Walking the Labyrinth: The Way of Wisdom a Path of Spiritual Growth
Hello, this is an open invitation to join us for an informal day of walking, praying and sharing experiences of using the labyrinth as a path for prayer and reflection. There is an increasing interest in the labyrinth as a path for prayer and reflection and a growing number of churches, ministries and retreat centers that are offering the labyrinth to their communities and visitors. The aim of the day is to enable clergy, chaplains, retreat leaders, teachers, ministry leaders and interested church members to come together and
· explore the possibilities of walking and praying with a labyrinth
· share their experiences and ideas with others
· take home ideas to develop in your own community
· walk and pray with others on a labyrinth.
Next Walk Date TBD
Place: St. Michael
9:00 Arrivals, Registration, Tea / Coffee
9:30 Welcome, Introductions and Opening Prayer and Sharing our reflections (Why we’ve come). An opportunity for participants to share their experiences and resources with the group.
10:00 Walking and Praying: Brief introduction led By Fr. Richard Meadows
11:45 Concluding thoughts & prayer
Labyrinth: The Walking Prayer The labyrinth is a model or metaphor for life. The Christian life is often described as a pilgrimage or journey with God, a journey in which we can grow closer in relationship with God, and in turn, closer to others. In life, as in the labyrinth, we don’t know where the path will take us. We don’t foresee the twists and turns that the future holds, but we know that the path will eventually arrive at the center, God. Sometimes the path leads inward toward the ultimate goal, only to lead outward again. We meet others along the path—some we meet face-to-face stepping aside to let them pass; some catch up to us and pass us from behind; others we pass along the way. At the center we rest, watch others, pray. Sometimes we stay at the center a long time; other times we leave quickly.
The labyrinth’s current popularity in the U.S. started in the early 1990s but has exploded in the last few years, with churches, hospitals, even schools and prisons building them. The oldest existing Christian labyrinth is probably the one in the fourth-century basilica of Reparatus, Orleansville, Algeria. And while Christians used labyrinths on pre-Christian sites and modeled their own after ones used by earlier cultures, the development of the high medieval Christian seven-circuit labyrinth was a breakthrough in design.
Its path of seven circles was cruciform (shaped like the Cross) and thus incorporated the central Christian symbol. Use of these labyrinths flourished in Europe throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries and beyond, especially in the French cathedrals of Chartres, Sens, Poitiers, Bayeaux, Amiens and Rheims and in the Italian cathedrals at Lucca and San Maria-di-Trastavera in Rome. Medieval pilgrims, unable to fulfill their desire to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, went instead to many pilgrimage sites in Europe or Britain. In many cases the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of one of these great Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represents for pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.
WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?
The labyrinth offers us a way of journeying, inviting us into a sacred quiet place. It is a place where we can experience profound silence. It is a place where we can abandon the busyness of life, to escape the fast lane, to take a daily mini-vacation. It is a place that offers us the opportunity to be present to the Holy One and to our inner selves.
To walk the labyrinth is to make a pilgrimage to discover something about ourselves and God. The labyrinth is not magic, but it is full of mystery. It produces different results for everyone – or perhaps none at all. To walk the labyrinth is to take a precious “time out” – to be refreshed. A person simply brings his or her personal thoughts, spiritual needs – maybe a specific problem, or an important life decision to be made. There are some issues related to our human condition and to our destiny that require contemplation. Humans need to set aside their usual tasks and take the time to seriously reflect on these issues. Such contemplation has at least two prerequisites: it takes time, and it requires some modicum of silence.
The labyrinth is a perfect vehicle to satisfy both prerequisites. Moments of silent contemplation allow the profound truths of life to sink in. The labyrinth is divided neatly into four quarters around a cross, standing in the mind for the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and also for the four stages of the Liturgy, the Word, Offertory, Consecration, and Communion. Walking the labyrinth gives us the opportunity to rid ourselves of anger, it can soothe us, open our minds to imagination and creativity. It slows us down. It enables us to connect mind, body and spirit. Ask yourself, Why might God be inviting you into a time of prayer and quiet? Based on God’s invitation, how might you use the labyrinth to pray?
SUGGESTIONS FOR WALKING THE LABYRINTH
The labyrinth is a path for prayer and meditation.
Collect yourself before you start. Sit and rest at one of the benches for a while. Take off your shoes if weather permits. Walking barefoot or with shoes that feel the sacred ground is a rewarding experience. Think of different people, events, situations, places or things in your life to develop a specific intention as you walk.
Get centered. There are many ways of walking, two are:
The WAY OF SILENCE. In choosing the way of silence it might be helpful to focus on breathing. Please do not speak to people who are walking the labyrinth; it is their sacred time and space as they walk on sacred ground.
The WAY OF IMAGE. The way of image might be done by reciting a prayer or a name for God over and over to yourself. Ask yourself: How am I loved? How do I love?
In either way or in some other manner best suited to you, be open to your heart and mind. Pay attention to your thoughts as they rise and then let them go. The labyrinth is a place of presence; allow yourself to be present to yourself and to God. The labyrinth is a teacher; let it teach you through the mysterious power of God. As you walk the path, thoughts and ideas may rise up for you and in you – often in refreshing and startling ways. One way to feel more connected to the experience is, again, to walk slowly. There is no need to rush. Some people feel a sense of confusion as they first start; remember there is only one path in and one path out. You will not get lost. For some people walking as quickly as possible to the center, resting there, and then walking quickly out is a powerful experience. You set your own pace and pattern for your journey.
Here are a few suggestions in ways of walking the labyrinth:
Gracious Attention: Let all thoughts go. Allow a sense of attention to flow through you. Ask a Question: Focus on a question. Walk with a listening heart.
Use Repetition: Repeat a word, mantra, or phrase over and over.
Offer petitions: Bring to mind persons or issues for which you wish to pray.
Honor a Benchmark: A birthday, a life-style change, an anniversary. A memorial can be the focus of your walk.
Body Prayer: Move spontaneously as your body wishes. Dance the path. Move your arms and legs, bend and sway.
EXPERIENCING THE LABYRINTH
People have different experiences walking the labyrinth. As with all practices of prayer or meditation, your experience will grow and deepen the more you do it. Usually we don’t have time to reflect on the spiritual part of ourselves during our busy days, but when we slow down, all of a sudden we notice that there are other things in life to be concerned about. We even begin to notice the beauty of the world around us. There is no “right” experience. Some people feel a sense of peace, or find old memories rising up as they walk. Others find themselves thinking about an immediate situation or person. One person shares that he walks it with his cancer, another with a deceased grandmother, another with an anxiety she is dealing with, another with the pain of going through a divorce. Some walk at varying speeds as different thoughts and emotions come and go. Some people experience physical sensations, perhaps become light-headed, or have a feeling of floating above, a feeling of weight, or of great warmth. Some walk the labyrinth with fear of the unexpected. Some people have profound insights. Others have very small experiences, or none at all.
People of all faiths are welcome to walk the labyrinth at any time. The experience of walking the labyrinth is different for each person, each time. Whatever you experience, it is your experience. Relax and see what happens. Before beginning to walk the labyrinth, ask God to protect and guide you during this time of prayer. In your own way, dedicate this time to God.
Walking the labyrinth may also experience the classical three-fold spiritual path:
Purgation: Walking in, emptying, or letting go. Ask God a question upon entering and then listen for an answer. For example: Ask God what he wants to tell you and listen for an answer. As you move toward the center of the labyrinth, focus on letting go of distractions or worries that keep you from God. In the center, spend time reflecting on your relationship with God. Be aware of God’s presence.
Illumination: Time in the center, clarity, insight. Time the center can help us deal with obstacles that hinder our growth. In the center we can dialogue with the Divine and receive insight, freedom, joy. In the center, spend time reflecting on your relationship with God. Be aware of God’s presence. Pray for yourself once in, stop to experience God’s love in the center. Then, you will sense the need to move out into the world again.
Union: Walking out, initiative, integration, and action in the world. The labyrinth is also a symbol of the individuation process. We become someone new and experience energy as co-creators for making God visible. We become new creatures at the command of the Word; Behold, old things are passed away and all things become new. Pray for others on the way out (or vice versa). As you leave spend some time giving thanks and praising God for all that he has done. As you leave, walk with Jesus back into the places of ordinary life.
Harvard Women's Health Watch
What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health
Published: July, 2014
Taking a few minutes to focus your mind each day can reduce stress, pain, depression, and more.
Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org Learning the Relaxation Response
There are two basic components involved in eliciting the relaxation response: A quiet, aware, ‘non-judging’ attitude, gently directing your mind back to your point of focus when you notice yourself caught up in other thoughts.
Pick a word, phrase, or image. You may also choose to simply focus on the rhythm of your breathing. Choosing a focus word or phrase. The following is a list of words which could be used to elicit the relaxation response: "One" "Ocean" "My time" "Peace" "Calm" "Love" "Let go" “Rising, Falling” “Comfortable” “Floating” "Relax" You might also choose an image to focus on. Imagine a place you've been to, seen a picture of, or a place from your imagination.
Step 2: Stand or walk quietly with a slow and comfortable stride.
Step 3: Relax your eyes.
Step 4: Relax your muscles.
Step 5: Breath slowly and naturally, and as you do, repeat your focus word or phrase or picture your chosen image as you exhale.
Step 6: Assume a non-judging attitude. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh well," and gently return to the repetition.
Step 7: Continue until you feel comfortable with the relaxation.
As you walk the Labyrinth:
Focus your mind: Eliciting the relaxation response takes practice. Many people become discouraged because they are unable to control their thoughts for more than a few moments. You can use your breathing, a phrase or word, music, the cadence of your walk or run, etc. to help with focusing. (Adapted from The Wellness Book, Herbert Benson, c. 1992, Chapter 5, pg 48 - 49) 7 Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org
Various Ways to Elicit the Relaxation Response The foundational practice of all meditative traditions, breath awareness training originates in the science of yoga, specifically in the practices known as pranayama (translation: control of the life force or breath). Some of the basic pranayama exercises have been adapted for clinical use. Breath training is a valuable skill in learning both to work with the mind and to elicit the relaxation response. The Relaxation Response and Breathing Awareness of and conscious control over your breath is an important factor in all methods of eliciting the relaxation response. When we are stressed, the physical tension and shallow breathing that accompany stress inhibits the breathing process. Altering your breathing pattern helps you to alter the physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress.
Take a Moment To... Notice your breathing now. Are your breaths long or short? Are your inhalations and exhalations balanced, or is one longer than the other? Do you feel you are not getting enough air? What parts of your chest and stomach are moving as you breathe?
Understanding Breathing with each breath, we nourish the body with oxygen. Through the process of cellular respiration, the oxygen is used to produce energy. We inhale oxygen and it is then transferred from the lungs to the bloodstream and then transported to every part of the body. The carbon-dioxide wastes produced in this process go back to the lungs through the bloodstream to be released on each exhalation. We are not usually consciously aware of this process on which life depends. Breathing, of course, occurs whether we pay attention or not, but it is also one physiological function over which we can have conscious control.
There are two basic ways of breathing: diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, and chest or thoracic breathing. Normally, breathing is a combination of the two. However, you may benefit from shifting toward more diaphragmatic breathing. Chest or thoracic breathing Chest breathing is relatively shallow. The chest expands and the shoulders rise as the lungs take in air. Under stress, we all have a tendency to breathe shallowly. Breathing can become irregular, involving holding your breath and inhaling and/or exhaling incompletely. Because of this pattern, your breathing may feel constricted, creating uncomfortable or even anxious sensations of not getting enough air. The breath is a basic tool in developing awareness, modulating stress, and enhancing a healthy mind-body balance. The diaphragm is a large, domelike sheet of muscle that stretches over the bottom portion of your lungs, separating the lungs from your abdominal organs. As you inhale, this muscle contracts and moves down, drawing air into your lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward. Air is then moved out of your lungs. By shifting to more emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing, you can alter the restricted breathing patterns of chest breathing. The act of breathing diaphragmatically can offer control over some of the anxieties and tensions that contribute to stress-related physical symptoms. Follow-up research in the basic Mind/Body Medical program has shown that patients continue to use breathing techniques for handling stress more consistently than other techniques. 8 Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org 9
• To observe or witness the arising and passing of thought, feelings, or sensations
• To bring the mind back to the focus you have chosen
• To develop an attitude of acceptance toward whatever happens in this process. Instead of getting caught up in these continuously changing inner events, you keep gently refocusing the mind on the breath, word, or phrase. Patients gradually develop a conscious, intentional approach to the activity of the mind where the thinking process becomes one of choice.
Use Imagery. Imagery is simply creating thoughts and pictures in your mind using all of the senses, not just visualization. (The most common form of imagery, by the way, is worry.) Imagery is the most effective and is imagery that incorporates sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org
One of the important stress-management tools is as close as your own breath! 10 Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org "Mini" Relaxation Exercises Mini relaxation exercises are focused techniques which help reduce anxiety and tension immediately! Good times to 'do a mini'.... While being stuck in traffic...when put on 'hold' during an important phone call...while waiting in your doctor's waiting room...when someone says something which bothers you...at all red lights...when waiting for a phone call...in the dentist’s chair...when you feel overwhelmed by what you need to accomplish...while standing in line...when in pain...etc., etc. Ways to 'do a mini'... #1 Count very slowly to yourself from ten down to zero, one number for each breath. Thus, with the first complete inhalation and exhalation, you say "ten" to yourself; with the next, "nine," etc. If you start feeling light-headed or dizzy, slow down the counting. When you get to "zero," see how you are feeling. If you are feeling better, great! If not, try doing it again. #2 As you inhale, you say to yourself "one, two, three, four," as you exhale, you say to yourself "four, three, two, one." Do this several times. #3 After each inhalation, pause for a few seconds; after you exhale, pause again for a few seconds. Do this for several breaths. The only time that minis don’t work is when you forget to do them! 11 Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital www.bhimgh.org
Site of Labyrinth
1000 E. 33rd Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO), TKF and the Baltimore community worked together to see this vision become a reality just in time for Thanksgiving 2006. GEDCO works in partnership with faith-based and community organizations to provide affordable housing, support services, food and emergency assistance to neighbors in need. Stadium Place, located in the Waverly neighborhood in Baltimore City, provides low-income senior housing. Thanksgiving Place is the interfaith epicenter of the project. Thanksgiving Place is the gathering center and place of reflection for individuals and the community at large. Featured at the former site of the historic Memorial Stadium are flowering gardens, groves of trees, benches, a labyrinth, and most uniquely, a bell tower watching over the entire space, calling the community to gather and reflect.