WALKING THE LABYRINTH                            By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-JonesThe labyrinth is found in various forms in ...
When we think of Aristotle we tend to think of logic, reason and frame-by-frame thinking, but it wasAristotle who said, ‘T...
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WALKING THE LABYRINTH

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Copyright 2012 Ian Ellis-Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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WALKING THE LABYRINTH

  1. 1. WALKING THE LABYRINTH By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-JonesThe labyrinth is found in various forms in most religious and spiritual traditions and cultures, includingChristian, Buddhist, Native American, Greek, Celtic and Mayan). The labyrinth has been around forover 4,000 years, provides innumerable opportunities to walk with an open heart and mind. In theprocess of walking mindfully and meditatively, whether in a labyrinth or elsewhere, you gain insight bysimply walking---and observing. Yes, walking can be a spiritual, indeed a sacred, experience, and thelabyrinth is a powerful ‘tool’ for psycho-spiritual growth, self-alignment and transformation. The labyrinthbrings us back to our centre, that is, to the core of our being, which is the very ground of being itself---the very self-livingness of life!The labyrinth, with its mandala-like shape and pattern, is a most ancient archetypal symbol. Now,symbols are very important ‘things’. The Greek word sumbolon (‘throwing together’) ‘means really acorrespondence between a noumenon and a phenomenon, between a reality in the higher archetypalworld and its outer physical expression here’. However, the labyrinth is more than just a symbol. As awalking meditation, the labyrinth is a ‘living symbol’ – what H P Blavatsky referred to as ‘concretizedtruth’ – in that it not only ‘symbolizes’, ‘represents’ or ‘stands for’ something else (the ‘inner reality’ and,in this case, ‘inner spaciousness’), it actually is instrumental in bringing about that reality and, in verytruth, is that reality. Life is dynamic and not static. So is the labyrinth. Walking the labyrinth, in the formof Circling to the Centre, is engaging in a nonlinear, psycho-spiritual, transformative ritual.The labyrinth is also a metaphor, and an objective metaphor at that. It is a metaphor for the so-calledspiritual journey. Now, I have written elsewhere that, in a very profound sense, there is no journey. Weare already ‘there’. The so-called ‘there’ is nothing more nor less than the eternal here-and-now---and‘it’ is, or at least ought to be, more than enough for us! We simply need to be consciously awake, fromone moment to the next. That is perhaps why the labyrinth has only one nonlinear path over which youmeander back and forth, and that path is unicursal – that is, the way ‘in’ is also the way ‘out’ – as wellas being operatively multicursal. (So it is with life. I will have more to say about that below.) Actually,the metaphor of the labyrinth is not so much the labyrinth but the walk itself.I love the symbolism of the circle. In metaphysics and esoteric spirituality the circle represents thewhole universe, eternity, infinity, life itself (as well as the continuum of life), reincarnation or rebirth,God, Spirit, perfection, oneness, the unity of all persons and things ... and so many other things as well.A circle has no beginning and no end, and so refers to what some refer to as the ‘cycle of existence’.Now, the great monotheistic religions assert that life is linear – that is, life had a definite beginning, andlife will come to an end at some future point in time. Buddhists and certain others see life as beingcyclical and nonlinear in nature. I lean more toward the latter view, but not in the rather mechanical wayit is sometimes presented in Buddhism. One thing I do know is this---life is a spatiotemporal continuumof moment-to-moment experiences. Life is endless. In that regard, I love these oft-quoted lines fromThe Bhagavad-Gita: Never the spirit was born, the spirit shall cease to be never. End and beginning are dreams. Birthless and deathless, timeless and ceaseless remaineth the spirit forever. 1
  2. 2. When we think of Aristotle we tend to think of logic, reason and frame-by-frame thinking, but it wasAristotle who said, ‘The soul thinks in images.’ I like that. The soul thinks in images. We need symbols,metaphors, ritual, myth and legend, for by means of those things we find connection.Now, back to walking the labyrinth. There are three basic designs to the labyrinth---seven circuit (beingperhaps the most common design today), eleven circuit, and twelve circuit. More importantly, there arethree stages to walking the labyrinth: first, the path in to the centre; second, the centre itself; and third,the path out of the centre.As already mentioned, there is only one meandering path leading to the centre and back out again---and there are no dead ends! A maze is altogether different. It has dead ends and trick turns. Somecynics will say that life is like that! Well, the labyrinth is not like that. If you keep walking, you will reachthe centre. In my view, life is like that. Yes, as has often been said, no one is lost who knows the wayhome. You see, there is no one right way to walk the labyrinth. Being a Buddhist and a UnitarianUniversalist, I love that! (I have no patience whatsoever for those who assert that there is only one wayto Heaven, God or whatever.) Here, however, are some simple guidelines for walking the labyrinth.In the Western Christian tradition there are three basic stages to the spiritual path or journey or the‘mystical’ experience: purgation (or purification), illumination (or contemplation), and union. That isknown as ‘The Threefold Path’. Outside, or beyond, the Western Christian tradition, we can speak ofthe ‘three R’s’---releasing (that is, emptying the mind, and letting go of self), receiving (that is,experiencing an ‘at-one-ment’ with All that is), and returning ... calmer, and with a deeper connection,as well as sense of connectedness, to oneself (that is, the person you are), to others, and to life itself.The mystic Paul Brunton expressed it beautifully when he wrote, We must empty ourselves if we wouldbe filled. I have found in my own life that walking the labyrinth mindfully is a simple yet wonderfullypowerful tool for self-emptying and spiritual infilling. The Rev. Dr Lauren Artress, an Episcopalian(Anglican) priest, is the celebrated author of several books on the labyrinth including theinvaluable Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. Dr Artress, arenowned ‘labyrinthologist’, writes that walking the labyrinth enables a person to gather an innerspaciousness inside – a transrational and nonlinear experience that others refer to as entering sacredtime and space. Dr Artress writes, We [have] lost our sense of connection to ourselves and to the vastmystery of creation. The web of creation has been thrown out of balance. (The great mythographerJoseph Campbell used to say more-or-less the same thing.)I need hardly say that there is great benefit in walking the labyrinth---mindfully! 2

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