Mazes have fascinated me since I was first able to manipulate a crayon, draw a line, and help the baby chicks find Mama Hen. Solving a puzzle. Entry into mysteries of the mythic quest.
Like many, I initially mistook the labyrinth for an alternate version of a maze. The difference? Labyrinths have only one entry/exit with a pathway leading inward until it turns around and leads back out. One does not become lost in a labyrinth; labyrinths are not puzzles to be solved.
The point? At the risk of sounding cliché, Labyrinths aren't about solution. Labyrinths are about the journey.
Early Labyrinth Experiences
My first full-sized labyrinth walk was in Portland, Oregon. I spent a good half hour, making my way into the center and back out again.
Tai Chi training kicked in as I placed each foot with care and attention. Settling fully into one step before moving to the next. Allowing thoughts settle. Becoming present with the rhythm of my movement. Enjoying the process of the path's serpentine pattern.
"Spiritual Pilgrimage" is a nice description. Like Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey", only leaving the world one knows to travel inward, rather than outward. Each journey leaving the traveler feel changed, if only in small subtle ways.
I walked my only other large-scale labyrinth at Wilber Hot Springs, California. A spiral pattern with beautiful old oak at the center.
Each experience left me wishing I had one closer to home. I even looked into portable labyrinths printed on canvas -- prohibitively expensive, even for materials to tackle making one of my own.
A"finger" version I tested... too small to lose myself in meditation.
And then ...
A friend recently used a large oak labyrinth (18") as a workshop visual aid. As he spoke, he traced the path carved into the wood, from beginning, to center, back to the beginning. I was entranced by his movement, imagining what it would feel like with my own finger -- so much so, I can't tell you now what he said or what it had to do with his labyrinth!
At the threshold of my journey
Immediately, I do a search...
Sadly, even the least expensive is pricer than I'd hoped. So, I shift my search to DIY's, and find an appealing spark of inspiration for a design of my own. Instead of carving a groove into the wood to create my track, I glue cord to the surface giving track a raised outline.
First step onto the path...
Out come my sketchbook, colored pens, and ruler.
Next, an online search for material possibilities.
Lots to do while I wait for my materials to arrive.
Image search for Chartres labyrinth designs. I learn many are simplified. A full scale model is an "eleven-circuit" labyrinth -- who knew?
Lots of printouts -- which are easiest on my eyes, easiest lines to distinguish for laying down my own lines?
After settling on The One, I make four copies in my photo roll and edit each to show one of 4 quadrant of 8" radius.
Now, to consider laying out my lines. My first big challenge -- I discover a complexity not obvious at first glance. The labyrinth path is one continuous track. The bands of lines to create the track, not so much. The pattern cannot be layed in single line. Bands defining the track will be double lines.
(Quick reorder for second roll of cord material. ✴︎-✴︎)
I use my waiting period to color-code steps that will get me started. At this point, the process to lay out my pattern is proving to be more a puzzle-maze than a labyrinth!
Unfinished Wood Plywood
(18" diam. x 0.25" thick)
Jewelry Leather Cord
(2mm x 10 Yards) x2
White glue "pen"
Sundries on hand:
Stepping onto the path ...
This is where I discover that my pattern isn't symmetrically round. Apparently, neither is the one at Chartres.
Accurate replica vs. Stylized design
I decide perfect symmetry is overrated, even though it takes me a bit longer to to "center" the pattern on my wood. (Viewing the finished piece, it ends up visually irrelevant.
Punching the pattern into the wood becomes unexpectedly meditative, much like expectations for my finished finger labrynth.
Sometimes an 8-count, sometime 16, other times 4 or 6. Sometime no counting at all, just rhythmic movement until the end of a line, or repositioning of the board.
Like the asymmetry of the pattern, the density of the wood is also irregular. Punching along, the awl tip meets little resitistance... then suddenly, it takes more oomph.
I soon stop sweating the depth of the holes ... shallow ones work as well as deep ones.
Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch.
There's more effort than I expected, even for
my strong hands. Only a couple of lines at a crack, I decide. Stopping before my hands cramp. Three or four cracks in a day. Taking longer than I expected, but I kind of don't want this part to end too soon.
Laying down borders
I start following my color chart (remember the color chart?). It gets me started, but I soon realize the gluing order isn't that exacting. What end up more critical is pencilling in the next line I glue. It's too easy to confuse which side of the hole punches I think I'm gluing.
Another reason I let go of the color chart -- gluing cords side by side before the first one dries... I don't go there more than once!
Pushpins are my new best friend. Not enough fingers to hold the cord until glue dries. My modest handful of pushpins limits me to a couple of lines per glue session. I consider buying more pins, but this timeframe keeps my shoulders and hands from stiffening up.
Round and round
and round she goes...
Following my color chart
Finding the challenges
curves of pattern & cord
forgivingness of glue
Finding a rhythm
Next part still under construction
A closer look at labyrinths
What's A Labyrinth?
Labyrinths date back at least 3500 years. Prehistoric examples exist on most continents including the Americas, Africa and Asia, and in Europe from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia. Labyrinth symbols from the 12th-13th century are imprinted into floors of many of France's Gothic pilgrimage cathedrals. The most renown example is 815 years old in the nave the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres near Paris.
Why Do We Walk / Trace Labyrinths?
The labyrinth is a pathway winding from the outer perimeter, inward until it turns around and leads back out a along a single path. It's used for walking meditations to minimize distraction and focus inward. Walking a labyrinth stimulates right brain activity (creativity, intuition, imagination), and activates meditative mind states. Walking meditation can clear the mind and calm anxiety.
Studies by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Medical Institute indicate that focused walking meditations are very effective in reducing anxiety and for stimulating the ‘relaxation response’. Long-term health benefits, include reduced blood pressure and breathing rate, decrease in chronic pain and insomnia, and improved fertility. Meditating regularly is shown to improve concentration along with a sense of empowerment and composure. Labyrinths offer one of the simplest forms of focused walking meditation. Evidence of health benefits has resulted in labyrinth installations in hundreds of health care facilities, hospitals, and spas during recent years.
The labyrinth represents the inward journey to our inner being and returning with renewed perspective. Often seen as a metaphor for life's journey, a labyrinth twists and turns, seeming to lead one direction, only to take us in another, helping us to appreciate the journey as well as the destination.
For the visually oriented, here is a woman using a finger labyrinth. Perhaps you'll find it as mesmerizing as I did. 🤷🏻♀️ Perhaps not.