Trouble Meditating? Try Walking or Tracing a Labyrinth

I always thought that meditation meant sitting quietly, alone, in a darkened room, with nothing but my thoughts (which I was supposed to ignore) for company. Not only did this method of practice send me screaming from the room within two minutes, but it usually kept me from sitting down to meditate in the first place. A dear friend and long-time meditator tried to help me by sitting with me, giving me some pointers, and telling me to start with just five minutes; how could I tell her that I couldn't even make it to two minutes?

Then one day I was leading a weekend retreat on dreams, and was entrusted with a labyrinth to use during the weekend. At that point I didn't even know what a labyrinth was, let alone how I might use it in the retreat, but I took it and, on the ride to the retreat center, I read a little about labyrinths, and this labyrinth in particular.

Labyrinths, though they initially look like mazes, have no blind alleys. There is a path (usually with a single entrance), and it always, always, leads to the center of the labyrinth, no matter how many twists and turns there might be. Once you reach the center of the labyrinth (and, in theory, yourself), you can stay in there and continue your meditation by standing or sitting, or you can immediately come back out. No matter what, you will not get lost. Labyrinths of various shapes and sizes are found in almost all cultures, and are springing up all over the planet at clinics, churches, and even people's back yards. Though their original intent is not known for sure (many of these are centuries old), some think they were used by people who couldn't travel as a metaphor for the journey of a pilgrim. Nowadays they are used as meditation/deepening/healing tools.

In the course of my reading about the labyrinth I had been given for the weekend, I discovered that it had been made for a clinic by a grateful patient. She had painted a Chartres-style labyrinth on strips of dark blue canvas, which were held together by Velcro. I realized we were going to have to assemble this, and it had to be done correctly, or we would have a maze on our hands.

It turned out to be quite easy to put together, with all of us helping. And, once it was complete, I was inexorably drawn to the entrance and immediately began what turned out to be the first of about ten walks I would complete over the course of the weekend. As soon as I entered the labyrinth, everything else fell away: concerns about how to use it and how the weekend would go, thoughts about meditating, sounds from outside the building in which the labyrinth was housed. Without even knowing it, I had gone into a meditative state; I was in the present moment, and there was nothing but the path and me walking the path.

After that weekend, I felt bereft; I had discovered a way for me to meditate, but the tool which facilitated this wasn't mine, and it turned out that it would be several months before I found another labyrinth, and then a couple years before I encountered another. (My favorites are the ones which are out-of-doors.) But I discovered that there are other forms of moving meditation, all of which engage me much more easily than sitting. Tai chi and qigong have a variety of moving meditations, and the simplest moving meditation is just putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, while keeping one's complete attention on the movement. Still, the labyrinth remained my favorite moving meditation; what to do?

I eventually discovered that there are finger labyrinths-smaller versions of the large, walking labyrinths-made out of paper, wood, glass, and fabric. Many of this kind of labyrinth could be found at the entrances to churches in the British Isles; apparently they were used to center oneself before actually entering the sanctuary. While these don't provide exactly the same experience as the walking labyrinths, they are often found to be of value by someone (like me) who cannot do a traditional seated meditation. The trick is not to race through it, but to focus on the movement, and the feeling of the movement, and of one's finger on the paper, wood, glass, or fabric.

In summary, for those people who have trouble doing a non-moving, seated (or standing) meditation, consider trying a walking or finger labyrinth as a means into your inner realms. (To see/experience one type of labyrinth online, go here: http://www.gratefulness.org/labyrinth/chartres-auto.htm )

Laurel Ann Reinhardt, Ph.D.
I am a former psychologist turned life/wellness/joy coach who uses labyrinths, dreams, and mindfulness to help people center, enter their innerlandscape, and create their lives from the inside out. When a recent move left behind a walking labyrinth which I had used monthly for several years, I looked for other ways of bringing this powerful meditation tool back into my life; the result was the addition of "fiber artist" to my resume, as I began piecing and quilting labyrinths of various shapes and sizes. (These can be seen at my website: http://www.innerlandscaping.com, as well as my etsy store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/InnerLandscaping.) I am also a published author, a Certified Facilitator of the Transformation Game, and a seeker.

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