It had been a long time since I walked a labyrinth, probably ten years or more. There was a span of a few years when I was a Catholic high school theology teacher that I had the opportunity to walk labyrinths at retreat centers, churches, during professional developments days and did so about once a year for a few years in row, then a decade passed.
Thursday I walked the labyrinth at the Center at West Woods in Westwoood, MA (http://www.centeratwestwoods.com/ – their website is still under construction). Labyrinths haven’t changed since I last walked one, but I have. In the time since I last walked a labyrinth I have developed a formal zen meditation practice and become reiki practitioner. Both of these things had a major impact on today’s walk.
The labyrinth at West Woods is a bit larger than any I’ve previously walked. Constructed outside and formed from furrows dug into an open field, it is a half-mile to the center (so a mile to complete the journey). The perimeter is bordered by a series of Tibetan prayer wheels. My previous experiences with labyrinths were all in Christian contexts, this was going to be a zen experience. Indeed, my experience reminded me of a mirror image of going to the sangha for a sitting in that it was two half-hour periods of kinhin broken up by short period of sitting in the center of the labyrinth.
My previous experiences with labyrinths were situations where I encountered the labyrinth as part of a group, but there was no coordinated effort to experience the labyrinth and I sought it out and walked alone. Today, I went to the labyrinth as part of a group attending the Inspiration House workshop Lessons from a Labyrinth, yet after an introduction to labyrinths and the day’s program, we walked the labyrinth together. We walked silently. What Parker Palmer would call “being along together.”
The workshop leaders suggested that one approach we could take is to hold a question or something we are trying to discern in our hearts while we walk. I did. I held in my heart a personal matter about which I am trying to make a difficult decision. I learned that a mile of kinhin takes a long time. And it seems even longer to the young people who watch you. I moved much slower on the walk in to the center. I was the last person to enter the labyrinth and I felt the the uneven, hurried energy from my companions calling me to keep at my meditative pace.
Upon reaching the center, I felt very drawn to the crystal sitting upon the tall granite block. I’ve never been much into crystals. I am more so now. I practice reiki and felt a slight tingling in my hands and placed them on the crystal. Vibrations moved through my hands. They became stronger if I held my hands just off the surface of the crystal. I felt the energy go through my body and out my feet. The only feeling I can compare it to for those of you who have experienced it, is having a reiki attunement. Then I sat and counted my breath for a few minutes and began the walk back out.
I walked more quickly on the walk out. My pace was still meditative, but discernably faster than on the way in. I was more at ease, less measured. The energy in the labyrinth felt less anxious, less jumbled, as there were only a few of my companions now left on the path.
I was perhaps half way on the path out when it occured to me that issue I held in my heart for discernment did not need to be decided right away. Perhaps I have decided too many things too quickly and have not sat long enough with enough decisions – a labyrinth walk is a long journey to the center of one’s self. A mile is a long way to walk kinhin when you’re only used to five minutes.
The second part of our day was a lesson in drawing mandalas. I’m not sure about mine. I think I drew a crest or shield and not a mandala. Visual art is not one of my primary modes of creative expression, but I did what was in my heart.