Walking a sacred path: Lessons from labyrinths

Labyrinth at 5000 W. Lincoln Ave in Gilbert Park, Yakima

I was sitting in my aunt’s office, waiting to see her while on a visit back east and flipping through a magazine I never otherwise would have picked up, when I saw my first labyrinth.

The labyrinth was tucked into the corner of an ad, showing a seemingly care-free young woman walking along, her long dress billowing out behind her.

I don’t remember what the ad was about. But I remembered the labyrinth. 

When I returned to Shreveport, I searched online and found the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator- and that led me to the first labyrinth I ever walked.  

The labyrinth, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, was a short mile and a half from my apartment complex. My boyfriend and I went together the following evening. A brochure I picked up from a dispenser enlightened me as to what I was about to experience- and how I should proceed. 

According to the brochure, labyrinths symbolized the journey to the center of one’s being, to a moment of rest and reflection, before the seeker moves back into the outer circles of the world. Labyrinth paths meandered much like the paths of our lives,the brochure continued. 

“We walk along methodically until we are suddenly led to the far side, to the very edge, before we are gently turned back toward the center. No matter how far we wander, if we are centered or focused, we will be pulled back.  The labyrinth experience is to help one to find one’s path, not to lose it.”

-St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Shreveport, Louisiana

The labyrinth was not a maze, the brochure emphatically stated. Unlike a maze, with choices that led to dead ends, a labyrinth had a single, unambiguous path leading to the center and back. 

“A maze is full of tricks and false starts. In a maze, we lose ourselves. In a labyrinth, we find ourselves!” the brochure declared happily. 

I walked the St. Luke’s labyrinth countless times, especially when I felt so lost I didn’t even know what I should be asking. Whether I arrived with clear intention or with a busy mind, the act of walking the labyrinth unfailingly offered me lessons.  

I wrote my insights down on slips of paper. I have since lost the slips. I remember definitively only the sense of peace walking the labyrinth gave me – and one walk in particular, when I asked my boyfriend to go with me once again. 

By then, I had accepted a job in Yakima. He was going to stay in Shreveport. We were both trying to figure out exactly where that left us.

That December day, I remembered walking into the labyrinth with one question: How am I going to walk again on my own? 

As I watched my boyfriend walk the path my thoughts wandered toward despair. I was in a downward spiral when we hit the center of the labyrinth.  My boyfriend continued back toward the beginning and I followed, until he stopped unexpectedly in the middle of the path.  

When I ran into him, he reached back,wrapped his arms around my legs, and hoisted me onto his back. The unexpectedness of the gesture delighted me, and I laughed. I tucked my head onto his shoulder and relished his nearness, his warmth. I let him carry me. I felt my heart calm. He carried me back to the beginning of the labyrinth, put me gently on the ground, then twined his fingers through mine.

I hadn’t said a single word the entire walk. But there was my answer that day: that if I ever wasn’t able to walk on my own, he’d be there to pick me up and carry me through. 

I also learned that – sometimes – my logical, methodical boyfriend could be utterly unpredictable.

Turning within

Later research taught me that St. Luke’s labyrinth, created in 1997 by Lea Goode, stretched 37 feet in diameter and was made of 40 tons of gray and beige brick. I also learned that Goode had incorporated elements of sacred geometry into the 680 foot-long path: seven circuits, quarter markings, a heart space.  

The labyrinth at St. Luke’s was the first permanent labyrinth installed in the state of Louisiana- but it has a special place in my heart for being my precious introduction to the healing and serenity that labyrinths offer their seekers.

I forgot about labyrinths when I moved to Yakima in February. It wasn’t until July, when I ventured to the Selah Ridge Lavender Farm for a lavender festival, that they found me again. On the farm’s grounds was a giant labyrinth, the tendrils of the twisting path separated by rows of lavender humming busily with bees.

A sign nearby read:

“The labyrinth is not a maze. No need to concern yourself with solving a puzzle. There are no wrong turns or dead ends. You cannot get lost.”

-Selah Ridge Lavender Farm Lavender Labyrinth
Selah Ridge Lavender Farm, Selah, WA

The only decision a seeker had to make was to begin the walk. The lavender along the way would help enhance the experience, bringing peace and calm to the spirit, the sign said.

As I walked the Lavender Labyrinth, my focus was on the bees. They looked so happy, going about their business with single-minded purpose and enjoyment. I envied them. 

As I stood crouched, learning from the bees, a shadow crossed my path. I looked up to see a young woman, not unlike the one I had seen in the ad so many years ago, approaching me. I felt an instant wave of annoyance; I wanted to be alone. 

The woman, about my age, offered me a sunny smile as she passed by. “It looks like our paths have crossed,” she said cheerfully.

As she breezed by me, trailing sunshine, I wondered how my life would be different if I welcomed the people and experiences on my  journey, rather than closing myself off from them without so much as a second thought.

A spiritual practice

At the beginning of November, for this entry, I told myself I would investigate the four labyrinths near Yakima. Then, as the month drew to a close and I ran out of time, I told myself I would walk at least one. 

I started with a labyrinth in Gilbert Park. Different from the one at St. Luke’s, this labyrinth was a granite path, 45 feet in diameter, intersected by grass and with a large stone at the center.  But the artist also had incorporated seven adjacent semicircles- a number which in sacred geometry stands for purity, wisdom, unconditional love and spirit, and a complete cycle of manifestation.

Labyrinth at Gilbert Park, Yakima, WA

This labyrinth’s instructions appeared on a stone slab at the path’s threshold. Letters etched into the stone read: “A stone path to wander with intention for calmness, gratitude, a concern, prayer, hope, energy or just for fun.”

On Monday, Nov. 18, around 2 p.m. I set my intention to the thought of dedicating all of my gifts and skills to helping the planet heal and started my first walk on the Gilbert Park labyrinth.

As I walked, I noticed trash marring the path: a cigarette butt, a tissue, a scrap of paper.  The semicircles curved toward the center, then veered out to the far edges of the path, then veered back in, then out. Even though I could see the entirety of the labyrinth before me, I felt a growing sense of despair. I had no idea where I was related to the center of this labyrinth or when I would get there. 

Then there I was, at the center. The journey back was the same: seemingly endless, then over. As I walked the return journey, I picked up the trash. When I left the labyrinth, I deposited my palmful of garbage in the trash can a foot away.

I learned my lesson from the labyrinth, that first day, through that handful of trash: As I continued to navigate my career path, I needed to start where I was and do what I could. I was not yet writing for an environmental magazine or working for an environmental preservation nonprofit. But I had  picked up that handful of trash.

The despair I felt while walking the labyrinth, followed by my disbelief when the walk suddenly was over, also made me reflect on how I faced each day.  

My attempts to find my purpose seemed endless, like the labyrinth path. Would my journey be over, as suddenly- and if it was, where would that leave me? I suddenly feared I would end up at the end of my life, having wasted my days in worry that I had not yet found my place – and then it would all be over. 

I did not want that to happen.  

As I walked the labyrinth path on other days, the meandering nature soothed me. Like the path, my life was all over the place- but I was never far from my center. And if the St. Luke’s labyrinth lessons were to be believed, as long as I held true to my intention, I would never wander too far away before I was gently guided back to my center. 

Labyrinth at Gilbert Park, Yakima, WA

A labyrinth log

I told myself I should walk the Gilbert Park labyrinth seven days in a row, to both build spiritual discipline and to see what might crop up.  I also asked my boyfriend, still in Shreveport, if he could go to the labyrinth at St. Luke’s and grab a copy of the brochure, walk the labyrinth himself and message me what he experienced.

Neither of us met those goals.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said, when I called him on Nov. 30. It was 5 p.m. his time. He was still in bed. “I meant to go today. But it’s already getting dark here.”

I asked him if he had been in bed all day. He said he had fed the cat. He had done some laundry. I told him I had only gone to the labyrinth four times for my log.

November had been a brutal month for both of us. 

I’ve realized I have to give myself more time for this one, and will finish this post in December, after I’ve explored the remaining labyrinths here.  And perhaps, when my boyfriend visits in December, we can walk a labyrinth together again.

THE LOG

November 25, 2019. 1 p.m. 

Today I walked the Gilbert Park labyrinth on my lunch break.  I arrived busy minded and wondering about what intention I should walk: Clarity? Courage?  The stone marker itself ended up giving it to me: Gratitude. With Thanksgiving coming up, gratitude should be forefront in my mind, but instead I’m fastforwarding through my days, to the future and wondering where I’ll be, where I should be, what I could be doing that would feel more meaningful and more purposeful.  Despite my impatience today, the walk went quickly. It was over before I had trained my brain to be present. The most beautiful moment of the walk was when I paused at the center and took time to give thanks for my health, the roof over my head,  a job that pays the bills for the time being, and the interesting life I’ve already lived.

November 26, 2019. 2 p.m.

39 degrees and the sky a smudge when I started my walk, again on the Gilbert Park labyrinth. My mind was a jumble when I arrived again on a break from work, so again I took guidance from the stone and today focused on “calmness.” My thoughts also veered to new beginnings. As I started my walk, a construction crew was noisily working on additions to a house across the street from the labyrinth. At first the noise and the cars going by (the labyrinth is sandwiched by streets) annoyed me, but then I realized it was a good lesson. A physical reminder that building something new often requires a degree of chaos, mess, and noise.  I was again uncomfortable with the meandering nature of this labyrinth- how endless it seems to get to the center, then how quick it is to get back out to the walk’s end. I realize I like the daily discipline of carving out space for my spirit and feel like it’s helping me be more disciplined in other areas of my life as well. 

November 30, 2019. 3:30 p.m.

I sped off to the Gilbert Park labyrinth when I realized I only had about an hour of sunlight left in the day. I grabbed the first word off the stone that I saw: Hope. I walked the path faster than I ever have; the 33 degree weather may have played into that. But that choice factored into today’s lesson- that hope for my future is a matter of forward motion. Today, I just had to keep moving. For this stage of my life, while I’m deciding a future vision and direction, I have to keep moving forward.  The path today also seemed extra clear, likely given the wind storms the city experienced earlier this week.

Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020

Today, during a 4-day weekend in Wenatchee, I discovered a labyrinth in the sculpture garden along the Riverfront Park. I had spent the day hiking without Kody, due to 100 degree temperatures and fear that taking him on a long hike wouldn’t be in his best interest. I had scoped out the park the night before and planned to take him there instead. As we wandered through the lovely sculpture garden, I came across this labyrinth. How my heart trilled with joy! I hooked his leash up to the fence nearby and set him up with some water, then solemnly started a walk along the labyrinth. As I turned the first corner, what should I see but Kody rolling around in the grass a few feet away, the picture of pure contentment! I ended up laughing out loud, and feeling such pure joy and contentment was over me in return. The message – so clear – was to open myself and to appreciate the beauty unfolding in the very present moment. Life can be so beautiful- and it’s all in the simple things!

The labyrinth in the sculpture garden at Wenatchee Riverfront Park

December 28, 2020

My friend, a university programmer, came to visit me over his holiday. With him in tow, I finally made it out to the labyrinth at the McGuire Playground at Sunrise Rotary Park. I’ve been fascinated with this labyrinth, but unwilling to go, because the only access is at least a mile hike along the Yakima Greenway. I was told early into my time in the city, as a solo female, to stay away from the trail given attacks. The pathway there started with a brief trek under a bridge. We tried twice before today, first heading in the wrong direction, then encountering a person talking to himself and throwing trash on the ground (and deciding not to risk it). Today it was clear, beautiful, and as soon as we passed the bridge- much more open/less dangerous than my fear had led me to believe it would be. So today when thinking about what to ponder while I walked the labyrinth, I settled on “Fear.” As I walked to the center, what became clear to me is that life’s road is long and winding, and that company can help you get far. But it’s not about the distance; it’s about how you treat the people journeying alongside you and whether you take care of them along the way. As I walked back out, I thought about how protecting life and defending the sacred, for me, is an instant antidote to fear. When sense of purpose is strong, fear dissipates.

A snow-covered snapshot of the labyrinth at McGuire Playground, Sunrise Rotary Park, Yakima

December 29, 2020

I have been struggling with the concept of “wintering” this year. With COVID-19 inspiring four-day work week furloughs, I’ve used downtime to get out and explore this beautiful state. But I want to honor nature’s rhythms. Winter is a time to rest, reflect, and recharge- and yet, I find myself wanting to zip around, probably in part because I have a week between jobs and am antsy to “make the most of it” before once again being locked into a computer screen. So tonight, as we went to explore a labyrinth near the Children’s Village in Yakima (where I have never before been), I found myself wanting to ask about wintering, and resting, and slowing down. When we arrived, the labyrinth was completely covered in snow; I couldn’t even see the path to walk it. And yet, I wanted to log today, because there was the lesson: to wait. To be okay with the wait, to know that there are lessons learned through stillness, and that life will resume its pace eventually, and then I will want to have savored these still moments of peace.

Kern Road labyrinth, Children’s Village, Yakima

February 7, 2021

Temperatures were still chilly — mid 40s — but the snow had cleared out, and I hauled myself away from a lurch of sadness and out to the Kern Road labyrinth for one last labyrinth walk for this log. Similar to other labyrinths I had walked, this one had a rectangular stone of guidance at the entrance, offering as reasons to walk the path: healing, calmness, strength, energy, harmony, kindness, peacefulness, forgiveness. I decided to go with “clarity.” My walk along the bricks took me almost immediately to the center, and the bench, on top of which was an etching in stone of a simple wood cottage tucked beside a river and overshadowed by Mt. Rainier. The beauty and simplicity immediately hit me in my heart, the answer to the call of a simple life surrounded by Nature’s beauty, peace, solitude. The wind was sharp today, and I hightailed it out around the outer edges of the labyrinth and then back to my car. I’m grateful for this journey, that brought me to this moment and time, and this stone bench with its visual representation of where my life ideally can go.

REFERENCES:

World-Wide Labyrinth Locator: https://labyrinthlocator.com/locate-a-labyrinth

“Sacred Geometry & Numbers 101.” The Eye of Ra. https://eyeofra.blog/2018/12/02/sacred- geometry-numbers-101/

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. “The labyrinth.” http://stlukesumc.community/labyrinth .

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