Labrynth

Labyrinths give you peace of mind

Walking a labyrinth can be a way of finding peace within – thus giving peace of mind. The winding paths of a labyrinth, from the outer to the centre, and the time spent in finding your way, can be a metaphor for life.

A labyrinth is a patterned design, usually printed on the ground or floor of a building. The difference between a maze and a labyrinth is that a maze is a complex design with a choice of paths and directions, whereas a labyrinth has a single, non-branching path that leads to a centre. Therefore a labyrinth is not designed to be difficult to navigate. In fact, a labyrinth has no dead ends.

Originating in medieval times, there has been a resurgence of interest in them, and many video games depict mazes and labyrinths. Found all over the world, they are often constructed in theme parks and gardens for entertainment and to keep people occupied. Labyrinths are often used in hospices, prisons, schools, religious institutions, and in psychological therapy organizations. They are used to promote a calm, peaceful mind.

Psychologists, spiritualists, and labyrinthologists maintain that with the rational or left brain engaged in following what it experiences as a progressive and systematic course, the rhythmic and recursive movement frees the right brain to move into a state of openness and receptivity.

Labyrinths are designed for private meditation – to meander while contemplating life. St George Anglican Church, in the suburb of Pearce in Canberra, constructed a temporary one indoors, based on the labyrinth in Chartres, France, and opened it for the public. All religious traditions find meaning in labyrinths. However, for many they are not religious or spiritual; they are contemplative or just mere fun. Intentionality is crucial; different people will choose different names to describe the experience. Don’t let that distract you. Names are not as important as the experience itself.

Even though there is only one way to go, when you are inside the labyrinth the path that leads to the center is not apparent. Some designs alternate the pathway clockwise and counterclockwise, four of one, three the other, for seven circuits in total. At times the center is almost within reach, but then the path takes a turn back out and away from center. Psychologists, spiritualists, and labyrinthologists maintain that with the rational or left brain engaged in following what it experiences as a progressive and systematic course, the rhythmic and recursive movement frees the right brain to move into a state of openness and receptivity. In the movement from periphery to center, it is the symbolism for life: convoluted and ambiguous. Through the ritual of walking in concentration, or letting the mind wander, the experience is said to quiet the mind and bring about a feeling of peace and harmony – thus giving peace of mind. Some say that there is a “pleasurable state of timelessness” which people find relaxing and refreshing. Try it – give yourself peace of mind, and give it to others by encouraging them to walk, in contemplation, with you.

The photograph is of St. John’s Church, Glastonbury, England by Jeff Saward (Labyrinthos.net)

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls specialises in human rights, peace and reconciliation, disaster relief, and aid development, primarily in developing countries, states in transition, and conflict zones. She is the author of four books: The Sudan Curse, Kashmir on a Knife-Edge, Bardot’s Comet and Liberia’s Deadest Ends.

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