A Spiritual Path

Marin attracts many spiritual seekers and there are, it is said, many paths to enlightenment. One of these in particular goes only in circles and ends exactly where it starts. But the followers of this path don’t mind. In fact, they eagerly repeat the circuitous course, swearing the journey yields profound personal insights and enables transcendent forms of communication. The path? The labyrinth.

A labyrinth is not a maze. There is no getting lost in one. Rather, a labyrinth is a nonlinear path that weaves back and forth, in and out, until it ends in a central circular area. Here, walkers pause to reflect before departing as they came, carrying back wisdom gained on the inbound journey. Labyrinth walkers say the certitude of the path—knowing all decisions about direction have been made—frees them to focus on contemplation instead of navigation. Some call this prayer; others, deep reflection. Whatever the name, the practice nourishes the soul.

In Marin, labyrinths are located indoors and out, drawn on pavement or planted from grasses and herbs. Some are large, some small; some are enclosed within a patio, others rest on a knoll with a magnificent view. There is a site to suit all moods, seasons and weather. (One Marin labyrinth is the center of an ongoing dispute: in April the county Open Space District had a stone labyrinth removed from the Loma Alta Open Space Preserve near Fairfax. Supporters of the labyrinth, constructed by local residents, rebuilt the stone circle a few weeks later; the issue remained unresolved at deadline.)

Some people connect best with their inner yearnings when they move. Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a run on the beach, or a private dance, they find that being in motion bypasses the critical intellect and frees the spirit.

Ancient religions gave birth to avenues for contemplative movement. The earliest surviving labyrinth is in Sardinia and dates to roughly 2500 B.C. Roman labyrinths were built of mosaic tiles; those in England, Scandinavia and Germany were made of sod and grass. People in the Middle Ages used Sacred Geometry to construct their cathedrals, integrating the spiritual into architectural space; Chartres Cathedral in France is a supreme example of this style. Labyrinth use declined with the rise of the
Age of Reason in the 18th century.

Today labyrinths are being revived, in large part thanks to Rev. Lauren Artress of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. “Based on the circle, the universal symbol for unity and wholeness… the labyrinth is a spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves,” she writes in Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. “In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds healing and wholeness.”

As for how to embark, “there are as many ways to walk the labyrinth as there are people on the planet,” Artress adds. The key to elevating a labyrinth from an everyday amble to a sacred path is preparation.

Before you begin, pause and reflect on where you are in your life, she suggests. Quiet the mind. Perhaps formulate a question to hold in your heart while walking. Some people softly or silently repeat a phrase or word as they walk. Others recite scripture or pray. And some just leave their heart open, ready to experience whatever the walk brings.

Walk at your own pace, whatever speed that is. Find what works for you and don’t speed up or slow down to match anyone else walking nearby. At the center of the circle, pause to reflect on what you might have learned. On the way out, think about how you might incorporate that wisdom into your life.

People often feel more peaceful after completing the labyrinth walk—reason enough for doing it.

Find a Labyrinth

San Francisco Theological Seminary (San Anselmo) Two labyrinths on the campus—one etched into the pavement outside Geneva Hall with a view of Mount Tamalpais and the Ross Valley, another in a grassy field. Details at the school’s website (search for “labyrinth”); sfts.edu

Community Congregational Church (Tiburon) Large, secluded labyrinth on a knoll with a view of San Francisco Bay and Sausalito. The church also has a canvas labyrinth indoors; uccspiritalive.org/labyrinthministry.html

Fairfax Community Church (Fairfax) Canvas labyrinth used for special occasions; [email protected]

Unity in Marin (Novato) Canvas labyrinth used several times during the year; [email protected]

Church of Our Saviour (Mill Valley) Small labyrinth on pavement in an enclosed courtyard; [email protected]

Grace Cathedral (San Francisco, photo at left) The crown jewel of local labyrinths is inside; there is another outside the front door. A labyrinth walk is held the second Friday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m.; gracecathedral.org/labyrinth

World-Wide Labyrinth Locator Search for a labyrinth anywhere in the world; wwll.veriditas.labyrinthsociety.org