When asked, “What’s the right way to use a labyrinth?” I respond with the phrase, “Go with the flow.”
I start with GO because the labyrinth in a moving prayer. Whether you are following the pattern of a labyrinth with your eyes, your finger, or with your whole body, labyrinth prayer that moves. You GO!
In many western cultures little permission has been given to move when praying. The labyrinth takes the gesture of bowing our heads or folding our hands in prayer much further. Praying the labyrinth provides us with the opportunity and permission to express our deepest thoughts and feelings with our whole bodies. As you move on the labyrinth, feel free to embody your prayers as fully as you want to!
GO-ing on a labyrinth is an easy thing. There is only one path that leads to a center, so as long as you GO (move), you will arrive in the center of the labyrinth. It is possible that as you move on the labyrinth you may step off the path to rest, think, or let someone go by. If you neglect to notice which way you are facing as you step off, when you get back on the path and start moving one of two things might happen. Either you will end up where you were headed, or. you will end up where you just came from (either the threshold or the center). This can become a meaningful part of your experience, as can be the decision about what you want to do next.
When praying the labyrinth, we GO WITH. First of all, GOING WITH reminds us that as is our experience today, often at labyrinths there are others. Labyrinth prayer is often very personal, but the personal experience that we are having many times is also a communal experience because as we have our experience, others are also having theirs. I think it’s important to notice what it feels like to be with others when you don’t have to engage them. (To me, this is one of the many gifts of the labyrinth.) Witnessing others sacred experiences and supporting them with our prayers as they move on the labyrinth is another way we can GO WITH. (We can practice watching others with the eyes of prayer rather than the eyes of judgment.)
We also GO WITH whatever happens. As anyone who has experienced a labyrinth can tell you, unexpected things happen. Although we enter a very structured, predictable pattern, each time we use it, something different happens. That’s one of the mysteries and beauties of labyrinths—and God! The more that you can GO WITH what is happening, the more meaningful your experience will be. I love the story of a woman who walked a labyrinth. Afterwards she was very disappointed. With a sad face, she said, “Nothing happened on the labyrinth, I had a deep feeling of peace, but that was it!” GO WITH what is happening, even if it is “only” deep peace!
Labyrinths seem like mirrors where we can look at lives from the inside and outside at the same time. The more attention you pay to the sounds, smells, people, thoughts, distractions and other elements of your labyrinth experience, the more you will get out of it.
On labyrinths, we GO WITH—ourselves, others, and the experience that we are having. We GO WITH THE FLOW.
Go With the Flow:
Just as every river has a meandering way that includes twists and turns, deep pools and occasional rapids, so labyrinth paths have a flow too. When you enter a labyrinth it often helps to notice how your pace is supporting you. Kids love to the run the labyrinth and I encourage them to do so! In the same way I will encourage you to find your pace for that moment and fully embody it. It may be slow. It may be fast. It may be different at different times during the same walk. It certainly will be different from one walk to another. It is likely to be different from others you are on the labyrinth with. (If you ever begin to feel dizzy or tippy, slow down or even stop and focus on a point in the distance.)
Labyrinth paths are generally narrow; treat them like sidewalks. If you are in downtown Minneapolis and someone in front of you is moving more slowly, what would you do? Go around them. It’s the same on a labyrinth. Because there is just one path going to the center and coming back out again, you are likely to meet people going the “other” way. What to do? What would you do on a sidewalk? Do what comes naturally.
While using a labyrinth it is helpful to GO WITH THE FLOW inside of you as well as the FLOW of the labyrinth. If you feel yourself “flowing” in some way other than following the path in to the center, resting there and following the pathway out from the center, GO WITH THAT FLOW! To get back to the original question, “What is the right way to walk a labyrinth?” we might say, “The right way is the way that you want to walk it right now!”
The flow of what happens on a labyrinth is not limited to the confines of the labyrinth. The flow really begins on a labyrinth but continues to make itself known as you reenter life beyond the labyrinth. Sometimes as much as three months later, something that started flowing on the labyrinth suddenly makes sense. I recommend that after you complete a labyrinth walk you take time to reflect on the meanings of the walk as well as to identify anything that began that you want to allow to continue to pay attention to as it unfolds. For instance, you may have noticed that you stopped at each turn, but the reason for this may not be obvious yet. Continue to explore your experiences in a journal, with art supplies, or during a quiet period of personal reflection.
It’s your turn now. Find a labyrinth and Go WITH THE FLOW!