Lessons from the Labyrinth

At the UVic Interfaith Chapel, we are entering our tenth year of having a labyrinth available for students, staff and visitors to walk during exam time. (schedule below)

It is a beautiful setting – the large windows of the Chapel have a clear view of Finnerty Gardens and the lush green of the forest spills into the interior and joins the varied greens of the indoor plants. The labyrinth is in the shape of a large circle painted on canvass and placed on the floor of the Chapel. Overhead the vault of the pyramid roof gives an airy spaciousness to the room. And the cedar siding is a reminder of the coastal rainforest.

In the quiet of the Chapel, the labyrinth invites people to go on an imaginary journey, following the meandering path wherever it leads, and letting the sensations and feelings that arise be instructive of one’s life journey. The journey is symbolic of the path that the soul follows into the very heart of God. Life’s many twists and turns sometimes lead us closer to the centre of our longing, then at other times we feel very far from our destination. Yet it is the very journey that gives shape to our lives and that leads us into deeper awareness of the sacred.

The UVic labyrinth is modeled after the design found on the floor of 12 Century Chartres Cathedral. The design is rich with symbolic meaning. Walking the labyrinth is like entering a rich symbolic universe, with archetypal images that stimulate the intuitive side of the brain.

The labyrinth is divided into four quadrants, representing the solar cycle of four seasons. The journey takes us through all the seasons, and we swing through the seasons a number of times. On the outside edge there are 112 half-circles, called lunations, each quadrant representing the full arc of a moon cycle. The lunar and solar, the feminine and the masculine, are woven together, referencing the pull of both these energies in our lives.

At the centre are 6 petals that together are a representation of the Rose of Sharon, a symbol for Mary, mother of Jesus, thus symbolizing the divine feminine in Christian mythology. The petals are also said to represent the six elemental aspects of our perceptional universe: mineral, vegetative, animal, human, spirit and being. The circular shape of the labyrinth suggests wholeness, or the fullness of time, without beginning or end.

Each of these symbols work on the subconscious level of awareness. Entering into the labyrinth is like stepping out of ordinary awareness into the realm of deep awareness. For this reason walking the labyrinth often feels like a subtle inner transformation is taking place. People report feeling more peaceful, or having sudden insights, or getting a new perspective on a personal issue, or having their awareness opened to sacred presence, Spirit, a sense of being in the presence of the holy. For many walking the labyrinth is a prayer.

Over the year we have invited people to leave comments after their experience.

Here are some of their entries…

“ Whenever I walk this I am overcome with emotion – I don’t know if this is because of the collective energy within a sacred space or just being overwhelmed with being ‘still’.”

‘A journey into the peace of my soul. Thank you.”

‘As I sat in the centre of the labyrinth, the arms of God consoled me – at a time in my life I needed comfort. Very powerful experience”

“My breathing slowed down and my mind stopped racing. A peaceful time to look within.”

“Thank you for creating this sacred space of awe and wonder, where I can walk and walk and still come to the centre of all things (and myself).”

“What a magical experience. Deep processing. Deep feeling.”

“Thank you so much for the journey back to the centre of my being. What a gift this chapel is, holding space for silence and renewal!”

The Labyrinth at the UVic Interfaith Chapel Schedule:

Labyrinth open for walking: November 28 – December 16, Monday – Thursday, 9am – 11:30am, 12:30pm-5:30pm (not Fridays or weekends) FREE

Workshop: Meditate the Labyrinth: Monday, December 5, 7:00 – 9:00pm. Please register by calling 250-472-4159 FREE

Labyrinth by Candlelight: Thursday, December 1 and 8, 6:00 – 9:00pm. FREE

Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on November 24, 2011.

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