Study Guide for Labyrinths: Journeys of Healing Stories of GracePosted: September 9, 2013
A Study Guide for Labyrinths: Journeys of Healing Stories of Grace
Page 11: Curiously, like many people today, my father never saw these myths as anything other than thundering good stories. He dismissed them as neither factual nor literally true, and therefore irrelevant, and missed their spiritual or psychological overtones, which point to inner odysseys that require every bit as much courage as any concrete exterior journey.
What were your favorite stories growing up? What myths or stories have been informative for your life?
Page 17: The labyrinths that remained intact were but a quaint remind of a time when the power of the transcendent and numinous seemed more imminent and immediate than the power of scientific fact and rational thought.
We became enamored of reason and intellectual accomplishment, as we treated the world as a laboratory using science and technology to find the answers to our profound questions. We began unlocking the secrets of the universe. Technology itself seemed a golden path, a unicursal way, that led to the “center of meaning and understanding.” Miracles were brought into being with which to bless the world, but in our infatuation with the world of the scientific laboratory, we forgot that there are other kinds of knowledge. We were stepping on very holy ground, but forgot to honor it. In our dizzy exploration of the worlds of science, we become too familiar with head knowledge and became separated from the knowledge of the heart. We experienced a psychic/spiritual split which has caused us to experience alienation and separation from each other, from the earth, and from the whole created order.
And so, our deep souls are seeking reconciliation, even though we may not yet know what that means. I don’t think it is an accident that knowledge of the labyrinth is surfacing now in our times as one of the ways we are trying to find our way back into balance and wholeness.
What do you think has happened in our culture that has prompted the return of the labyrinth? In what ways do you think our science has failed to lead us to the “center of meaning and understanding?” Where do you find “holy ground?”
(Dr. Robert Moore, a Jungian psychotherapist and theologian at the Chicago Theological Seminary wrote about the development of a “flattened universe” devoid of meaning in his book entitled Facing the Dragon. Consider this excerpt from page 64:
Mircea Eliade made a major contribution to understanding these issues. Most people have overlooked his more important point – that space and time are heterogeneous for homo religious, that is for pre-modern human beings. There is not just one kind of space and time, not just one world, but two worlds, two kinds of space and time: (a) the world of the profane and (b) the world of the sacred, the world of myth.
This world of homo religious was not just Christian, however, but existed for eons prior to modernity, including most of human history. In fact, this radical distinction between ordinary space and time and sacred space and time prevailed throughout human history prior to modernization. Pre-modern people regularly felt the need to make contact with the divine realm. The liturgical year is a vestige of insights from that time. The Mass also served as a refuge from the ordinary world in which it was important to return often to the sacred center, the axis mundi. This world down here is imperfect and human, but the other world is full of numinosity and sacredness and power and grace.
In my view, our survival requires that we get back to the axis mundi, the center of the world. We must do this differently, of course, from how pre-modern people did it, but we must get back to the center in order to survive.
Can you see how Zara Renander and Robert Moore are both addressing the problem that modern culture has lost contact with the sacred? Robert Moore speaks of the “axis mundi” the center of the world that our culture must get back to in order to survive. Do you think the center of the labyrinth might be a path to the “axis mundi?”
Page 18: Jill Geoffrion, one of the most respected labyrinth guides, asks the question, in workshops, “What good is a labyrinth?” People answer that question in various ways, but usually it has to do with acknowledging a blessing. Walking the labyrinth is a way and path of blessing. The meaning of the word “blessing” is much more than the bestowing of a special favor, mercy or benefit on someone, or the experience of feelings and hopes of good fortune or well-being. . . . The deep significance of the world “blessing” has to do with conveying and participating in the active energy, power and vitality of the eternal One: The Creator. . .
For you what is a blessing? Have you ever experienced participating in the active energy, power and vitality of the eternal One? While this book is dedicated to offering the labyrinth as one way to participate in the active energy of the eternal One, what other kinds of experiences have brought you blessing?
Page 20: “Everything sacred moves in a circle.”
The open circle reflects reality as an open system, allowing space for revelation and movement that comes from deep within. The one who “dreamed the universe” into being is like a mother and we, her children following that pattern, must also give birth. As we partake of blessing, so we must also give birth to blessing around us.
Do you experience reality as an open system? Zara here uses distinctly feminine imagery to speak of the Creator Mother, and our tasks as giving birth to blessing? How do you feel about these feminine images? What are some of the ways you give birth to blessing?
Page 21: Paul Tillich, the theologian, imaged our spiritual longing for the Holy, the Divine, in the same way that our physical being thirsts for and needs water. He did not believe that we would possess this thirst and longing for connection if it were not possible to achieve it and if the pathways to reach it were not present. In religious terms, that way of communication is prayer in its many forms and expressions.
Do you believe we have a natural thirst for connection with the Holy? How do you experience that thirst? What wells have you tried in your search for the Holy? What forms of prayer or spiritual exercise are most effective for you? Have you tried any forms of tactile prayer: prayer beads, rosary, knotted rope, finger labyrinth, walking a labyrinth? Do you think using a tactile form of prayer might enhance your prayer life?
Page 26: One traditional approach to labyrinth walking is to see the journey in three parts – the three Rs:
1. The Way of Release leading into the center is also known as the Way of Purgation (in medieval terms). It is the journey of letting go and allowing ourselves to experience the walk.
2. The Place of Receiving is the center itself, also known as the place of Illumination.
3. The Way of Return or Way of Integration refers to the journey home as we come back to our ordinary life.
As you think about the possibility of walking a labyrinth, do you have anything you would like to lay aside when you are on the Way of Release? We can never predict what we will find in the Center of the labyrinth, but what do you imagine you would like to receive in the place of Illumination? What in your spiritual life would you most like to integrate into the rest of your life?
Page 29: One walker in South Africa remarked that if all the people of his village weren’t there, he couldn’t enter the labyrinth. He was expressing the classic Bantu idea of Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are. All or nothing!
In contrast, I’ve heard many Americans comment that they initially get bothered and irritated by having other people on the path who become obstructions slowing them down – they don’t realize that the others are part of the journey too.
Do you see your spiritual journey primarily as your own individual quest, or as something you accomplish primarily within the context of community?
Page 35: Characteristics of shame are the desire to hide and to surround the reprehensible act with silence. . .
So let’s ask ourselves, both communally and individually, of what are we ashamed? What are the things we dare not speak of? What are our unspoken family secrets? What is eating our own future, as a world, as a nation, as a community and individually, and holding us hostage because we dare not mention it or confront it? What about addictive behaviors? Drug and child abuse? Deep deprivation that leads to depression and eating disorders? All the ills that affect our modern society which we prefer to ignore, hoping that they will go away.
In order to free the community and restore the well-being of Athens, Theseus has to name the problem publicly and have the willingness and courage to confront the symbol of shame, the Minotaur, directly.
Do you have anything of which you are ashamed? What difference would it make if you could speak to your shame publicly? Are you part of any communities that suffer from shame issues? What might be the consequences of naming the shame of the community publicly? As a nation what is eating our future? As a faith community what is eating our future?
Page 36: As we confront the challenges of our lives, this story provides an important model. When we engage our Minotaurs and monsters, we must recognize and name the destructive forces that lay waste our potential and our future. To succeed, we will need the support and blessing of others. We will have to use both the sacred masculine and feminine energies and call on our own courage and determination. And if we remember to hold on to the golden thread of love, we will never sink so far into the pit of despair that we cannot return from profound darkness. When we do dare to make this journey and confront our deepest fears, which hold the future hostage, the blessing we gain is not just an individual experience. It is for everyone. The whole community benefits.
In order to engage with your monsters, from whom do you need blessing? For you what are the sacred masculine and feminine energies? For you what is the golden thread of love? What would you do, if you weren’t afraid?
Page 39: Stories can reveal to us who we are and who we are not. Whether they are frivolous or sad, fact or fiction, myth or mystery, stories are powerful means of creating meaning. We human beings have a great need to make sense of our existence and time on this earth – it is a core necessity for us. Stories are vehicles that allow us to create significance and identity for ourselves and our environment. Their luminal characteristics can help us cross psychic thresholds and impart understanding of who we were, who we are and who we might become.
What story or stories have been most informative for your life? Are there any stories from your early life that point to who you are today? What story best expresses the meaning of your life?
Page 40: We limit our potential by telling ourselves stories of disempowerment, and we gain courage when we remember that we are not defined by one particular tale. We act in accordance with the dictates of our self-told narratives and often allow ourselves and our lives to become trapped like flies in amber. However, one of our most power human attributes is that we are able to turn the page, alter the narrative – change the direction and outcome of stories – and in so doing change our lives.
What stories or narratives from your past are most disempowering for you? Do you have any narratives in your life you would like to change? Have you observed people alter stories about their lives? Is there a story in your life, you would like to change?
Page 44: In Selma, Alabama, some 40 years after the Civil Rights struggle, Kerry and I were invited to help the vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church face involvement in the dark story of racial segregation. Of course, most of the original parishioners of that era were either dead or no longer living in the area. We were dealing with an inherited story, which can be every bit as powerful as an individual’s narrative. When we asked people to tell the story of their family’s participation in the history of segregation, we were initially met with polite stonewalling. After we managed to build a bit of trust, the stories came tumbling out. One man brought his White Citizen pin, a badge of his coming into manhood, saying, “I don’t know why I brought it today, but I did.” He put it down on the circles of the labyrinth, saying he would never pick it up again. He was ritualizing his rejection of that part of his story. . .
During the meeting, as tears began to fall, we heard an important and interesting moment, “This is the first time anyone asked us tell our stories. We’ve heard the stories of the Black community, but no one asked for ours. Thank you!”
Do you belong to any communities or families of people whose stories need to be told? Are you part of any communities whose stories need to be healed? What does a community need to do to change its narrative? Are there any creative forms of ritual that can help communities change their stories?
Page 49-50: To enter a labyrinth is to cross a threshold. Our spirit knows this, even if our logical mind doesn’t always comprehend it. The ancients well understood the power – and danger – of crossing a sacred threshold. They placed great stone lions, gargoyles, monsters and dragons at the entrances to their temples to symbolically alert our spirits it was time to wake up and pay attention. These fierce guardians were also meant to repel negative energy and discourage outsiders from entering. . . the threshold – in this case a labyrinth – functions as a place of demarcation and discrimination for engaging the sacred.
In our modern world how do we separate the sacred from the profane? Do we have any rituals for establishing sacred space, or sacred time? Do you have any time in your week you set aside as special? Do you have any places you set aside as special? Is there any place in your world where you feel closer to the divine?
Page 50-51: Not only individuals, but whole cultures can cross thresholds to arrive at new ways of explaining the world and giving life meaning. When the 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes proclaimed his famous cognito ergo sum, he ushered in an explosion of factual, scientific knowledge and discoveries. But while the results led to tremendous technological accomplishments (we could not imagine our present-day world without them), they also occurred, I believe at the expense of other important ways of knowing our surroundings. The Age of Enlightenment separated us from mystery and a direct relationship with Mother Earth, and many of our feelings of alienation, isolation and aloneness can be attributed to that division.
Given that we live in a world of science reason, can you see anyway of reclaiming a sense of wonder and the sacred? How might we change in order to become more fully integrated between intellect and spirit?
Page 51-52: What’s the alternative? Goethe, the German poet, observing that beginnings have an energy and power to them, wrote, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” By crossing thresholds and entering “margin” countries, where the worlds of the sacred and profane intersect, we who dwell mostly in the world of the profane can touch the deep mysteries and realties not normally accessible to us. To walk a labyrinth is to cross such a threshold and go on a transformative journey. Even though this mini pilgrimage may be only brief physically, it may travel many leagues spiritually. In going on such a journey, we risk confronting our deepest fears and engaging in soul care, thus reconciling and resacralizing our lives. Is there a more important task for our age?
“Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” That statement from Goethe speaks of leadership rather than management. How have our profane approach to reality stripped life of its “cross the threshold of your place of work? Are there any places of entrance in your life, when you feel a sense of awe or wonder? What are your thresholds of relationship?
Page 53: Journeys bring power and love back into you. If you can’t go somewhere, move into the passageways of the self. They are like shafts of light, always changing, and you change when you explore them. Rumi
Have you ever been on a journey of self discovery? What are the most important insights you have discovered about yourself moving through the passageways of self?
Page 55: To walk the labyrinth is to go on a pilgrimage – the journey of a three-fold path – albeit a short one. It is both an exterior and interior journey, and though people express multiple reasons for taking it, at the heart is the need for reconnection and reconciliation (putting things right again). At the deepest level, though almost ever consciously expressed, it is about the resacralization of the world. People sense that “the time is out of joint and this feeling of dis-ease urges us to get off our couches and embark on a journey. The grail quest of our time is nothing less that reconciliation of the worlds of the profane and the sacred which we have lost, engendering a meaningful future and offering hope for a warring world. This is the work of heroes and soul warriors.
Robert Moore in his book Facing the Dragon on page 48 speaks of the urgent need for a reconciliation between the sacred and the profane in our time:
It seems to me that the contemporary world faces a decisive human crisis. Contrary to what arrogant secularism would have us believe, secularism has not brought great progress in a long-term prognosis for humanity. All you have to do is get serious about the ecological problems of this planet, and look closely, not at some speculation, but at the hard data we already have, about what our species is doing to other species, and what the voracious, insatiable appetites of human narcissism are doing to this planet. We have enough information now, if the denial level were not so high, to make it clear to anyone with any interest in it that this cannot be just another academic topic, something to do if you are bored and want something new to cope with boredom. This is a survival business, a radically serious survival business.
The general failure to understand this problem is a mark of the pall of enchantment that hangs over our planet. The metaphors you need to understand what is happening in the human consciousness today are available more in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien than in many other places. Our planet lives under an enormous cloud of enchantment of consciousness, a massive denial that Ernest Becker describes in his work, The Denial of Death (1975). It is a lot more serious, however, than Becker points out, because it is not just a denial of death, but a denial of all sorts of serious and worsening problems. Our denial of the ecological situation is a central issue, yet many well meaning social critics refuse to look at the psychological nature of such problems. .
Can you begin to see a relationship between spiritual pilgrimage and efforts to save the world? How does changing our spiritual consciousness impact the ecological destruction of our planet? Can spiritual reconciliation of the sacred and profane contribute to world peace?
Page 57: This need for what will address our depth of emotion and feeling cannot be satisfied by talking and intellectual activity – it requires a body-based form: Walking a labyrinth, going on a pilgrimage, visiting and circumambulating sacred wells of healing can all fill that need. Cloisters were constructed in churches, temples and monasteries not because of some architect’s whimsical fancy, but because people from different religious traditions across the globe have found that the act of walking in a circular fashion while meditating and praying allows for the synthesis of ideas and creativity. As we move in the rhythm of the circle, the kinetic energy of the body is released, stilling the tyranny of the controlling mind and allowing our creative juices to flow.
The human need to go on pilgrimages to visit sacred places wells up from within.
How does prayer and meditation change, when we combine it with movement? Have you ever intentionally embarked on a journey in search of spiritual enlightenment? Where did you go? How did it work out? Are there places you have visited in the world, when you knew you were in the presence of the divine? Where would you like to go on a pilgrimage?
Page 58 – 60 The author enumerates six classic reasons for pilgrimage.
Justice. Pilgrimage often has a call for justice at his heart. So were the great Civil Rights marches in the American South.
Obligation. . . . the stations of the cross are the pilgrimage that is taken every Holy Week as people virtually enact the sacred circle of birth, life, suffer and death of Jesus followed by the resurrection and new life.
Healing. Restoration of health and healing has been a major focus of pilgrimage from time immemorial. As modern hospitals recognize the importance of spiritual health as well as physical well-being, they have begun in increasing numbers to incorporate labyrinths into their wellness offerings for patients and their families.
Restoration and Integration. In brokenness we desire the healing balm of reconciliation.
Forgiveness. Many people use the labyrinth as a place to ritually express contrition for what they have done and to claim forgiveness and sacred acceptance of their lives.
Seasons and anniversaries. People maybe stirred by the season, because it’s the summer solstice, or by as simple a reason as that winter is over. Labyrinth walks in preparation for life-changing events, such as chemotherapy treatments, retirement, impending death or birth are common ways of addressing these physical and spiritual transitions.
Have you ever found yourself undertaking a pilgrimage or a journey for one of these six reasons? How does movement help in making a transition? Have you ever needed a ritual for any of the six purposes? What ritual did you find?
Pages 64 – 65: “A chill rain dampened that dark, cold November afternoon, and after the students left, I thought about closing the labyrinth and going home. That’s when he arrived, an old man bent over and walking in some pain, shuffling and dragging his feet. I’d never seen him before. He’d come in response to one of our advertisements. He asked for a few directions on how to walk a labyrinth and started out. As his feet followed the circular path, his body began to shake – it became obviously difficult for him to continue. I went to him to help him and said, “This is very hard for you, isn’t it?” He nodded by way of acknowledgement then opened his hand. I his palm he held a crumpled, tear stained piece of paper with the names of his World War II comrades. “All dead,” he murmured, “all dead.” Together we lit a candle for each of his friends and placed their names on a prayer list. Afterwards, he said, “I didn’t understand why I had come here this afternoon. Thank you, now I know.”
I never saw the old man again, but I have often thought about him and his story. I thought about how he held all his friends in his heart over the long years, perhaps wondering why he was alive and they were not. A labyrinth is a place of connection, a place where the boundaries between realities are permeable: The living and the dead are close. In this walk the old man was not along; he walked with the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and in the communion of the saints. He must have attended countless Veterans Day parades and ceremonies in his long life yet it took the quiet intimacy, the heart space and prayer on the labyrinth for this tears to flow allowing him to lay down his grief.
Can you think of other places where you have experienced the boundaries between realities to be permeable? Have you been in places where past and present seem to run together? Are there any rituals available to us for reconciling feelings of the past?
Pages 67-68: When we go on pilgrimage or walk a labyrinth, we engage in a complex ritual act that impacts us on physical, emotional and even historical levels. Ritual changes lives in profound ways, but it has gotten a bad rap in today’s secular world. Cynics sarcastically dismiss religious practice as “just empty ritual.” Indeed, “empty” and “meaningless” are the two adjectives I frequently hear associated with the word “ritual” by those who have no understanding of the profound nature of its discipline and practice. . .
Many people also reject ritual as too conservative and repetitious in our multi-media, high-speed entertainment and communication-driven age. But when these same people are introduced to ritual in the context of their own life story and the seemingly dead symbolic synapses fire up, their consciousness reawakens and they have a transformative experience no digital electronic medium can provide. So we are back to the importance of story and narrative and the design of ritual.
Joseph Campbell, the mythologist and writer on comparative religion, observed that people usually cannot move from one life state of being to another without ritual.
The author is talking about the importance of creative ritualization, a topic Robert Moore addresses in his book facing the Dragon on page 151:
We need creative ritualization. We really blew it when we depreciated the importance of ritual in the Enlightenment. We need ritualized containment with human beings in relationships to help people manage unregulated grandiosity. You have studied the history of ritual and human communities. Ritual is a technology of dealing with this problem. We create ritual forms that help us be less destructive. The history of human ritualization is the history of people struggling to find ways to be less destructive.
Again on page 186 Robert Moore talks about the role of physical exercise in ritualization:
Another way to create a personal ritual to contain and channel grandiose energies is a regular exercise program three to five times a week. It is amazing how much craziness in a human personality can be controlled by the ritual of an exercise program.
Think of regular exercise as part of your ritual practice, a conscious ritualization in your ongoing spiritual discipline. It is striking how easy it is to tell if you missed part of your healing ritualization, because your grandiosity will kick up on you. When you miss your exercise program, you become more compulsive in other ways. This is a rule you can follow. Take it to the bank. You will act out more destructively to the extent that you do not tend to your physical discipline.
What creative methods of ritualization have made a part of your spiritual life? Have you experienced ways of making ritual seem less “empty” or “meaningless?” How do you think spiritual communities can approach worship in ways that use ritual to help people connect with the divine?
When people enter into rituals that lead to change, they can be referred to as having entered “luminal space.” What does “luminal” mean”
In anthropology,liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
In the Liminal, Divine Paradox
Our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone that does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise.
Page 68-69: In the North American culture, where “talk therapy” is frequently the preferred medium for personal transformation, we have forgotten that experience must precede reflection and that we “think” with our bodies. As ritual allows the physical body to enact the new state of being or consciousness, it opens the door to new possibilities and realities. . .
Can you imagine a more creative approach to personal therapy than sitting down and talking for 50 minutes? Can you imagine a more meaningful way of connecting people with the divine than sitting down, standing up and sitting down for an hour?
Page 70: Whether we like it or not, there’s no way to avoid rituals. In To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has this to say about the importance of the role of ritual: “Far too little attention has been paid to the role of ritual in the moral life. . . All I can say is that ritual is to ethics what physical exercise is to health. Medical knowledge alone will not make me healthy. That requires daily discipline, a ritual – and religion is the matrix of ritual.
When our modern age rejects ritual associated with the sacred, it does so without understanding its intrinsic healing power or its profound influence on our ethical, moral life.
Do you have any rituals you associate with morals or ethics? Do you have any daily spiritual disciplines that might be rituals?
Page 71 – 72: Teilhard de Chardin comments that we are spiritual beings on a human journey and gives credence to both: What happens to the spirit affects the body, and what happens to the body affects the spirit. That is why physical prayer and ritual are so important. Pilgrimage, journey, labyrinth walks are concrete and dynamic processes for developing sacred imagination and engaging the non-rational part of our psyche.
The word “psyche” is rich in meaning, referring not only to the human soul or spirit, but also to the mental or psychological structure of a person, especially as it operates as a motive force. The psyche appreciates mystery, relationship and connectedness. . .
The body-based language of ceremony and ritual that feeds the spirit is associated with non-directed, primary thinking; it is intuitive, with no separation between assumption and fact. . . past, present and future hold hands; the world of dreams and creativity is rich; and language is expressive and affective instead of intellectual and rational. It is s way of thinking and being that we disregard at our peril, because what is not acknowledged goes into deep unconscious. But while it is no longer accessible to us, it will not be denied its power and existence. Its energy will flare up in distorted ways and strange places.
“All healthy societies have a rich ceremonial life. Less healthy ones rely on unconscious expressions: War, violence, psychosomatic illness, neurotic suffering, and accidents are very low-grade ways of living out the shadow. Ceremony and ritual are a far more intelligent means of accomplishing the same thing.
Do you begin to see a potentially creative role for spirituality in developing a more healthy communal consciousness? In a society that is dedicated to pluralism are there any rituals or spiritual practices that can be embraced by the community as a whole? In an increasingly secular culture, can we begin to reclaim the spiritual psyche?
Pages 76: I have heard an explanation that the quadrants of the labyrinth mirror the quadrants in the brain, and that crossing them on the way to the center, or the hippocampus of the brain, evens out the energy flow causing a sense of renewed balance and a greater ability to concentrate. Is it true? I don’t know, but for whatever reasons, walking the labyrinth does have physiological effects that involve reduction of anxiety and frenetic activity, while at the same time generating more focused energy.
Try walking a labyrinth and see if this is true for you?
Page 76-77: Sometimes people use finger labyrinths that are mirror images of each other and trace the paths in order to achieve emotional balance. Trying to draw labyrinths as mirror images, using the left and right hand simultaneously is yet another way to restore spiritual/emotional balance. This requires quite a bit of practice, as the dominant had an corresponding side of the brain try to take over without allowing the other to catch up, but it’s an exercise that is very revealing and worth attempting.
On the next two pages you will find mirror image finger labyrinths. Try tracing the two labyrinths simultaneously and report your results to the group.
Page 77-78: The labyrinth has a way sometimes of focusing the spirit/body connection and helping us to see what it is we’re dealing with. . .
The she came to me a said, “I don’t know how to do this, but could I walk the labyrinth too?” I gave her a few basic instructions and she took off her shoes and began to walk. Soon she was beginning to have trouble. She started limping and seemed to be in considerable pain. I wondered whether she would continue her walk, but she persevered. It was a large labyrinth and it probably took her about 40 minutes to get to the center and back out again. Throughout the walk, she clearly had problems with her left foot, although she had shown no evidence of pain when she first entered the room.
When she finished her walk, she came towards me and a young woman who was on our team. I asked her, “What happened in the labyrinth? You seemed to be in pain.”
She answered, “It was so strange, as soon as I started walking, my foot cramped up, but I felt I needed to continue.”
Louisa, my young friend, asked, “What spiritual pain did you carry into the labyrinth with you?”
The woman looked at us with astonishment, and said, “Oh! My son has just had his foot amputated, and he’s having a very hard time accepting this limitation. The family is very upset about it.” Then she realized what she had said, and that her body was expressing the pain she carried in her heart and spirit around her son’s surgery. She was deeply moved and left quietly.
In the labyrinth, her body made explicit the anxiety that she and her family were carrying about her son and physically expressed her emotional pain.
Have you ever experienced emotional or spiritual issues in the form of physical symptoms? How did you discern that your physical symptoms were related to an emotional or physical issue? Have you known other people who have suffered psychosomatic symptoms as the result of emotional or spiritual issues?
Page 82-83: Monica was a well-to-do middle-aged woman. . . But when her third husband, who had taken good care of her, unexpectedly died, her spirits plummeted and she grieved deeply for him and for herself. During this period of mourning she also became critically ill and found out that she needed to have radical heart surgery. She was terrified. How could she face surgery on her own without the support and strength of her husband? I wasn’t a lack of confidence in her doctors or the hospital staff. . . it was the powerful sense of being completely alone for the first time in many years and having to undergo this life-or-death ordeal by herself without a man beside her. . . .
. . .She was looking for spiritual strength and courage to go through her upcoming ordeal. I suggested a labyrinth walk and explained what would be involved and why she might want to do this. She agreed, but asked if she could bring something with her that belonged to her late husband, because she still could not imagine doing anything without him. She chose an old T-shirt that faintly smelled of him and clutched it close to her face as she entered the labyrinth. As Monica went deeper inside, slowly without her noticing she started to relax her grip. She carried the T-shirt gently in her hands, and as she reached the center, placed it on the ground. She emerged from the labyrinth with a rather bewildered look on her face, and said, “I left it in the middle.” Then the awareness of what she had done hit her. She realized that, along with the T-shirt, she’d left her dependency in the middle of the labyrinth and claimed her own life, identity, courage and strength! She said to me, “Oh I see, I can do this by myself now.” And she did.
Monica’s story is powerful for many reasons. It demonstrates so strongly the body/spirit connection. Monica needed to ritually lay down her grief and dependency in a physical manner in order to recover her independence and accept a new identity. . .
Do you believe in the mind/body connection? Have you ever experienced the mind/body connection? Are there any issues in your life, where you might like to try to symbolically address them? What symbols in your life are most powerful?
Page 87″ What is so striking about people who have allowed a sacred ritual to help them cross a new threshold is that they feel themselves to be a different person, literally. The past is past for them; it no longer has a grip on them. Of course, it will always be a part of their history and experience, but it is just a chapter now, not the whole book. When people can get to the point of owning their suffering and letting it go, they become a powerful force for the blessing of others on the road. . .
Have you ever had an experience, where you felt like a different person afterward? What kinds of sacred rituals have that kind of power? What kinds of thresholds allow people to cross into new places in their lives? Have you ever experienced your suffering as a powerful blessing for others?
Page 87: Because some labyrinth journey stories are so powerful, many people are concerned when they don’t experience similar lightning bolts of revelation. They think that the walk didn’t work. This is to misunderstand the nature of the labyrinth and its gentle, subtle ways. For most walks and pilgrimages, just the act of embarking on a journey resets our direction. Sometimes the intention of setting out and just being on the path is enough. It doesn’t require any great life-changing experience. How we walk the path can quietly reveal pieces of our spiritual journey to us if we are curious and attentive.
Have you ever experienced making an appointment to “get help” and in the time leading up to the appointment, the help arrived? Have you ever walked a labyrinth and “it didn’t do anything for you?” Have you ever tried other spiritual disciplines and they didn’t do anything for you?” What spiritual disciplines have done something for you?
Page 91: Some of my own “Aha” moments have occurred when I introduced the labyrinth to children. . .
. . . a group of children on the Gulf Coast created a labyrinth in their school yard prior my arrival for a workshop I was going to do for them after Hurricane Katrina. The adults had told me earlier they wanted to move past Katrina and all the sadness she had brought them. They were sick of her, didn’t want to speak of her, and intended the labyrinth experience to be a purposeful step forward into a better future. The children, however, knew better. When I looked at the labyrinth they had made, I saw that it consisted of the debris from Katrina—broken shells, pieces of rock, and bricks from the remains of their houses. The children knew in their hearts that past, present and future must coexist and be held in tension, and that their tragedy and sadness must be incorporated into the walk in order to move forward. They knew it deeply and intuitively, so they brought their pain as well as their hope to the building of their labyrinth.
The children “knew better.” Have you ever learned something important from children? Jesus said, “You must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God.” Can you think of any times in the recent past, when you have let your own “child” come out and play? Can image ways in which you can bring together your pain as well as your hope to build for the future? Children are good at rituals. How do you think you can recover the power of ritual in your own life?
Page 96-97: The other enormous pressure modernity exerts is the near universal emphasis on scientific thought. If an experience is not replicable in scientific terms, it is diminished and considered irrelevant. This, despite the fact that much of our lives cannot be expressed in scientific terms. We cannot quantify the love we have for our families. We cannot measure the beauty of the Mississippi River. We cannot describe our reaction to music and drama, or the experience of joy or grief in any meaningful scientific way. Yet, these intensely human reactions connect us with the earth and with one another. They are signs or signals of our spiritual nature. Such feelings and emotional responses are a profound language, too, and we dismiss it at our peril.
Perhaps this is why an interest in pilgrimage, journey and labyrinths has developed over the last 30 years and has become important again in our consciousness. The human soul desperately desires to go on a journey to find meaning, vitality, connection and a sense of belonging. We take up the quest to resacralize our world and to find ourselves. And as we set out on the sacred journey, we hope to find others with whom to walk in companionship, whose prayers and energies will enhance our own.
How do you relate to that part of your experience that is non-scientific? Have you ever felt the desire to embark on a journey or pilgrimage of discovery? What do you think you might be looking for? Who would you like to take along with you on your pilgrimage?
Page 97: Sample, in addressing the issue of how information and meaning are transmitted in a technological age, notes that the metaphor of journey and spiritual journey is very rich for Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. It is also being documented that periods of meditation, prayer and contemplation have significant effect on our brain patterns, causing us to have higher concentration and longer focus. As I have noted already in some places, where the labyrinth is used for ADD children, such as tracing a labyrinth path with a finger at a desk before engaging in a task, it seems to help concentrate thinking and bring balance.
Experiment on yourself. Trace one of the finger labyrinths provided with the Study Guide and then see if that increases your attention span with a task like memorizing a short quotation:
The destiny of the world is determined less
By the battles that are lost and won
Than by the stories it loves and believes in. – Harold Goddard
Page 100: . . .What appears to us as dense matter is in fact composed of minute whirling units of energy separated from each other, but held together in relationship. Our working concept of what is solid, concrete and reliable, while necessary for everyday living, is limited. The mystics have always understood this truth, now we know it scientifically.
As a part of this incredible mystery of circling energy, we sense our vulnerability, so some of us take to walking in circles intentionally, because – whether in a formal labyrinth or not – the form of circle is engrained in our spirits and is part of our being. .
Do you experience the invisible spaces within matter as an opening for mystery? How do you begin to integrate your own experience with mystery and your everyday awareness?
Page 101: In some sense, it might be true to say that the labyrinth has chosen us, after centuries of forgetfulness and neglect, to rise to the surface and offer its gracious healing presence at a time when our consciousness is in need of revitalization. But while labyrinths are being built across the world, much more attention must be given to training people in their use. We who are interested in labyrinths must train not only individuals but groups of people on the role of the labyrinth as healing space, and design rituals for use in the context of a walker’s story.
Would you be willing to consider becoming a volunteer guide for a labyrinth? Can you think of other uses for a labyrinth as sacred space? Can you imagine any rituals that might be a natural fit for a labyrinth?
Page 104-105: As you consider how to invite others to walk your labyrinth, important questions to ask are: How much control do you demand over the use of the labyrinth? How will you invite people into this sacred space without demanding conformity and compliance with your own particular set of beliefs? Can you allow other people to embrace the holy and trust the labyrinth walk itself to be the medium of transformation? And finally, how will you expand its use?
Try answering all of the above questions.