Today I walked my first labyrinth. I wasn't sure what - if anything - to expect from the experience. I'd read of people claiming transcendent, even out-of-body experiences while walking labyrinths. (I had no such exalted expectations!)
Labyrinths date back thousands of years and can be found in cultures around the world. They are tied to Pagan, Christian and other faiths and are often used for meditation or prayer. To help dispel some ongoing confusion, a labyrinth is not a maze - although the two do share some characteristics and historical significance. In some ways they serve opposite purposes - a labyrinth helps you to find your way, a maze is a place to lose yourself.
The labyrinth I walked is outdoors, located in a hilltop clearing surrounded by trees. I wasn't sure if I might be caught in rain because the sky was quite grey and there was a cool gusty breeze blowing. In the end, I decided I didn't really care if I got rained on - maybe it would even add to the experience!
As I began to walk the path, my mind was busy - fluttering about, consciously thinking about what I was doing. But as I continued to trace the path in and out of the labyrinth's circular shape, slowly getting closer and closer to its centre I found my thoughts becoming less cluttered. I listened to the birds in nearby trees. I looked at the tiny meadow flowers and clover below my feet.
With each circuit, I realized I was walking more and more slowly, simply enjoying the quiet solitude of the place and the process. It was somewhat akin to watching flames dance in a bonfire or listening to waves wash up on a beach - quite mesmerizing and calming. The circular path forces you to slow down your mental process, to filter out the 'noise' of daily life, to take a brief moment to simply walk and breathe and feel... perchance to dream. The point is to enjoy the journey, not simply get to the destination as quickly as possible.
If you're interested in seeing/walking a labyrinth near you, check out The International Labyrinth Society's labyrinth locator or the Ontario Labyrinth Directory.