I closed my eyes
People filed in behind me, one by one

The woman who had first told us to come inside at the beginning stood up at the front again. She read a meditation that echoed all the thoughts I’d had as I’d walked through the labyrinth. What she said was so close to what I had experienced and thought, that I knew when I wrote this now it would be hard to do so without saying almost exactly what she was saying.
It gave me so much comfort to hear her speak of being guided, of lives that cross ours briefly and people who walk the path with us, of paths that lead where we are meant to go…

I knew as I listened to her that I was not the only one who had been thinking these thoughts. I imagined the Roman soldier, young, afraid, perhaps about to be sent to a country he’d never heard of, entering the labyrinth. I imagined a young Mayan on a vision quest, wandering between the great mounds that had been created in patterns very much like the labyrinth I’d just been in. I felt a sense of awe that somewhere, someone had realized that walking through a labyrinth, from side to side, to the center and back, would evoke these important spiritual concepts in others, and I wondered at all the people who had found these same truths on the paths of an ancient labyrinth.

On my way out of the church, I stopped to chat for just a moment. I said, “It was awesome,” and felt as if that hardly covered it. One woman looked at me with a glow in her eyes that told me she knew what I was feeling. “Yes, it was,” she said emphatically.

I asked if anyone could take a picture of the labyrinth and email it to me. The man who has spoken at the front of the church – the one I am still certain I’ve seen somewhere before – told me he might have a chance to get a picture from the roof on Saturday, and if he could he would send it to me. If I get that picture, I will post it here as soon as it arrives.

On an impulse, I asked the Chaplain, “What time on Sunday?” I realized as I said the words that I really would like to see what it’s like to be part of the service in this very friendly place. There didn't seem to be any coersion, any strong persuasion that things must be done their way, and that made me feel much more comfortable with the idea of listening to what they had to say.

She said, “Nine and eleven – eleven is livelier.”

I said, “I’m likely to be livelier at eleven, as well.”

They thanked me for coming and I thanked them for having me.

I needed this last night. I really needed to find this connection to my higher power, to feel it and know it like this. This morning I have a sense of the path I am following, and I’m so glad my path led me to a labyrinth outside a welcoming church on a warm July night.


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Co Creation
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A lesson is woven into each day.
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