* All information (in italics) is taken from the print out given to me during my retreat in September 2014. No reference site/s in the print out. *
What is a Labyrinth?
A labyrinth is an ancient human symbol known to go back at least 3500 years and probably much older. They appeared on most inhabited continents in prehistory, with examples known from North & South America, Africa, Asia, and across Europe from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia. The labyrinth symbol was incorporated into the floors of the great Gothic pilgrimage cathedrals of France in the twelfth & thirteenth centuries. The most famous extant design is the example in the nave floor of the Cathedral of Notew Dame de Chartes outside of Paris.
Why Do We Walk the Labyrinth?
A labyrinth is not a maze, but a walking meditation device with a single winding path from the edge to the center. The labyrinth represents the journey inward to our own true selves and back out into the everyday world.
Walking a labyrinth is a right brain activity (creative, intuitive, imaginative), and can induce or enhance a contemplative or meditative state of mind. It is a tool which can clear the mind, calm our anxieties during periods of transition and stress, guide healing, deepen self-knowledge, enhance creativity, allow for reconciliation, restore feelings of belonging to a community, and lead to personal and spiritual growth.
For many walkers, the labyrinth becomes a metaphor for the journey of life: although full of twists and turns, each of us is on a single path through his or her life, and yet each person’s journey is a separate and distinct qualitative experience. In walking labyrinths, modern seekers are emulating and recapturing the pilgrimage tradition of many ancient faiths.
Benefits of Labyrinth Walking
Research conducted by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Medical Institute has found focused walking meditations are highly efficient at reducing anxiety and eliciting what Dr. Benson calls the ‘relaxation response’. This effect has significant long term health benefits. Regular meditative practice leads to greater powers of concentration and a sense of control and efficiency in one’s life.