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Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Labyrinths – A Walking Meditation
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
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
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
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.