Walking in Circles
Lessons learned in the labyrinth
I used to hate geometry with the white-hot passion of a thousand fiery suns. It was my worst subject in high school. (Okay, in my entire academic career.) I only passed the class, I’m sure, because of divine intervention, a heaping helping of tutoring on the side, and the promise I made to the instructor to never, ever, attempt to prove the Pythagorean Theorem again.
My attitude toward my old nemesis changed forever when I discovered joy, healing, and spiritual connection via a form of sacred geometry, the labyrinth.
Sacred geometry is the contemplation and utilization of the archetypal geometric patterns of nature for the purposes of spiritual communion and healing.
Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, dating back to the Neolithic Age¹, but they aren’t mazes.
Labyrinths aren’t about choosing your own adventure and hoping you don’t get lost in a random turn, like with some mazes. Corn maze, anyone? Shudder. Instead, labyrinths are all about ease of use.
Traditional labyrinths include a single starting point and a spiraling pathway to the center, creating a number of circuits. You follow the same pathway out as you did in. Easy peasy, right? Hold up. Labyrinths aren’t simple, watered-down versions of mazes.
From the famous 11-circuit labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France, Dreamfields drawn on the sand, and lavender labyrinths, to finger labyrinths printed on paper or fashioned of wood or clay, labyrinths come in all kinds of fun shapes, sizes, and hues, just like the people who walk them. There are also accessible labyrinths for the visually impaired and those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
For a while, I’d been hearing about a guy named Denny Dyke, a labyrinth artist who draws Dreamfields on the sand in Bandon, Oregon. He’s dubbed his labyrinth ministry Sacred Journeys².
Last summer, my husband and I traveled to Bandon to walk the sandy path for the first time. Like most people, our days are filled with the general chaos of everyday life, and we desperately needed a break. We decided to take a trip down the Oregon coast to check out a Dreamfield for ourselves.
It was pure alchemy. As I navigated the serpentine path decorated with shells, rocks, and drawings etched in the sand, the ocean singing by my side, an almost physical sense of peace enveloped me.
I was one hundred percent alive and present in the moment. I felt joy and relief as I laid my burden down on the ground at my feet. Other people may have felt something similar. Everyone I passed, young and old, had smiles on their faces, including the surfer, in a full-on wet suit, who’d doffed his surfboard to take a turn in the labyrinth.
I walked the labyrinth three times that day, each time feeling myself growing lighter and lighter as my worldly concerns dissolved, held by the labyrinth, to be washed out to sea with the incoming tide.
The ocean will take it and deal with it.
After my walk, I stopped to thank Denny and remark that he “preaches” from a remarkable pulpit on the sand, accompanied by the ocean as his choir.
Denny’s Circles in the Sand officially turned me into a bonafide labyrinth fan. I was hooked and immediately knew I needed to spend more time walking the winding path.
Knowing I wouldn’t be able to get to the beach in Bandon as often as I’d like, this compelled me to search for labyrinths closer to home, and I was surprised and delighted to find them in plenty of places, some unexpected.
Courtesy of the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, I found labyrinths in church courtyards, hospitals, office buildings, private gardens, and even in a residential intersection.
People walk the labyrinth for a host of reasons. For me, the labyrinth is like a great big, beautiful bazaar, letting me shop for exactly what I need, when I need it.
Some of the reasons I walk the labyrinth:
To Work Through Grief
Last year, a few days after my mom passed away, a close friend stopped by the house to pay her respects. As we visited, she asked if I wanted to take a walk. “I know the perfect place,” I told her.
We headed for a labyrinth located in a church garden, a short distance from my home. My friend silently held space for me with loving kindness as we walked the labyrinth together.
Nothing was being asked of me. My only job was to put one foot in front of the other and breathe as I walked the path, quietly connecting to the ground beneath my feet.
As we walked, I was able to be with my grief and also started to see beyond it. It was a beautiful fall day, and the bushes in the garden were loaded with brightly-colored berries. I remember feeling a quick bolt of happiness run through me as I noticed and appreciated their beauty. My ability to be present and live in the moment was slowly returning.
In essence, the winding path of the labyrinth offers a blueprint for the psyche to meet the soul.
— Lauren Artress
Pondering and Relaxation
Sometimes, if I have a decision to make, or just need to sort out my thoughts after a long day, I seek out the labyrinth and use it for walking meditation.
When I reach the entrance of the labyrinth, I pause for a few moments to set my intention, send a message out to the universe, or simply take a deep breath before beginning my walk.
As I walk, I envision the stress of the day sloughing from my body and mind and being absorbed by the labyrinth.
In doing this, I hold space for myself and allow my mind to quiet with each step I take, purging the thought chaos churning in my head. This centers me, allowing a renewed sense of calm and focus.
To Connect with Places I Visit
On a recent trip to Seattle, I queried the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator to find a labyrinth nearby and discovered one at Seattle Center. (Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), and a wealth of other fascinating places to explore.)
While I’d been to Seattle Center many times previously, I had no clue there was a large, Chartres-style labyrinth smack dab between the MoPOP and the Artists at Play playground.
After my husband and I walked the labyrinth a couple of times and worked at solving the bronze rebus riddle in the center, we checked out the artist-designed playground. We made music at the Sound Fence and the Letter Tree and made it rain at the Rain Stick installation. We had so much fun walking and playing that this side excursion turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
I’ll definitely continue to seek out labyrinths when I travel, as a way of connecting with new places and experiences.
As part of my birthday celebration earlier this month, I walked another of Denny’s magnificent Dreamfields. It was a cool spring morning and a small group of people had gathered on the beach to do the same. Little kids were running on the sand, arms outstretched like propellers, dogs were barking, and a lovely older gentleman in a beret was blowing bubbles. It was magic.
A few days ago, I visited the labyrinth to celebrate the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice. It is, hands down, my favorite day of the year. I always feel the need to be outside as much as I can on this day to absorb those extra hours of daylight and amp up my body’s production of vitamin D after being bathed in the rains of the Pacific Northwest for the past several months.
I was literally walking on sunshine, humming the song of the same name from Katrina and the Waves. “I’m walking on sunshine, whoa, and don’t it feel good!”