What is a Labyrinth?

A labyrinth can be described as a walking meditation or path of prayer. The labyrinth has ancient and anonymous origins and is therefore an archetype, a pattern that is universal to all of humanity. Labyrinths have been found in many cultures all over the world -- on pottery, coins, tablets and tiles that date as far back as 5,000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals and circles mirrored in nature.

Lawn Labyrinth, Bellingham, WA
permanent backyard labyrinth

Labyrinths are generally constructed on the ground so they may be walked along from entry point to center and back again. They have historically been used in both group ritual and for private meditation, and there are numerous different designs, although they are mostly constructed in the form of a circle, symbolizing unity, oneness or wholeness.

The term labyrinth is often used interchangeably with maze, but modern scholars use a stricter definition: a maze is a tour puzzle in the form of a complex branching passage with choices of path and direction; while a single-path labyrinth has an unambiguous through-route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

how to walk a labyrinth

solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking) – St. Augustine

Beach rock labyrinth
temporary beach labyrinth

The most important guideline is that there is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. These are only suggestions. To prepare, you may want to sit quietly and reflect before walking. Some people come with a question, others just to slow down and take time out from a busy life. Some come to find strength, or to find comfort in times of grief or loss. Children (and adults too) may walk or run for pure joy in the present moment.

The same path is used to enter and exit the labyrinth. Try to breathe deeply, become aware of your body, and find the pace your body wants to go. Use the labyrinth in any way that meets your needs. You may go directly to the center to sit quietly, you may stay in the center to meditate and pray, you may stand, kneel or sit, you may walk slowly, stretch or even skip at any time!

Generally there are three stages to the walk: 1) releasing on the way in, 2) receiving in the center and 3) returning when you follow the return path back out of the labyrinth. Symbolically, and sometimes literally, you are taking back out into the world that which you have received.

benefits of labyrinth walking

Labyrinths are currently used worldwide as a way to quiet the mind, recover a balance in life, meditate, gain insight, self-reflect, reduce stress, and to discover innovation and celebration.

Church labyrinth
portable church labyrinth

Labyrinths are open to all people and all ages as a non-denominational, cross-cultural blueprint for well-being. The practice of labyrinth walking integrates the body with the mind and the mind with the spirit.

Labyrinths can be found in secular as well as religious settings: medical centers, parks, churches, schools, prisons, memorial parks, spas, cathedrals, backyards and retreat centers.

  • In medical centers, they provide a way for patients to reflect and chart their healing process, and caregivers to find rest from their labors.
  • In parks, labyrinths provide a public place for gathering and community building.
  • In churches, labyrinths provide sacred space for prayer.
  • In schools, labyrinths are used to teach geometry, team-building and self reflection skills.
  • In prisons, labyrinths provide a constructive, quiet place for rehabilitation.
  • In memorial parks, labyrinths can provide a place to walk with a lost loved one in your heart.
  • Spas and retreat centers use labyrinths to provide an additional respite and reduce stress from everyday busy-ness and business.
  • Labyrinths in cathedrals around the world - from Amiens and Chartres in France to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco - provide a place for pilgrimage.
  • And labyrinths in backyards provide beauty and everyday opportunities for meditation and rejuvenation.

labyrinth related resources

Here are some links to some of The Laughing Flower’s favorite labyrinth web sites and resources:

www.veriditas.org • The vision of Veriditas is to activate and facilitate the transformation of the human spirit. The work of Veriditas centers around the Labyrinth Experience as a personal practice for healing and growth, a tool for community building, an agent for global peace and a metaphor for life.

www.labyrinthsociety.org • The Labyrinth Society is an international membership organization, and its website contains educational and experiential resources and services for the international labyrinth community.

www.labyrinthlocator.com • The World-Wide Labyrinth Locator is an easy-to-use database of labyrinths around the world. This website provides information about labyrinths you can visit, including their locations, pictures, and contact details, along with information about the many types of labyrinths found worldwide.

www.labyrinthnetworknorthwest.org • Labyrinth Network Northwest (LNN) facilitates communication and cooperation between labyrinth-interested people in the Pacific Northwest. LNN is a growing organization devoted to supporting activities and practices centered on the labyrinth. We seek to bring together labyrinth walkers, facilitators, healers, sacred and secular counselors, consultants, artists and others, all united in our passion for the labyrinth and the possibilities for transformation. Our network is connected through seasonal events, an extensive website and online communication, information and labyrinth sharing, workshops and pilgrimages.

www.labyrinth-enterprises.com • Labyrinth Enterprises provides information and pricing for portable canvas labyrinths, permanent on-site installations, consulting and design, lectures and training, books and drawings, free instructions, dozens of articles, and hundreds of links to labyrinth information around the world.

www.gracecathedral.org/community/labyrinths • This website provides information about the indoor and outdoor labyrinths at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA, USA

www.projectlabyrinth.net • Project Labyrinth of Bellingham’s mission is to create, through community support, a public outdoor walking labyrinth in Fairhaven Park.

www.sacred-destinations.com/france/chartres-cathedral • This website contains information and photos of the most famous and widely used Christian labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. The stone floor still bears its ancient floor labyrinth, which has been used for walking contemplation by monks and medieval and modern pilgrams since the 12th century.