Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Labyrinths – A Walking Meditation

Meditation and Labyrinths

The practice of meditation is a personal journey inwards in order to find a new sense of serenity and joy, and also to learn more about ourselves and to promote our spiritual growth.  There are very many different ways of meditating and all religions have their own practices and prayer rituals designed to create stillness and contentment within and to help develop your own direct contact with the spiritual world.  Although many types of meditation involve sitting in silence and solitude, there are also forms of meditation that involve movement, and walking a labyrinth is one of them. People often confuse labyrinths with mazes, but whereas mazes are designed to confuse, get people lost and have many dead-ends, a labyrinth only ever has a single path that always leads you towards the centre. Labyrinths are not supposed to be difficult to find your way through, as the walker may be lost deep in prayer or meditation.

Walking A Labyrinth

The three classical designs of a labyrinth are seven circuit, eleven circuit and twelve circuit.  These are regarded as spiritually powerful patterns as when they are being walked, the backwards and forwards route that turns the walker 180 degrees when they go into another circuit, can encourage their awareness to shift between the two sides of their brain. This can lead to experiencing deep states of meditation, even a hypnotic trance, which can help the walker on their inner journey.  Once the centre of the labyrinth has been gained, it could be an opportunity to spend some more time in contemplation or even to sing and dance.  The same path has to be retraced to get out, which reinforces the key insights gained on your journey to your centre. The seven circuit layout has been known since Greek and Roman times, and appeared as decoration on coins, wall paintings, baskets, pots and is seen in early depictions of body art from as early as 430 BC.  In Roman times, labyrinths were created from tiles or mosaic on the walls or floors of their villas, but these appeared to be mainly for decorative or symbolic purposes.

The Labyrinth of the Minotaur

Labyrinths are very powerful, sacred spaces and have been used since ancient times, and they are represented in many of the great ancient civilisations including the Celts, Ancient Greeks and the Native American Indians.  Perhaps one of the best known labyrinths from antiquity, although a legendary one, is the massive one constructed by Daedalus in order to contain the Minotaur, the monstrous half bull/half man, at the palace of King Minos in Crete.  The Greek hero Theseus managed to kill the Minotaur, but the labyrinth was so convoluted and tricky, that he had to be aided by King Minos’s daughter Ariadne, who gave him a ball of thread which he could use to find his way back out again. As her reward, the gallant Theseus left her as she lay asleep on a beach on the Greek island of Naxos. It is thought that the location of the Minotaur’s labyrinth was at the Minoan Palace of Knossos, which was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900.

Labyrinth at Cathedral in Lucca, Tuscany

The Labyrinth at Hawara

Another famous ancient labyrinth was situated in Hawara in the Fayoum in Egypt and is thought to have been the galleries, chambers and passages of a huge funerary temple complex attached to the pyramid of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Amenemhat III.  This great structure was described by ancient writers such as Herodotus and Strabo as containing as many as 3,000 rooms all of which were elaborately decorated with images and hieroglyphic texts.  The exact location of this ancient labyrinth has been lost since antiquity, but modern archaeological expeditions, such as the Mataha Expedition to Hawara in 2008, have been slowly uncovering what remains of this vast ancient complex using modern technology.

Labyrinths in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages in Europe was the time when the great Gothic cathedrals were built and pilgrimages to holy shrines were considered to be an important part of spiritual life.  For those who could not travel many of these vast stone cathedrals had labyrinths created in them, carved into the stones of the floors, which allowed the worshipper to walk in meditation, prayer or repentance in lieu of undertaking an arduous and potentially expensive pilgrimage.  It is known that the clergy would dance in the labyrinths during the Easter season and they were also thought to be symbolic of the long and difficult journeys that many pilgrims had undergone to visit the shrines housed in the cathedrals. Many of these labyrinths have either been removed or destroyed over the centuries, but a very good example still survives in Chartres Cathedral.  The Chartres Cathedral labyrinth was created on the floor of the nave below the famous Rose Window over the West Door during the early years of the 13th century and is an eleven circuit labyrinth divided into quadrants.

Labyrinths and the Inner Journey

Labyrinths have enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, as people in the West have started exploring meditation and the inner journey in greater numbers.  If you want to undertake this form of walking meditation, you can create your own temporary labyrinth on the floor with sand, flour, masking tape or string.  If you want something a bit more permanent, you could paint one on some canvas or even a sheet to lie down across the ground when you needed it.  And, of course, real devotees with the space and money could have one carved into the floor, marked out with stones or even a topiary labyrinth planted in the back garden.

Remember though that although labyrinths always lead you to the same place, the very centre, that your own journey to get there will be unique and personal to you.  This is not something that you can do ‘wrong’ and every time that you undertake the journey it will be different.  It can be likened to your life path, and the deeper you penetrate into the labyrinth, the closer that you will come to the meaning and centre of your current existence. If you are meditating and walking as a group it can be very beneficial and interesting to share your experiences, but do not allow yourself to be pressured to do so and never compare your experience to someone else’s.  You are at your own unique point in your spiritual journey and the speed at which you move and what your soul chooses to experience is a very individual and sacred choice.

Image  Lucca Labyrinth Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

1 comment:

  1. I often do walking meditation and it is really helpful for each and everyone. I would suggest that you also try this.