Labyrinths as a Wellness Pilgrimage

Labyrinths are popping up all over the country in hospitals, churches, retreat centers, parks, schools and back yards as a path of prayer and Hawaii is no exception.

The concept of taking a pilgrimage as a path of wellness is not a new one. In fact it is eons old. From the ancient concept of vision questing to journeys toward sacred destinations such as Jerusalem, Mecca, Lourdes, Stonehenge, or power places in nature. While coming to Hawaii as a spiritual destination is certainly a pilgrimage in its own right, one can miss the spiritual aspects entirely if only focusing on the shopping, nightlife and resorts. For a sense of spirit, for an experience beneficial to one’s wellness, one must look a little deeper. In addition to the beautiful beaches, gardens, waterfalls and rainbows designed to replenish your soul, the labyrinth is available here as a walking meditation.

Most labyrinths built today are replicas of the 800 year old Chartres Cathedral labyrinth. In the 1200’s, the Crusades were going on and taking a pilgrimage to a sacred destination meant risking your life. Rather than journey into danger, pilgrims of the 13th century took a metaphorical pilgrimage within the confines of the labyrinth and the safety of the church. Today, we use the labyrinth in much the same way.

The labyrinth looks like a maze but it is not. Rather than dead-ends and multiple paths to tease and challenge you, the labyrinth has only one path that winds its way into the center and the same path brings you back out. The labyrinth offers a three-fold path, just like a pilgrimage—the journey in, the sacred destination of the center, and the return back out.

The labyrinth provides us with a laboratory for practicing certain life skills that are imperative for wellness: self-observation, letting go, getting centered and choosing actions in alignment with our strong, wise and healthy self. The labyrinth allows us a practice ground for these skills from which, once mastered, we can apply them in our lives moment to moment.

The walk into the labyrinth provides an opportunity for us to begin self-observation, contemplation and release. The task is to walk the labyrinth cognizant of a “witness” state—being the observed and the observer at the same time. Simply pay attention to what you are feeling and thinking and then, with a deep breath, release it and let it go, freeing your awareness to be available for the next moment in time. The walk in is a time of preparation, as if you are emptying your mind of thoughts, memories, expectations, and judgments, so that you are open and ready to receive guidance when you reach the center. It is the journey from your head to your heart, from thought to feeling, from logic to intuition, from believing to knowing.

The center of the labyrinth, the heart, represents the sacred destination. Just as on a “real pilgrimage,” here the pilgrims sit or stand in mediation open to receiving guidance or insight. Whether you receive an answer to a question, a valuable insight about your life or merely a sense of peace, solitude or joy, the center is a quiet space in which you get what you need, if not what you came for. You come to know the stillness of the center—your center—as a sanctuary to which you always have access and can return whenever your soul needs rejuvenation. So many of us are so busy in our lives that our brains are working overtime—creating a lot of noise. Seldom to we retreat to silence—away from TV, radio or conversation. The center of the labyrinth provides the solitude necessary for accessing your inner wisdom and hearing the whisper of your heart.

The journey out of the labyrinth represents Divine Alignment—returning home, in union with God, to apply in your daily life the insights and wisdom youíve gained on your pilgrimage. Truly, this action step is critical for bringing about the transformation that extends beyond the pilgrimageóthe transformation of your life toward wellness, wholeness, and health.

The labyrinth works with the magic of metaphor, mirroring back to us anything that stands between us as the pilgrim, and the Divine. If you simply observe what you experience as you walk, you will see that metaphorically that is also what you experience in your ìrealî world. If you find yourself impatient to reach the center, impatience undoubtedly impedes your path through life, as well. If you find yourself judgmental of others as they walk, your judgments are the very thing you need to release in order to enter the temple of your heart. If you walk worried about what others are thinking of you, releasing your need for approval will move you closer to the Divine. If you stay ìin your headî throughout the journey counting the paths and trying to figure it out, this metaphor reveals to you that it is time to venture into the realm of feeling, rather than merely thinking about, the Divine.

By allowing the labyrinth to be the laboratory where we practice self-observation, letting go, getting centered, aligned action and the magic of metaphor, we are then prepared to expand the boundary of the labyrinth to include our entire lives. After all, does your spiritual path—and the benefit of these skills—only exist within a 40 foot circle? Or, did your spiritual quest begin when you left your home, flew across the ocean to the sacred islands of Hawaii and then return back home the way you came? Or, did your three-fold path begin with birth, continue with the sacred center of this life, and the return journey of death? Or is your pilgrimage even bigger than that?

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