Life Lessons From a Labyrinth

I was recently away for a few days and had an opportunity to walk a labyrinth. Labyrinths date back 4000 years and are often used now for walking meditation. A labyrinth is different from a maze – there’s no searching for the right path to the center. Instead, a labyrinth is one winding path that leads to a central area. You begin at the entrance and follow the twisty path to a center point where you typically pause and then retrace your steps to exit.

One labyrinth layout

If you’ve never seen a labyrinth – check out the photo I’ve included here of one design. If you’re intrigued, you can find more info at The Labyrinth Society.

As I entered the labyrinth, I tried to empty my mind of plans for the day and focus mindfully on each step while taking in the beauty of the location and the sunny spring day. Several things occurred to me as I later considered my labyrinth experience.

The first thing I realized was how hard it was to judge my progress as I walked. Because it’s so twisty, you can’t see the whole path – you only know where you are at that moment. At times it felt like I was headed directly towards the center, and it seemed like I must be almost there. But a few steps later, the path twisted, and it was clear I still had a long way to go.

Upon reflection, I realized this is precisely what a life journey is all about. I have my goals and plans and think it will be a straight line between where I am now and where I want to be. But that’s not reality. Life is full of twists and turns. I see those twists as diversions that are taking me away from my goals, but they might be necessary steps to achieve what I truly desire. Maybe the twisty path is indeed the shortest path to get me where I want to go.

My second insight occurred after I had spent a few minutes walking the labyrinth. When I first started, I was pleased that I had it all to myself. Then someone else arrived just as I was beginning to sink into the meditative aspect of the slow walking. I was dismayed and felt my peacefulness evaporate. I assumed we would awkwardly get in each other’s way as we crossed on the narrow path and that her presence would interfere with my ability to be mindful and meditative.

But surprisingly, after a few minutes, her presence felt like comforting companionship. I would catch a glimpse of her – on her own journey – and then lose sight of her. And when we crossed on the path, we exchanged a soft greeting and continued on our way. It reminded me that our life journey is never just about us and is not meant to be solitary. We need teachers, friends, family, kind strangers, and probably even the people who often annoy us (although I’m still hoping that last part isn’t true!).

A third insight kept persistently popping into my head as I was walking. I felt like I was playing hide and seek with God. There were tall shrubs around the labyrinth path, and I alternately felt hidden and then exposed. I had never walked a labyrinth that included plantings within the path, so it was a different perspective and experience.

This made me think about how God is always there waiting for me, but I often “hide.” I worry that I’m not good enough to deserve God’s love. Or that God will ask too much from me, and I won’t be able to do what He calls me to do. Or that God will ask me to give up something I treasure, something that makes my life rich and full of joy. But I realize all of that comes from my anxiety rather than from God. God has never asked me to do any of those things. God knows exactly who I truly am and what I can and can’t do. And the bottom line is that God loves me and will not abandon me, regardless of my faults and insecurities.

So, walking the labyrinth gave me more than a brief walking meditation. It provided some important life lessons.

A Closing Prayer

God, please help me put these life lessons into action. Help me be patient with the trajectory of my life and remember that I can’t always see the big picture. Especially when I’m in difficult or emotional situations. Help me recognize how much I rely on other people in my life and remind me to acknowledge the gifts they bring. Help me to love better, especially the people who annoy me, because I need a lot of help with that! And help me trust that You want what is best for me and will always be there to guide me, even when I want to run away and hide. Amen.

10 comments

  1. Fantastic, Tacky. One of your best to date (but the Ordinary Days/Kingdom of Days is still my favorite, of course). I absolutely loved your insights and perspectives on walking the labyrinth — alone and with another, the trees that hid you (but didn’t), and the labyrinth as a journey with unexpected detours and twists. What a great way to start my day and to reflect on my own life’s labyrinth, one that put us together 50 years ago. Your talents and reflections continue to inspire me.

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  2. Kathy, what a wonderful post. Thank you! I had just been to the rock labyrinth at Hammonesset with a friend. Now I have to go back! M.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. I didn’t know there was a labyrinth at Hammonasset! I haven’t been there in decades but I’m going to put this on my list of things to visit next time I’m spending some time in CT. I bet its an inspiring setting.

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  3. Cathy… this was outstanding ! I really loved your observations … I experienced some of the same ones — especially with having “company” as I was walking . When I was walking the one at Chartres I was behind a person who took a step backward for every step forward and since we were on a time schedule I found myself getting impatient that it was taking so much longer than I had planned ! It was only much later that I realized whata huge lesson that was for me ! Not only patience but to SLOW DOWN and savor the journey, whatever it turns out to be … Thank you !

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    >

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    1. I can feel my blood pressure rising just hearing about your labyrinth experience. It’s a good thing that my patience was not tested that much, because I would have failed! Clearly I need that lesson but I don’t think I’m ready for it yet 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I first encountered a real, active Labyrinth behind a Catholic Church in Aruba. Called a “peace labyrinth”, it was meant for people who are traveling, cruising, vacationing who, at one time or the other, needed prayer and comfort to help them slow down and to relax. I loved the labyrinth so much, when I was recuperating from a major surgery, and could not do much, I decided to build one on my lawn. That came out so well, I had many friends and family, young and old, ‘attempt’ to walk it. That’s when you realize how much dysfunctional today’s life has become for many. Few people had the patience and the discipline to walk the length and to return in peace. Teens failed 100% of the time. No patience! I developed my own approach to walking my personal labyrinth. The motive was to slow down my life to the point of looking forward to doing the labyrinth walk, as slow as possible, every time. So each day, during each walk, the objective was to do the “slowest” walk yet. That personal labyrinth helped me heal physically as expected, but became healthier mentally as a result. One approach to doing a peace labyrinth is to count your footsteps going in any count it retuning, aiming to match the two counts. Another approach is to take steps without spaces between the steps. Either way aim at getting a match of the ‘in’ and ‘out’ counts. Either approach teaches and rewards peace, comfort, healing and tranquility. Develop different approaches – as unique as possible, for yourself.

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    1. I love the idea of a “peace labyrinth” for travelers and am very impressed that you built your own labyrinth! Thanks for sharing your different approaches to doing the labyrinth walk. I look forward to trying some of these the next time I find a labyrinth.

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  5. Hi Kathy, This one of my favorites of all your posts. Can I use it at the Women’s Fellowship this Saturday? The place of the Retreat has a labyrinth and I certainly plan on walking it more than once. Glad to hear from your mom that she is feeling better and out walking again Best, Margaret

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    1. Margaret – You’re most welcome to share my post with your Women’s Fellowship. I’m thrilled that you like it enough to share it!
      Mom is amazing. I hope I inherited some of her strength and ability to bounce back from anything life throws at her.

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