Have you discovered the gift of the labyrinth yet? It’s an ancient spiritual tool that has provided solace and insight for thousands of years. Today, in a world that prizes speed, efficiency and productivity, the labyrinth reminds us of what we know in our hearts: that the journey is as important as the destination.
As our feet trace the familiar spiral, our bodies relax and our minds grow quiet. Insights emerge, creativity blossoms and a sense of connection awakens. We feel a compassionate hand guiding us from the outer realms of chaos and responsibility to an inner sanctuary of peace.
A brief history
Labyrinths have been found in many ancient cultures, from Native American tribal lands to the Mediterranean. One of the earliest known labyrinths was discovered on a 4,000-year-old pottery vessel in Egypt. The classical 7-circuit labyrinth that is most familiar today is based on the ancient Cretan labyrinth, which dates back over 4,000 years.
Not to be confused with a maze, a labyrinth has a single winding path that leads gently but purposefully into its centre. It has long been a metaphor for humanity’s spiritual journey. In Native American culture, the spiral symbolises the cycle of life, while for the Celts it was a sacred space for meditation and connection. In mediaeval Christian times, the 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth laid in stone on the cathedral floor served as a powerful meditative and spiritual tool for pilgrims and visitors to the cathedral who had come to use it for contemplation, prayer and symbolic reflection.
While the labyrinth has taken on specific religious meanings during different eras, its deepest power lies in its universality. It remains as meaningful and accessible today as it has been for our ancestors. When all else is stripped away, the labyrinth still stands, holding out its gently guiding hand, beckoning us to take the first step.
How to walk the labyrinth
As we follow the curving path, slowly and purposefully, the logical and analytical parts of our mind grow quiet. Our awareness shifts to the sensations of our body as it moves through space – the contact of feet on the ground, the swing of our arms, our breath as it flows in and out. This mindful experience of movement ignites a meditative state that stills our churning thoughts and worries. A sense of calm serenity arises from inside, enabling us to take new insights into our everyday lives and let them inspire our creative pursuits, our relationships and our work – indeed all areas of life.
As our logical minds relax their grip, our intuitive senses awaken. Walking the labyrinth stirs our right brain function, the place where creativity, imagination and insight dwell. New possibilities and connections emerge spontaneously from a space of receptiveness and release from everyday demands. Problems we puzzled over as we entered the winding path may reveal their solutions in a flash of wisdom or whisper of knowing that comes to us at the centre.
Amid the restorative silence and solitude, we reconnect with the deepest parts of our being. The centre of the labyrinth becomes a place of profound peace – where we can pause, reflect and meditate. An openness blossoms where perhaps before there were constrictions and limitations.
We emerge renewed, with clarity and expanded perspective to carry back into our lives beyond the last turn of the path. The journey inward has given us a fresh vantage point from which to walk outward once again. We are anchored now in our centre, connected to our truest self, ready to navigate life’s twists and turns with a little more grace and wisdom. This is the simple magic of the labyrinth, imparted to all who walk with an open heart.
Where to walk the labyrinth
The labyrinth comes in many shapes and forms, with different styles to suit every soul. Whether you seek the familiar comfort of the classical 7-circuit design or boldly venture into a modern design, the labyrinth awaits your discovery.
The famous Chartres labyrinth is an 11-circuit mediaeval design laid in stone on the Cathedral floor in France. The classical 7-circuit labyrinth is a simpler circular design, providing an accessible introduction to labyrinth walking for beginners. Contemporary labyrinths come in a range of organic and geometric patterns. Some are based on sacred geometry or mystical teachings. They provide variety and a non-traditional experience of the labyrinth journey. Canvas labyrinths are portable versions that can be temporarily set up in any location such as the one at Gloucester Cathedral.
If you have a longing to experience the magic of walking the labyrinth for yourself, there are many locations in the UK that you can seek out. Some hide in plain sight, nestled in gardens, embraced by welcoming parks or sheltered by churchyards, waiting patiently to be discovered, ready to yield their gifts to all who come with open and seeking hearts.
In London, a classical labyrinth is mown into the grass outside Christ Church in Colliers Wood SW19. Historic English church labyrinths can be found in places as far as Alkborough Church, North Lincolnshire, Ely Cathedral, Itchen Stoke Church in Hampshire, and Hadlow Down in East Sussex – here’s a handy UK map for reference and research.
Seek and you shall find
Through ages of human searching, the labyrinth has stood as a beacon; its spiral path a metaphor for the journey inward. The experience is different for every person. For some, that path leads to spiritual awakening or connection with the divine. For others, it offers a place of solace, mindfulness or insight into life’s challenges.
A labyrinth is a place between – a liminal space of transition and possibility. Though the path leads purposefully onward, time seems suspended within its spirals. We walk between the ancient and modern worlds, between heartbeats, and between the conscious and subconscious mind. In this place of flow and rhythmic movement, a single step can lead to fresh insight and awakening. Whatever you may be seeking, the labyrinth holds out its guiding hand as a friend who whispers: come, wander for a while.
Written by Annie Button for The Life Adventure.