Introducing the Labyrinth
The labyrinth is an ancient device for walking meditation. Though one of its most familiar manifestations is engraved in the stone floor of the 13th century nave of Chartres cathedral, it has pre-Christian roots in many cultures, and people have been walking the convoluted path to the center and back again for countless centuries. Its current popularity as an instrument for centering, prayer and reflection may stem from its apparent omni-sectarian appeal, and from the richness of the metaphor of pilgrimage and the sacred journey in the spirituality and practice of people from a very wide spectrum of religious traditions and habits of the heart. The labyrinth looks like a maze – but you can’t get lost! The beautifully complex path always leads faithfully to the center, and then always back out again to the waiting world.
During January of 2005, about two dozen members of the Williams community helped to create a 36-foot portable canvas labyrinth. There aren’t many spaces on campus that can cope with that expanse! – but it does fit in the Currier Ballroom, in the Fellowship Hall of the First Congregational Church, on the outdoor plaza in front of Stetson Hall, and perhaps in a few other places we haven’t discovered yet. Several times each semester, for several days at a time, the labyrinth will be spread out and available for many kinds of meditative use; hours and other information will be posted on this web page and in other campus communications.
Walking the Labyrinth is a spiritual practice that predates and transcends most sectarian ties. It can be helpful and exhilarating to anyone for whom some aspect of life or some current question or struggle seems like a sacred journey – within the context of a particular religious perspective, or entirely apart from any such tradition. Most people need about 20 or 30 minutes for a gentle, reflective walk to the center and then back out again – though it’s possible to stretch the journey longer, or to linger in the center. Instructions for walking will be always be available (it couldn’t be simpler!), as well as resources to help you make use of the walk in the context of your own spirituality, prayer life or reflection on what’s going on in your life.
We ask only that you remove your shoes – partly as a gesture of acknowledgement that a sacred journey is in progress, and partly so as to protect and preserve the clean canvas – and that you respect the journeys of others whose walks may already be in progress when you arrive, or who may still be walking when you leave – and that you enter the walk with the wholehearted intention of listening, discovering, being surprised, being nourished, being renewed.
What is a Labyrinth?
The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint found in religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking the labyrinth, we are discovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition. The mysterious winding path that takes us to the center becomes a metaphor for our own spiritual journey. Going in, we release the cares and concerns, which distract us from our Source. The center is a place of prayer and meditation where we receive clarity about our lives. As we walk back on the same path that brought us in, we are granted the power to act. The walk is a shared journey, an activity which communities can do together to coalesce and unify vision. The labyrinth is a mandala that meets our longing for a change of heart; for a change of ways in how we live together on this fragile island home; and for the energy, vision, and the courage to become agents of transformation in an age when no less will suffice to meet the challenges of survival.
“We are not human beings on a spiritual path, but spiritual beings on a human path.”
“In the labyrinth, the set path takes you to the center; that you know you will get to the center helps focus and quiet the mind.”
“The labyrinth, is a place where you can pour your heart out, express your anger, experience joy, express gratitude, and perhaps above all, ask for what you need.”
“We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”
– T.S. Eliot
How to walk the Labyrinth…
There is no right way … no necessary skill or preferred method. Any preparation, any kind of mindfulness that’s helpful to your and nourishing to your inner life, is appropriate and welcome.
We ask that you first remove your shoes – to protect the canvas, and to acknowledge the way in which the time you will walk is time set apart – consecrated time.
Many people find it helpful…
…to get ready for your walk by sitting or standing quietly for a few moments –
- let go of some of the cares of the day
- breathe deeply – notice it, enjoy it, and consider the simple miracle of breath
- allow yourself to receive the gift of this small island of time in the midst of your day
…to keep a reflective silence in the walking area for the sake of the journeys of others
…to use some particular way of thinking about your walk, if it’s helpful; for instance –
- As you embark, carry something with you in your mind that you’d like to let go of. When you reach the center, take time to leave it there – and then savor your return walk in the freedom from that burden.
- Think about something you’re looking for, hoping to find, longing for – and when you arrive at the center, see what insight may be waiting to greet you there.
- Enjoy the sensation of traveling without any particular sense of destination; for once, let yourself be a “holy wanderer,” enjoy the meandering path and let yourself feel aimless.
- Use any other way that’s helpful to you!
Feel free to linger in the center for as long as you like.
As you walk, you will meet others walking in the opposite direction. Feel free to simply step around the meeting point so that you can both pass with comfort.
When you finish your walk…
Take a few moments to get yourself ready to return to the rest of your day. Don’t rush the transition! Savor whatever quiet, calm, insight or feeling may have come to you. Think about how you’d like to have it accompany you as you leave.
Write a few words about your experience in the Labyrinth guest book, if you like.
And plan to return – knowing that, for most people, no two walks are exactly alike!