Over the last decade or so the number of labyrinths being built across the globe has expanded rapidly. These are being installed and used in schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, hospices, parks, private and public gardens, religious settings, city centre streets, woodlands, beaches and many more sites. The history of the labyrinth goes back almost 5,000 years. They seem to have emerged and re-emerged, capturing our interest in several time waves and in slightly different forms throughout this period.
What is a Labyrinth
What is a labyrinth?
The labyrinth is an ancient pattern, an archetypal image that has been passed down through generations and cultures as a form of reflective instrument. Over the last thousand years or so these fascinating patterns have most often been constructed as pathways on the ground big enough for us to enter and walk. Many confuse the labyrinth with a maze. A maze has many paths, twists and turns and is a puzzle to be solved. A labyrinth has only one entrance and one path to the centre. The way in is the way out. Unlike a maze which is designed to get lost in, a labyrinth helps us find ourselves.
“No one knows who created any of the labyrinth forms, but we do know from experience that embedded within each design is a pattern that somehow quiets our deep inner being so we can hear our own wisdom and the wisdom attempting to reach us. Whether walked or traced in sand, the labyrinth pattern is a powerful tool for reflection, meditation, realignment, and a deeper knowledge of the Self”.
“The Sand Labyrinth: Meditation at your Fingertips” by Laren Artress.
There are many different types of labyrinths around the world going back thousands of years and while they precede most world religions they are found in most religious traditions where they have been used as a method of meditation and reflection and as a metaphor for our life’s journey. One of the most famous models of labyrinth is to be found in the Cathedral of Chartres in France. The stone floor still bears its ancient floor labyrinth, laid there around the year 1201. It was used for walking contemplation by the Benedictine Monks and is still used for meditation by pilgrims today.
Slowly walking the single path, step by step, to the centre of the labyrinth, enjoying the space at the centre and then retracing the same path back out, gives enough time to unwind and let go of everyday concerns in order to renew some sense of inner calm, balance and perspective
The Labyrinth & Mental Health
The Labyrinth & Mental Health
We live at a frenetic pace in today’s culture. We are constantly bombarded with the latest
technology must have. There is little or no time for reflection, meditation and taking ‘time-out’ and many people do not know what to do with quiet time and silence. There is a search among young people for something beyond the present material myths that are being given in the media. The labyrinth provides a space on campus that will enable all who use it to take that time that is so important in our busy world today. It will bring the balance that is so badly needed, a balance that will help us to improve our mental health and well-being.
There is a definite link between the labyrinth and mental health. This is borne out by the fact that the American Psychological Association have placed a sacred space garden on the top of their headquarters in Washington DC. The main feature of the garden is a labyrinth which they encourage all to use often as they believe that it enhances our lives and gives us the balance needed.
In Massachusetts, a new mental health facility opened in Worcester State Hospital. They have built not one but four permanent stone labyrinths on the campus of the hospital because they believe in its power to bring calm and peace to patients, staff and visitors.
The medical benefits of walking a labyrinth are similar to those seen from meditation and more specifically, walking meditation. Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has found that like sitting meditation, focused walking is highly efficient at reducing anxiety and triggering a "relaxation response." This effect has significant long-term health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, slowing breathing rates, reducing incidents of chronic pain, and reducing insomnia.
Walking meditation has been used for centuries by Buddhist monks in their spiritual practice and it has recently received greater attention by the general public through Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn’s book; ‘The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation’. What often hinders individuals from trying meditation is the challenge of trying to overcome the restless and uncomfortable feeling of sitting quietly for an extended period of time; on the other hand, a walking meditation offers a rhythmic structure which can help those who struggle to stay focused during sitting meditation. Labyrinth walking further enhances the meditative experience because a specific path already has been laid out to follow, allowing the person to fully focus on the moment.
Neal Harris, a licensed clinical professional counsellor and managing director of Relax4Life, a holistic education centre in Barrington, Illinois, has written about the use of finger and walking labyrinths in his practice. In Harris’ article, “Off the Couch: An Introduction to Labyrinths & Their Therapeutic Properties,” he discusses some anecdotal research indicating how labyrinths positively affect the brain wave activity and neurological responses of some users, resulting in short-term increases in mental clarity in people with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and dyslexia.
Social and psychological benefits are clear, says Goode-Harris; "When you walk in the company of other people from different views, different religions and different political agendas, you're all on the same path, but you move through seeing different points of views,"
Restoring nature's footprint - see Article: Article
Teaching and Learning
Labyrinth used to enhance teaching and learning
Colleges throughout the world are using the labyrinth to enhance teaching and learning.
“In a culture that is predominantly book or computer based, the labyrinth offers a unique space in which students and staff may explore non-prescriptive experiential and participatory learning. Walking the path offers the possibility of a freeing up of creative blocks and of focusing attention on the more subtle insights that arise in our imagination.”
Labyrinth, landscape of the soul by Di Williams
We all go through times of stress and difficulties in our lives. The labyrinth will be an important instrument that will support all who use it into the future and enable each of us to find a peaceful path in an environment that can be very stressful and demanding. The labyrinth will provide an space on campus that will assist all who use it to be more mindful and reflective. It will enable each of us to find that inner balance and peace that is very much needed in our busy world today.