A Contemplative Walk…

sumclabyrinthI have been entranced by labyrinths for some time, so I was pleased that the progressive church I currently attend has a labyrinth room. One can walk the labyrinth whenever the church office is open, but time is set aside in the evening on the first Thursday of each month with soft lighting around the edge of the labyrinth, candles and peaceful music in the background, and all are invited to walk there.

Labyrinths have been used in many cultures and faiths for centuries.  A well-known labyrinth of stone is the one constructed in the 1200s AD in the Chartres Cathedral near Paris where thousands of visitors walk its path each year. Labyrinths of various sizes and styles are becoming more and more common in the United States; there are 120 in Oregon alone. Near my home is an outdoor labyrinth in the classical style on the back lawn area of a Presbyterian church. The labyrinth at my church, in the photo above, is in the medieval style.  (click HERE for more on labyrinth styles, if interested)

According to the Veriditas website, “walking the labyrinth reduces stress, quiets the mind, grounds the body and opens the heart.” If one is walking the labyrinth as a “spiritual exercise,” the idea is to bring a spiritual question or thought to contemplate while walking. One is to clear the mind beforehand, perhaps by sitting quietly and taking some deep breaths, then walk slowly to the center, pausing for a time, even sitting, in reflection, then exit in the same slow, deliberate fashion, with further contemplation and reflection afterwards.

I brought no particular expectations to my first labyrinth walk this week; I merely wanted to open myself to the experience. A friend and I went together and we sat for a time in the dim quiet, then she tapped the “singing bowl” at the entrance with the small mallet and we started. I walked slowly, carefully, and concentrated on the thought I’d brought to the table. I started with this personal concern, but as I walked I let my thoughts go where they would and I found them expanding, from thinking about myself to those I knew and then farther out to world issues that weigh upon so many of us these days. As I walked I felt an increase in despair, particularly over recent items in the news, and the way life seems ever more fear-filled. I let those thoughts continue, but then I paused and gazed at the very old stained-glass window in front of me that had a small pane with the words, “Peace I leave with you,” which somehow made me feel incrementally better. I continued walking and exited the labyrinth, sitting again for a time before leaving the building.

There are those who feel walking a labyrinth is a life-changing experience, those who even feel having done so “saved their lives,” so to speak. I was not expecting a life-changing experience but hoping for a bit more peace and clarity, and I feel I did find that to a degree. What I plan to do is walk the labyrinth once a month and see what benefits may come over time.

Have you walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like? Please share.