Walking meditation can be done anywhere, but walking a labyrinth adds a special dimension to this ancient practice. An award-winning novel, The Labyrinth, (2020) by Australian author, Amanda Lohrey, provoked me to find out out more.
In the book, a middle-aged woman with seemingly insurmountable problems and deep grief decides to build her own labyrinth on vacant land near her shack at the beach. The construction leads her to peace. You can read my review of the book here.
With its origins an ancient history, walking meditation can be used as a spiritual exercise. It can lead to psychological or personal growth. It may also help to calm emotions and promote peace.
Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) strongly promotes regular walking.. She says that, along with writing morning pages every day and taking weekly artist’s dates, walking enhances creativity. She does not use the words walking meditation, but the intention is similar.
Labyrinths and mazes
People often confuse labyrinths with mazes, although they are very different. A labyrinth can create a sense of order and peace, but a maze can induce confusion and even fear.
A modern labyrinth consists of a two dimensional structure with an clear way in, a centre and a way out. Although there are many designs they are mostly unicursal, that is, they have one continuous path. Constructed from any material which marks a path, some incorporate low plantings of herbs, perennial plants or annuals. Nothing obstructs the view from one side to the other, and other walkers remain in full view.
A maze, on the other hand, confuses the walker. First built to entertain royalty in the Middle Ages, mazes hide the view to the other side with walled paths. As well as concealing other walkers, the walls block some paths, making the maze difficult to navigate. The ‘walls’ can be solid or hedges.
Scientists use mazes to train and experiment with animals. They sometimes use paper and pencil mazes to test intelligence.
More facts about labyrinths
- The first recorded labyrinth dates back to the 5th Century BC in Egypt.
- A resurgence of interest in the Middle Ages led to the construction of labyrinths in Christian churches, monasteries and cathedrals across Europe.
- You can find them near churches, monasteries, convents, schools, universities, retreat centres and hospitals and on private property.
- Some see a labyrinth as metaphor for a spiritual journey or pilgrimage.
- Over six thousand modern custodians and owners list their labyrinths on The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator. Not all list them.
- Labyrinths in Australia, with an interactive map, can be found here.
- One of the world’s most famous labyrinths is inside Chartres Cathedral in France. Although I went there once, I do not remember the labyrinth. How sad!
Walking meditation in labyrinths near home
After reading The Labyrinth, I discovered some labyrinths near home. Such a surprise to find so many quite close! When I decided on walking meditation instead of simply viewing, the choices narrowed. The experiences differed, but both enriched and enlightened me.
Peace be Still
Built on the Darling Scarp at Lower Chittering, 70 kilometres from home, this labyrinth took my breath away. Peace be Still, a guest house/retreat centre/convention venue and caravan park welcomes everyone. The owner, Wendy Gellard, seemed delighted John and I wanted to walk the labyrinth.
Wendy designed it in the classical model based on the one at Chartres Cathedral. But instead of using conventional material, she repurposed stubbies – the ubiquitous small beer bottles much used in Australia.
Below pictures of this construction.
The reuse of material characterised much building in the Middle Ages, when builders repurposed material from Roman buildings. Instead of looking tacky as one might imagine, the result was both spectacular and humbling. A brilliant reminder of the need to reuse and repurpose all we can, rather than buy new, to be kind to our planet.
Wollaston Theological College City Beach
The labyrinth behind the chapel at Wollaston Theological College is rather more conventional. In a walled garden, with expansive views of bush and large gum trees behind it, it also delighted. It is six kilometres from our apartment, and a kilometre from the beach.
We visited mid-afternoon on the Friday before a long weekend. Shadows on the path and the sails made photography difficult. We didn’t see another person, but magpies carolled and welcomed us.
Below, a photo of John walking the labyrinth and the other a view from the front of the chapel.
Carefully laid bricks in different colours create a formal, easy-to-walk path. Perhaps because I knew what to expect, this labyrinth felt easier to navigate. That, and I felt less distracted, which made my meditation walk more relaxed than the one at Peace be Still. I look forward to exploring more of these interesting structures soon.