What I have learned from walking the labyrinth

© Winifred Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.
© Winifred Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink tickled my fancy when he discussed the differences between mazes and labyrinths.


A maze is a series of compartmentalized and confusing paths, most of which lead to dead ends. When you enter, the objective is to escape as quickly as you can.


A labyrinth, on the other hand is a spiral walking course. When you enter the goal is to follow the path to the center, stop, turn around, and walk back out all at whatever pace you choose.


Mazes are analytical puzzles to be solved; labyrinths are a form of moving meditation. Most importantly, the key difference between the two is that how mazes engage the left brain while labyrinths free the right brain.


Since reading the book I have been intrigued and curious to experience this for myself. Last year I finally had the opportunity to test it out by visiting a lovely outdoor labyrinth at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.


I began my labyrinth walk after reading the instructions. Essentially, the most important point is to keep to the path from the beginning to the end. Go at a pace that one is comfortable with. I decided to go as slowly as I can manage.


There was nothing transcendent about it at first, it was pretty much like walking on any other path. In fact it felt as if I was simply walking in a circle which was a little strange.


The surprise came knocking when I became aware that I had been through a particular path since it felt familiar. However that cannot possibly be true because I had been walking.


By definition, it means I'd moved. This teaches me that there will be time in life when I feel as though I am not making progress when in fact I have. I must not focus and trust my feelings alone. As long as I'm walking, there is progress. Perhaps not the progress that I desire but a progress nonetheless.


There were also times when instead of heading towards the center, the path brought me away from it. Again, this was counter-intuitive since the goal was to arrive at the destination rather creating distance between where I was and the endpoint. Leaving that thought I pressed on, following the path as it led me; trusting the path rather than my rational thought.


Calmness took over stealthily. Along with it comfort and trust came too as I decided to let go of the mental chatter and just follow, knowing that it will bring me to the end.


That seems to be the "escape for the right brain" that Pink talked about. Interestingly when it was least expected, I reached the center of the labyrinth. What an experience!


To summarize, these are the lessons that came to me.

1. Before starting on a journey (literal or metaphorical), I need to be clear of my destination.

2. As long as I keep walking, I am making progress and I will reach the goal.

3. Don't trust what I see. Even if it seems or feels wrong, suspend judgment, keep the openness and trust the path.

4. To get to the goal, I may have to walk back and forth several times. This is part of the process. It does not reflect my competence. Neither does it necessarily mean that I am backpedaling.

5. Focus on the goal (the center of the labyrinth) as I walk. With eyes fixed on the prize it is easier to keep walking and ignore the nagging and discouraging voices that try to confuse me.

6. When I'm in the flow I don't feel the burden and when I least expect it I have arrived at the destination.

7. The journey to the goal is not always linear.


"The labyrinth is viewed as a metaphor for life's journey. It offers lessons as we walk the path. Walking the labyrinth can assist us to address challenges. Meditate. Pray and find peace and serenity."


Walked a labyrinth before? I'd love to hear about your experience and comments.


Further reading: Labyrinths encourage reflection.


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