The Labyrinth at Chrysalis
In the Healing Gardens at Chrysalis Behavioral Health, there is a labyrinth. Often people ask, what is a labyrinth and why was one created at Chrysalis?
WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?
A labyrinth is an ancient archetype, a sacred symbol used across cultures for thousands of years. It is a type of mandala and like all mandalas the labyrinth represents wholeness. When looking for a tool for contemplation and transformation through meditation or prayer, the labyrinth is ideal.
HOW IS A LABYRINTH DIFFERENT FROM A MAZE?
A labyrinth is sometimes confused with a maze but they are quite different. A labyrinth has a unicursal route, meaning there is one way to the center and this same route is retraced to exit the labyrinth. Unlike a maze, in which one gets lost, in a labyrinth the walker cannot be lost and indeed many experience the walking as being “found” and the walk as a reflection of their life’s journey.
WHERE ARE LABYRINTHS?
Labyrinths are becoming more common in the United States as many rediscover the healing qualities of the labyrinth. They are being built at churches, private practices, prisons, hospitals, schools, universities and residences.
REASONS FOR WALKING THE LABYRINTH
There are many reasons to use a labyrinth and for why a labyrinth can be supportive of therapeutic goals. Many have described the labyrinth as being an archetypal map for the journey taken to heal or restore. Within the labyrinth, the walker takes steps and turns that lead eventually to the center. As one walks, they are on the path to the center. This center can be of the literal labyrinth but often it is also of deeper selves or spiritual selves. Many like to walk the labyrinth when they feel stuck about an issue or for inspiration. Often as people walk, they find answers within themselves. Certain experiences such as grief/loss and illness are times when one may benefit from walking. The walking can be helpful when certain feelings are being experienced, especially when those feelings are overwhelming or creating difficulties. Often people may want to walk the labyrinth when they are sad, angry, depressed or isolated. Walking the labyrinth allows for the experiencing of feelings that may have been blocked and for processing and integration of the feelings. Many feel that the labyrinth allows for deeper contemplation. This can be for prayer, meditation or for widening the range of possibilities in problem solving. Many find that during the walk, their intuition and creative problem-solving abilities are amplified. Walking the labyrinth can reduce stress. The labyrinth allows for internal focus, an opportunity to reflect on the feeling and knowing of the embodied self. The walking allows for a time focused on internal processing and reflection. Many feel that they access their inner creativity in the walking process. The labyrinth may be used therapeutically. The labyrinth is often used during times of transition such as pregnancy, marriage, divorce, menopause, job changes, after traumatic events, transitioning to college, and during periods of loss and grief. “The power to recognize, as the labyrinth shows, that in every end there is also a beginning.” Schaper, Donna & Camp, Carole Ann, 2013. P. ix
THE LABYRINTH AS A HOLISTIC, EMOBIDED EXPERIENCE
Modern day psychology often focuses on feelings and thoughts but often neglects the embodied experience of both the issues that brought the person to therapy and of how the body can be used in interventions. Walking the labyrinth is an embodied process similar to yoga. The body is involved in the walking therefore it is part of the meditation. The use of the body as well as the mind allows for mind, body and spirit to be included in the healing process. While walking, many find that their bodies and internal processing are brought into the process and through this more holistic healing is possible. Researchers and trauma experts are realizing the body is part of the traumas and it is helpful to address this in the therapy in addition to traditional interventions such as CBT. Recent developments have returned to techniques such as yoga or walking a labyrinth as part of including the body in therapy. “If you’re wanting a way to meditate or pray that engages your body as well as your soul, the labyrinth can be such a way. (Melissa Gayle West, 2000) P. 4 Healing requires both the right and left hemispheres of the brain to be stimulated and for integration between the hemispheres to occur. This integration can be noted in treatments such as yoga and EMDR. In conjunction with talk therapy, walking the labyrinth also stimulates both left and right hemispheres. Often people who have experienced trauma become cut off from or overwhelmed by their bodies. To bring the embodied experience into the session allows for deeper processing. This processing begins with awareness of and respect for the body’s experience in the trauma and the need to include the embodied experience in healing.
SPIRITUAL USES OF THE LABYRINTH
Evidence of labyrinths have been found to date back over four thousand years (Arterss, 2006) and have been used across many cultures and spiritual traditions. Often people use a labyrinth for spiritual reasons. Many use it to deepen prayer. The walking of the labyrinth can deepen reflective experience. “The labyrinth, as you will learn, holds up a mirror, reflecting back to us not only the light of our finest selves but also whatever restrains us from shining forth.” (Melissa Gayle West, 2000) P. 4
Walking the labyrinth can be seen as a journey; indeed, at points in history labyrinths were used as a way to represent the spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A labyrinth is a sacred symbol which has been used for thousands of years across cultures.
“The labyrinth is a powerful spiritual symbol that speaks to our souls in a way that transcends all creeds and beliefs. All spiritual traditions speak of life as a path, a spiritual journey, with its own twists and unexpected turns, to the heart of spirit.” (Melissa Gayle West, 2000) P. 9
HOW TO WALK THE LABYRINTH
The labyrinth may be walked at the beginning of therapy sessions to bring focus to the intent of the therapeutic interaction or at the closing of sessions to integrate the experiences from the session. The labyrinth walk often helps people become mindful of the present moment.
Helen Raphael Sands (2001) conceptualizes four steps to a labyrinth walk: “on the threshold”, “journeying in,” “the resting place,” and “journeying out.”
The process of walking the labyrinth may begin with preparation for the walking. One may stand at the entrance of the labyrinth during the preparation process and ground the self before the walk. This may be done by clearing the mind and focusing on the breath. This may include removing shoes and socks. The labyrinth at Chrysalis is built with bricks into the Earth and allows for a grounding experience that is breathtaking. The walker may also wash their feet in preparation. This can be a symbolic letting go experience. At the threshold, one may focus on the intention of the walking. Before the walk, it is helpful to center oneself. Centering allows for the focus to become on the present moment and experience. It is helpful to find clarity of what one wants to focus on or learn from the process. If a word, mantra, or prayer is being used during the walk, one may focus on it during preparation.
The labyrinth walk has multiple purposes and how to walk it depends upon the purpose of the walking.
Typically at Chrysalis, the labyrinth will be available for individual therapy clients. For many in a therapeutic setting, their labyrinth walk may be for a walking meditation. This may be done in silence to enhance the internal processing. At other times, the walk may involve music, singing or dancing. In individual therapy, this walk will be done with the therapist present or walking with, as the person and therapist decide it will be most helpful. In group therapy or open walks for the public or organizations that would benefit from the walk, there may be a group walking. When a group is on the labyrinth, walkers each consider the others and leave space for each other walker. Each walker may consider that although we are on the same path of the labyrinth, we each have our own experiences and respect and appreciate those of others. One may walk as a walking meditation with a focus on a certain mantra or prayer. For instance, one may focus on the name of God or on the Lord’s Prayer. A Buddhist mantra or one developed from CBT such as “I am enough” may be the focus of the walk.
At the center, one may reflect on the journey inward. This may be a time for pause and contemplation. The center is a place to pause, taking in the experience and allowing for the breath and body to sit with the experience.
“Indeed, the center of any design is a place where something new can take root and blossom, where you can let light into the center of your heart. Notice what you may usually be too rushed to see; ask a question you are normally too afraid to ask. It may be a place to express a hidden beauty, joy, or grief. Emptied of distraction, you now have the opportunity to be filled.” Helen Raphael Sands (2001)
As one walks out of the labyrinth, the process if solidified and often walkers experience an integration of what was gained from the walking. Often people experience a sense of purpose during the walk out of the labyrinth. Many emotions may have been experienced during the walk. Processing the experience within and in relationship may be beneficial. After the labyrinth walk, it is helpful to once again ground oneself and process the closure of the experience. Often one may feel guidance during the walk, or a sense of purpose or new understanding. The walking out may be a time of gratitude both overall and for the process.
“The walking out of the labyrinth is realistically and symbolically the act of taking what we have received out into the world. This is an empowering and integrating part of the walk. We can honor what has happened in the labyrinth.” Lauren Artress (2006). P. 78
“Many of us live life walking in circles without much intention. We feel a little caught, trapped, encumbered: we make our next move because somebody else or some other thing made its move. We get “tied up in knots;” life feels tangled and twisted. We don’t move so much as feel moved upon. Walking a labyrinth is different.” Schaper, Donna & Camp, Carole Ann, 2013. P. vii
Pictures below are of the process of constucting the labyrinth.