Walking in Labyrinths

The symbol of the Labyrinth has been significant in my life ever since I helped build one for my Eagle Scout project. I recently had a profound experience while walking one that I want to share.

But first some background. The Labyrinth is perhaps most recognizable as the design used to trap the Minotaur in Greek Mythology. The shape actually predates ancient Greece and has been found in early human carvings all over the world. The symbol is defined by one entrance and a well-defined yet snaking path to the center. It represents a trap for spirits in some cultures and a ritual path in others.

I have long viewed Labyrinths as invitations for meditation. The path, by its very nature, encourages walking. However, its meandering trajectory is far from a practical way to reach the center of the figure. Furthermore, once the path reaches the center, there is nowhere to go but back out.

Some cultures regard this as a mirror of the life journey from birth to God (or some version of deity).

In my recent experience, it was somewhat less straight-forward. I decided to walk one at night. This particular labyrinth consisted of a path the width of three stone pavers bordered by bricks. The color difference of the border bricks and the walkway stones was so slight that it was difficult to see the path. Looking across the shape, it was impossible to perceive any path at all.

Nevertheless, I began walking, trying to see where the skinnier bricks led me.

As I traversed the winding path, I felt more and more that I was getting a feel for the pattern of it. The longer I walked, the more I felt that I could predict where the path would turn next. And right when I had this feeling of comfort, I wound up in the center quite unexpectedly.

And I realized that I had had that same experience before. I was going along with my nose to the grindstone, doing what I thought was the right thing but not sure if anything would come of it. And then seemingly out of nowhere I wound up in a place that felt pretty special.

I have had this feeling several times before. I experienced it when hiking up a mountain in the fog only to emerge from the clouds at the peak to an amazing panoramic view. I had it when I studied and worked for four years until I found myself walking across the stage of my college graduation. I have it whenever I practice flute for countless hours, engaging in endless self-criticism only to wind up with a Graduate Assistantship, competition win, or job.

That winding path, whether it is a ritual meditation or a journey to someone’s God, is a path I think we all follow. At times, when traversing a Labyrinth, it is easy to feel like I’m going nowhere or like maybe I missed a turn. But I have to remember that simply walking the path is sometimes enough.

And just maybe, eventually, my path will turn toward the center.


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