I don’t know about you, but I feel constantly barraged by noise, activity, emails, phone calls, and the incessant hammering of media grabbing my attention to buy and consume a dizzying array of products. Modern culture puts tremendous pressure on us and it is difficult to quiet our minds, even when we set time aside to do so. In my work with students I see how this pressure affects young people. Anxiety disorders are on the rise and the counseling department is bursting at the seams as students seek ways to cope.
One of the tools for working with stress is the labyrinth. During exam time, an 11-circuit, Chartres style labyrinth is placed on the floor of the UVic Interfaith Chapel for students and staff to help them slow things down and quiet their minds. The labyrinth helps in creating an inner sanctuary away from the pressures of the moment and to nourish body, mind and spirit. Students come after a tough exam, or to take a break from studying. They take time out and intentionally immerse themselves in the tranquil place of the Chapel to quiet the mind, appreciate the present moment, let go of stressful thinking and build an inner spaciousness – simply by walking the circuits of the labyrinth.
When I teach students how to walk the labyrinth as a meditation I remind them that there are four phases to the process. The first phase is to simply stand at the entrance of the labyrinth and appreciate the blessing of the present moment. All that we have, all that we are is a blessing from the Divine. Before entering the labyrinth, simply bring to mind all that is blessing in our lives, and begin the walk with gratitude.
The second phase is to start the walk to the centre, slowly, with gentle deliberation and to practice releasing. It is the practice of letting go of stressful thoughts and of distractions by simply attending to the walking and bringing attention back to the walk again and again. This phase starts at the entrance and ends in the centre.
The third phase is receiving. At the centre we open ourselves in prayer and meditation to the infinite love that is at the core of our being. This is a time where we can be receptive to guidance, a creative idea, assurance, a sense of peace, or simply a deep, nurturing, inner silence. The experience is different for everyone, and people sit, stand, kneel or even lie flat at the centre, for as long as they want.
The fourth phase is integration. It begins when we leave the centre and return the same path out of the labyrinth. In this phase we seek to integrate into our lives whatever wisdom we have received in the labyrinth. Perhaps the labyrinth meditation has brought to awareness new actions to take in our lives, or simply a resolution to do things differently. Perhaps a new insight has been gained, or a fresh perspective on an implacable problem has opened new possibilities. Sometimes a rejuvenation occurs or a feeling of rebirthing begins.
UVic Interfaith Chapel LabyrinthNow, it is important to point out that these four phases are only a map and do not constitute the territory. Any of the phases can happen anywhere along the path. A sense of gratitude can be experienced at the centre, just as integration can start the moment one enters the labyrinth. It is helpful to have some idea what may happen, but not to let that unduly shape the experience. Simply walk the labyrinth and let whatever happens inform you of the inner wisdom that awaits your discovery on the labyrinth path.
You are invited to attend a free workshop entitled “Meditate the Labyrinth” Monday, April 11, 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Interfaith Chapel, led by Chaplain Henri Lock.
The workshop will give a short history of the labyrinth, the sacred symbolism embedded in the labyrinth, and further instructions on how to use the labyrinth for meditation.
The labyrinth is also available for walking,
April 11 – 22,
Mondays – Wednesdays, 9am – 5:30 pm,
Thursdays 9am – 9pm.
Not available Fridays and weekends.
Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on April 6, 2011.