The now familiar full-sized labyrinths popping up in churchyards, hospitals, public parks, and retreat centers are examples of one of the oldest spiritual tools known to humankind, dating back at least four thousand years. Finger labyrinths like the ones cancer patients make in workshops are relatively modern, but are also quite old and remarkably powerful. Finger labyrinths, known as "Troy Stones" (named after local labyrinths called "Troytowns"), were used in Cornwall, England at least five hundred years ago. Etched in local slate, these finger labyrinths were used by wisewomen to enter altered states of consciousness by tracing the circuits with their fingers and humming. Troy stones were considered sacred and passed down from generation to generation or destroyed upon the owner's death.
While modern hospitals and nursing homes now advertise large and visible outdoor labyrinths, many more healing institutions are quietly bringing finger labyrinths inside. One simple reason is that many patients are confined to beds or wheelchairs. But finger labyrinths have advantages beyond convenience and accessibility. People use finger walks not just for prayer and healing, but also to get ready for meetings, break through writer's block, cure insomnia, and for many other reasons known only to them.
Before you start any finger labyrinth "walk," take time to breathe and relax. If you keep a journal, have it ready for recording any insights after your walk. Set an intention or question for the walk. Without an intention a finger labyrinth walk can become an exercise in hastily and mindlessly moving your finger along the circuits and wondering why at the end of the walk you even bothered. Say a prayer, if you like, for support, healing, and guidance.
Place a finger from your non-dominant hand at the entrance to the labyrinth. (Research shows that often our non-dominant hand has easier access to our intuition.) As you trace the circuit, stay open to whatever presents itself: feelings, sensations, memories, images, or just "knowings." Pause at any time to breathe, be with a memory, work with an image, or simply relax into the labyrinth. At the center of the labyrinth, feel its connection to your own center. The center is a wonderful place to relax, pray, or sing. When you are ready, trace your way out, staying open to whatever comes up for you. When your walk is done, place both hands on the labyrinth and give thanks for whatever you learned and experienced.
Experiment and play with your labyrinth. Try using a favorite word or phrase that evokes the sacred for you. Repeat the mantra slowly in your heart as you "walk." You may also walk with questions such as, "In what way do I most need to grow spiritually right now?" or "What most blocks me from fully receiving and living God's love?" You can also walk the labyrinth in intercessory prayer for someone else, sending them the fruits of your walk.
If you are experiencing a difficult feeling-anger, grief, bitterness-have as your intention its healing and release (knowing, of course, that many deeper feelings may take more time than a walk).
If you are struggling with a problem, ask for insight and guidance: What must I release in order to allow healing? What am I not feeling or acknowledging that I must let into my conscious awareness to allow healing? Whom do I most need to forgive, and for what?
If you are working with an illness, either serious or insignificant, you may walk into the labyrinth simply asking to return to balance with yourself and life, no matter what the circumstances of your illness. You can also walk with the question: What part of my life (or me) am I neglecting that needs attention?
Illness may also be a teacher or an ally. If you are interested in exploring your illness as a teacher, you may walk asking, "How may I open to my illness as a teacher and ally?" or "What does my illness have to teach me at this point in my life?"
Materials needed: 15" x 15" foam core or stiff artboard; 9.5 yards of string or yarn for the walls of the labyrinth (fabric paint with a nozzle tip works great too); acrylic paint; craft glue.
Take the finger labyrinth template provided here to a copy store and have it enlarged so the width of the labyrinth itself is about 13 inches.
Assemble your materials. Center the enlarged paper labyrinth on the artboard and glue it down.
While the glue is drying, place your non-dominant hand at the center of the labyrinth, close your eyes, take some deep slow breaths and relax. Imagine light from your heart traveling down through your arm and hand and suffusing the heart of the labyrinth under your hand. Ask for blessings for this labyrinth and all who use it. Imagine these blessings filling the labyrinth.
Glue the string, or whatever you are using, along the lines of the walls of the labyrinth. If you are planning to paint the labyrinth, and don't want the materials of your walls painted, you can leave this for the last step.
Paint and decorate your labyrinth in whatever way you like. You can paint symbols if you wish.
If you left off the walls of the labyrinth, put them on after the paint dries.
After the labyrinth has dried, close your eyes once more, place your non-dominant hand in the center, breathe, and connect your heart once more with the heart of the labyrinth. Give thanks for this labyrinth as an instrument of healing, growth, or whatever qualities are important to you.
The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking the labyrinth, a design laid in or on the floor, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting on being reborn. It is in the nature of an archetype for its origins to be obscure, so no one knows when or where they were first used.
Some labyrinths--the Crete Labyrinth, for example--date back as far as 4,000 years. The Kabbala or Tree of Life found in the Jewish mystical tradition is an elongated Labyrinth figure based on the number 11. The Hopi medicine wheel based on the number 4 and the Man in the Maze are just two of the many Native American labyrinths. Tibetan sand paintings, though not walked are mandalas, a kind of labyrinth created through a meditative state. They hold the experience of transformation within them as well. Labyrinths are mysterious because we do not know the origin of their design or exactly how they provide a space that allows clarity.
The oldest European labyrinth on record is the Cretan labyrinth, or seven-circuit labyrinth. It is believed that these designs evolved out of the spiral figure found in nature. Possibly the oldest surviving labyrinth is found in a rock carving at Luzzanas in Sardinia and dates from 2500-2000 BCE Cretan labyrinths were also imprinted on coins and traced into pottery and other artifacts in ancient civilizations. Researchers note that even though early civilizations were isolated from one another, only one archetypal design of the labyrinth emerged over thousands of years. Remains of a seven-circuit labyrinth can be found on Mount Knossos, on the isle of Crete. The most famous labyrinth in Europe is the eleven-circuit labyrinth, laid in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France dating back to the 13th century. The eleven-circuit design was often found in Gothic Cathedrals. Out of eighty Gothic Cathedrals build during the Middle ages twenty-two had labyrinths.
Labyrinths are designed in accordance with sacred geometry, based on ancient knowledge that was intuitively articulated in architectural forms. Through proportion, placement, and position, using a complementary system of numbers, angles, and designs, the mind is induced to a state of rest, comfort and harmony, leaving it open to other levels of awareness.
A labyrinth is not a maze, which has dead ends and paths which sometimes must be retraced to find a way out. The labyrinth has only one path, so there are no tricks to it, and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives; it touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.
Why do we walk it?
There are as many reasons for walking the labyrinth, as there are people, worldviews or spiritual traditions. Whatever one's religion, walking the labyrinth clears the mind and gives insight into the spiritual journey. We live in a time of extreme spiritual hunger. People are seeking ways to enhance and deepen their awareness of God. The Labyrinth can be a tool for doing this, as a form of walking meditation. Many people today are seeking a closer, deeper, more personal relationship with God. The labyrinth is a place to find this. It is a place to pour out our hearts, express anger, experience joy, express gratitude and experience a peace that truly does pass all understanding.
Walking the Labyrinth can provide:
Quieting of the mind
Grounding and centering of the self.
Feeling of being healed.
Increased unity and wholeness, on both the individual and community levels.
An increased awareness of self and relationship of the self to others and to God.
A vehicle for God's voice to deepen our understanding of the mystery of ourselves and God.
Experiences in which we move out of "chronos " time into "kairos "' time, from clock time to dream time, into a state in which we can non-judgmentally receive and accept whatever arises within us.
In general, there are three stages to a typical walk:
The first stage, lasting until the center of the labyrinth, can be called shedding, a releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This tends to quiet the mind.
The second stage can be called the illumination, when you reach the center and linger there. The center is a place of meditation and prayer; stay there as long as you like.
The third stage, beginning as you leave the center and retrace your steps back to the outside, can be called union with God and the healing forces at work in the world.
Prepare before you walk by taking time to reflect on where you are in your life. This will help you get your bearings.
Pose yourself a question that you want to work on as you walk the labyrinth; open-ended questions, not questions susceptible to a yes or no answer.
Use repetition. Many people like to use a phrase or word to meditate on and repeat it over and over as they walk.
Read scripture as you walk. Monks used to "walk" the labyrinth on their knees reciting Psalms.
Pray as you walk--a prayer of petition, intercession, praise, or thanksgiving.
Walk to celebrate or mark a special event in your life.
Ask for healing as you walk if you are a victim of misfortune or illness.
The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. As you enter the sacred space of the labyrinth, just be yourself. Open your mind and your heart and receive the richness that may come from your journey on the labyrinth.
Expectations often get in the way of one's experience. Don't attempt to control your walk. Let go of all preconceived notions as to what is "suppose" to happen. These preconceived notions could get in the way of your experience on the labyrinth. If you went for a walk in the country looking for a frog, you are so focused on finding the frog that you fail to see the beautiful countryside. Your experience will be different from the experience of others. You bring to this sacred space your own unique self, all your past, everything that has ever happened to you up to the moment you enter the labyrinth. No one else brings exactly the same to this place. The next time you walk it you will not be the same as you are this very moment. Those who walk many times over a short period, find that no two walks are the same.
It is important to establish your own pace. Do not allow the pace of others on the labyrinth to influence yours. Be in touch with yourself. Your pace will not be the same every time you walk it. In fact, you may even change your pace on different parts of a single walk. Remember it is important to honor your own needs. Remember it is important to honor your own needs. Failure to honor your own pace often causes feelings of frustration.
What you choose to say or pray as you walk the labyrinth is not as important as, is it coming from the heart.
Some walk slowly and/or prayerfully. Others, may dance, skip or even appear to glide through the path. Honor your feelings. Allow your feelings to guide you on your walk. Feel free to express your own individuality. If the person in front of you is walking slowly, pass him. If you are walking slowly, allow others to pass you. It is distracting to change your pace to accommodate others. It can also be frustrating. Do not let this happen to you. As people leave the center they will meet others coming to the center. Just step aside and allow each other to pass. Trust the wisdom inspired by the labyrinth. If you do, your experience will be one especially designed for your particular needs at that very moment of your spiritual journey.
What you choose to say or pray as you walk the labyrinth is not as important as the question, "Is it from the heart?"