Labyrinth Walking as a Spiritual Practice

The labyrinth at St. David’s Episcopal Church

The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world.  By walking our replica of the Chartres labyrinth (laid on the floor of Chartres Cathedral around 1201), you are rediscovering a long forgotten Christian tradition.  The earliest labyrinth in a church that we know of is in the Cathedral of Reparatus in Algeria dating from about 328 AD.

The labyrinth has only one path, so there are no tricks and no dead ends.  The choices are all internal: how fast to move, what thoughts to pay attention to, what prayers to pray.

 The path winds throughout and becomes a metaphor for the pilgrim’s spiritual journey, a mirror for where we are in our lives.  It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. So walk it with an open mind and an open heart.

Walking a labyrinth is a way to pray and meditate, just as kneeling, folding one’s hands, or bowing one’s head are ways to pray.  In walking the labyrinth, we seek to know God’s presence in our lives.

Guidelines for the walk:
There is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth.

Before walking, take time to get in touch with your intention for the walk.  This could be simply to experience the experience; to continue with a discipline; to celebrate; crisis prayer; problem solving; to be in the present and not the past (or future) which traps you. 

Clear your mind and become aware of your breath.  Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go.  The path is two-way: those going in will meet those going out.  Do what feels natural when this happens.  

Honor your intention; pay attention to your emotions.  If another train of thought comes through, you might chose to follow that thought or remain focused on your original intent.

Spend as much time as you like in the center of the labyrinth, and exit by following the same path back out.

Some people use the labyrinth for “process meditation” and follow their thoughts and images.  Others use it for “listening prayer”. Others use it for “quiet time”.

Often we do not completely grasp what happens in the space of a labyrinth walk.  Pay attention to “AHA moments” that happen while washing dishes or other odd times in coming days and weeks, as well as to your dreams.

The St. David’s Labyrinth is available during regular church hours.  (8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday and 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM on Sunday, and 9:00 AM to noon on most Saturdays.)

Finding a Labyrinth Near You

In order to have a spiritual practice using a labyrinth regularly, you need to have access to a labyrinth.  The first preference is to find a labyrinth near where you live or work, to which you have reasonable access. The World Wide Labyrinth Locator is a good place to start.

St. David’s Episcopal Church

The World-wide Labyrinth Locator is a collection of labyrinths which have been listed by their creators/caretakers as available to the public.  You can search it by various parameters, including zip code, and varying “within XX Miles” choices. The website is jointly created by the Labyrinth Society and Veriditas.     In my experience, there are more labyrinths in the Austin area than are listed on the Labyrinth Locator, but those which are listed there have been listed by the creators/care-takers of the labyrinths as available to the public. 

You are invited to go to the Labyrinth Locator to find labyrinths near your home, school or work.  You could also learn about labyrinths in Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Wimberley or other places you might visit for the day or weekend or week.

Absent a convenient walkable labyrinth, there are some alternatives.   One alternative to a labyrinth you can walk is to use a finger labyrinth.  There are many examples of “finger labyrinths” carved in stone dating back many centuries including one in Lucca, Italy dating from the 12th century.

A modern finger labyrinth could be either a wooden or metal replica of a labyrinth small enough to hold in your hand or sit in your lap.  My personal preference is to use a wooden one with a groove wide enough that I can use my finger and not a stylus. These wooden labyrinths tend to be larger, heavier and clumsier.  However, with the larger size labyrinth and larger groove, I can close my eyes and “get lost” in the meditation, and my finger still stays on the path. But that is personal preference and not everyone is as challenged with a stylus as I am.  Finger labyrinths of all shapes and sizes are available from a number of sources.

Another alternative is to print up a paper labyrinth which you can then trace with your finger, color as part of your meditation, or both.  The paper labyrinth can be laminated and kept for long term use. The Labyrinth Society has both a 7 circuit “Classical” pattern (Original drawing by Jeff Saward, final graphic by Vicki Keiser) and an 11 circuit Chartres pattern (such as the one we have at St. David’s) (Original drawing by Robert Ferre, final graphic by Vicki Keiser) available in a format that you can print. The Labyrinth Society is a highly reputable source for information on labyrinths.

A third alternative is to use a virtual labyrinth, such as the one available through the Labyrinth Society. Once again the Labyrinth Society is a highly reputable source.     

A glance through the App Store on the iphone found a number of labyrinth apps, but these are games which in fact are mazes and not labyrinths.  A maze has multiple paths and dead ends, and takes you outside of yourself trying to solve the puzzle. A labyrinth has a single path which, if followed, will take you to the center and back out again.  Your choices in a labyrinth are what to think about and how fast to move. Be aware of what you are looking at if you go this route.

In Central Texas, I find it necessary to go to labyrinths with abundant shade.
Below is my list of shaded labyrinths:

St. David’s Episcopal Church
(512) 610-3500
304 East 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701        

Available regular church hours 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday to Friday; 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM Sunday; and Saturday mornings. During COVID 19 there are limited hours. You should call the church to see if the labyrinth is open. 512-610-3500.

11 circuit Chartres pattern labyrinth, located between the parking garage and the church building in a meditation garden.  There is an overhead trellis which helps provide dappled shade.

Other Resources about Labyrinths

The Labyrinth Society
https://labyrinthsociety.org

Veriditas – the non-profit which has been a prime mover in the labyrinth movement:
https://www.veriditas.org

Labyrinth Locator
https://labyrinthlocator.com

Lauren Artress’ website
https://www.laurenartress.com

Jeff and Kimberly Saward’s website. They were co-founder’s of The Labyrinth Society. Jeff has written a number of books, and the website contains a wealth of information including a photo gallery:
http://www.labyrinthos.net

Robert Ferre’s website: Robert is a co-founder of The Labyrinth Society and is a master labyrinth builder and author.  He has made thousands of labyrinths of all varieties, including canvas labyrinths. He lives in San Antonio. Robert has connections to a number of labyrinths in Austin including Seton Southwest Hospital, Natural Gardener, and the St. David’s Episcopal Church permanent labyrinth, and also produced the canvas labyrinth used by St. David’s Episcopal Church as well as several other canvas labyrinths here in Austin.  Robert is something of a Renaissance man.
https://www.labyrinth-enterprises.com

Well Fed Spirit – Labyrinth Page: This website has many links to a wide ranging set of resources which are labyrinths.
http://www.wellfedspirit.org

I was unable to get this link to set up as a link.  From the wellfed spirit website, click on spiritual practices, then scroll down to labyrinths and you should have an index.
http://www.wellfedspirit.org/welcome/spiritual-practices/labyrinths/index.html

Labyrinths in Stone: This is the website of Marty and Debi Kermeen.  They were the builders of our labyrinth at St. David’s and have been involved with labyrinth building for more than 20 years.  Once again there are many photos of many styles of labyrinths.
http://labyrinthsinstone.com

Geomancy:  Sig Lonegren’s website explores aspects of sacred geometry, sacred space, dowsing and other topics.  Sig is also a published author.
http://geomancy.org

Discover Labyrinths:  Lars Howlett’s website.  Lars is a professional photographer with a passion for labyrinths.  He is a part of the Veriditas faculty and apprenticed with Robert Ferre, labyrinth builder.
http://discoverlabyrinths.com

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