St Augustine wrote, “Solvitur ambulando.” (It is solved by walking.) The first time I walked a labyrinth was in 1993 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Since that time I have walked the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France. I have also had the honor of helping create two labyrinths, one a portable labyrinth hand-painted on a 40’ x 40’ canvas, and the other a permanent seven-circuit labyrinth.
One of the hallmarks of the labyrinth is there are no dead ends, no wrong turns, or tricks to getting to the center. There is one path into the center and one path back out. Although you can walk the labyrinth alone, often times I have walked the labyrinth with others.
While facilitating a labyrinth walk, I often describe it as a mirror that shows us who we are if we are open to seeing ourselves. I suggest to first-time labyrinth walkers to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations or awareness you may have as you are walking. I also give some direction on how to walk the labyrinth with others, as some people are coming in, some going out, some just pausing to pray and contemplate. The path is narrow and, as it is a silent prayerful experience when you come up to another person, you may choose to let them go by, stay on the path and walk together, or step off the labyrinth path and then resume your walk.
On one occasion as I was walking the labyrinth with a group, I noticed as I was observing my own thoughts how I was overly concerned about letting people go by me and “get out of the way.” I noticed a feeling of being a bit anxious and overly concerned about being polite. I perceived a sensation of worry about what others thought of me more than I was calmly centered in myself.
At one point I stepped off temporarily to let some people go by and resumed my walk to the center. Only to realize after a few turns that I had gotten completely turned around and walked back to the beginning and exited off the labyrinth! I was shocked! How could I get so turned around? How could I get so lost that I was going in the wrong direction and didn’t even know it?
Then I realized what had happened. I wanted to please the people on the labyrinth and wanted their approval by letting them go first and by “getting out of the way.” The awareness came to me like a jolt! I was more concerned about making others happy. When I did this, I literally got turned around and going in the wrong direction on my own path.
This behavior of being overly concerned about others perceptions was not serving me, in fact I was literally getting lost in it. When I was worrying and giving too much attention to everyone else on their path I could not fully be on my own spiritual path.
Since that time I am trusting God more deeply to guide me. I am cleaning my own spiritual house by letting go of the heavy emotional burden of “people pleasing” and worry about how others perceive me. I am also doing more to serve others but not in the same way, to gain their approval, but from the overflow of joy I have within me as I am more clearly walking my own God-given spiritual path.
The next time you are on the labyrinth, watch you own thoughts, and observe yourself. Let the labyrinth show you what you need to see about your interactions with God and others and how you are walking your spiritual path. It is solved by walking!