Frequently Asked Questions about Labyrinths
What is a labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a simple contemplative pathway used for walking meditation. It has been described as a stress management tool and a watering hole for the spirit. Walking the labyrinth is a detour from the everyday path of our lives – an opportunity to slow down and reflect. Its an easy way to quiet the mind and open the heart.
How do you walk a labyrinth?
There is really no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Some walk it slow and some walk it fast and some even dance it… but generally speaking, its best to just find your own natural pace.
To deepen your experience you could:
- Focus on your favourite prayer or mantra, or…
- Bring your awareness to your feet, contacting the ground fully with each step, ‘planting peace with each footfall’ as Thich Nhat Hanh says. Notice your weight shifting from the foot you’re lifting to the one that’s landing. Listen to the sound of the birds in Lachlan Swamp. Listen to the distant hum of the city. Notice your breath and how it changes as you move. This is mindful walking, or…
- Follow the mystic path and see your walk in three phases:
Releasing on the way in – letting go of distractions and that which no longer serves you.
Receiving a sense of peace and calm as you pause in the centre. Let yourself really feel the contrast of the stillness after all that rhythmic movement on the way in. Imagine yourself as a tuning fork connecting deep into the earth and up into the sky
Resolving on the return journey as you follow the same path back out of the labyrinth, preparing to engage with the world in a different way.
There are two important things to remember:
1) Its a two way street so you may well meet someone coming the opposite direction on the path. Just weave around them and gently return to ‘your’ path.
2) If the person in front of you is walking too slowly, you can overtake them. This is easier to do at the turns – you just make the turn at the same time that they do and you’ll end up in front of them. There’s no correct speed – when everyone walks at their own natural pace and moves around each other, a beautiful sense of flow is created.
To prepare, you may want to sit quietly and reflect before walking the labyrinth. Some people come with questions, others just to slow down and take time out from a busy life. Some come to find strength to take the next step. Many come during times of grief and loss. Its winding path becomes a metaphor for our journey and where we find ourselves on our path.
Is it like a maze?
No. A maze has walls or hedges, several different pathways and lots of dead ends. A labyrinth is flat on the ground, has only one path and no dead ends, so you can’t get lost. If a maze is an intellectual exercise, a labyrinth is a spiritual one. A maze is designed for you to get lost in, whereas a labyrinth is designed for you to find yourself
Is it a Christian thing?
Yes and no. It has been used in Christian Cathedrals in Europe since the 13th century, but there are simpler versions of the labyrinth which are more than 4000 years old. Ancient examples have been found in Europe, India, China and North and South America.
So is it a Pagan thing?
Its broader than any one particular religion. It is a universal and non-denominational symbol – an inclusive sacred space which welcomes people of all faiths.
If its so old why haven’t I heard of it before?
Use of the labyrinth in Europe fell out of favour around the end of the 17th Century, coinciding with the cultural shift in emphasis to rational, linear thinking. The labyrinth with its slow meandering path has lain dormant for the last 300 years.
So what’s changed?
In the last 15 years there has been a revival of interest in the labyrinth and a return to this lovely ‘slow cooking’ form of contemplation. Perhaps it was in response to the frenetic pace of modern life, but also because it addresses the spiritual hunger of our times. People are looking for ways to centre and calm themselves. Walking the labyrinth is the easy way to meditate – to quiet the mind and open the heart.
How is the labyrinth being used today?
In the last decade in the United States, more than 200 labyrinths have been built in hospitals alone. They are also being built in universities, parks, schools and thousands of people are building them in their gardens and backyards. There are many different therapeutic applications for the labyrinth apart from the general well-being of the community. Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington DC installed a labyrinth to help veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Westmead Children’s Hospital recently installed a Chartres style labyrinth next to Ronald Macdonald House. It is also a powerful tool for dealing with grief – a way to walk your sorrow and begin to integrate it. There are schools using the labyrinth to help children deal with Attention Deficit Disorder. The labyrinth helps them centre and calm themselves and concentrate for longer periods of time. People use the labyrinth as a ceremonial space to hold weddings and other threshold celebrations.
Where can I find a labyrinth to walk?
There are a few labyrinths around Australia and thousands around the world. Here is a link to the worldwide labyrinth locator http://labyrinthlocator.com/ They list both public and private labyrinths.
Why not just go bushwalking?
Bushwalking is a wonderful way to quiet the mind and open the heart. The difference is that walking the labyrinth is a specific contemplative practice distilled over thousands of years. The labyrinth is a powerful metaphor for our journey through life.
Why did it cost $500,000?
Centennial Park is the home of Australian Federation on lands bequeathed by Governor Macquarie, so this labyrinth needed to be something really special. It is the first major public labyrinth in Australia. Aesthetically, it is a significant work of public art – a replica of the most famous labyrinth in the world, which was built in the Chartres Cathedral in early 13th century. This iconic Sydney park demanded a work of international standard – and this landmark labyrinth is on par with the superb limestone labyrinth in the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We made a strong commitment to the integrity of the original Chartres design according to the principles of sacred geometry with which it was originally created. It was constructed using the highest quality, heritage grade Wondabyne sandstone and Victorian Bluestone, ensuring quality, density and durability. For more information click here
Why is the path the width that it is?
The Chartres labyrinth was created using the principles of sacred geometry, wherein every measurement and ratio is in proportion to each other. This generates the sense of harmony we feel when we look at and experience walking it. The path is approximately13 inches wide (34cm) and 860 feet long (262metres). The width of the path determines the intensity of the experience. If you made it wider it may seem easy to navigate the turns, but it would detract from the transformational possibilities offered by the original, more concentrated design. For more information, go to http://www.labyrinthos.net/chartresfaq.html
Which direction does the Centennial Park Labyrinth face?
Labyrinths are placed within their context, not according to compass directions. The Chartres Cathedral and its labyrinth are oriented NE/SW. Those labyrinths built inside churches align with the orientation of the building and very few churches are actually aligned East /West. The labyrinth as a geometric system and as an energetic field is whole and complete unto itself and does not need to be aligned in any particular direction. The beauty of the space and its inherent intelligence is what will hold and inspire walkers. This is a new paradigm of an ancient spiritual symbol being offered in a modern context. While tending to the sacred geometry of the actual design, this labyrinth is truly being built in harmony with its environment.
Ceremonial spaces often face the East, but it is important not to allow abstract rules to override the wisdom of the landscape itself and what feels most natural and supportive in the space. Walking towards the water in this particular field, feels right to most people who experience it. We had a dowser visit the space to determine the best place for the centre of the labyrinth. In listening to the land in this way, we believe we are honouring the true intention of the labyrinth, which is an exercise in witnessing Self and Other. The whole point is to disorient the rational mind a little, in order to disperse rigidity and become more receptive to the unknown – to welcome the mystery. The labyrinth invites you to orient yourself with yourself, not with anything or anyone external to self. That is its great gift.
Children in the Labyrinth
Children in the Labyrinth: Being in the middle of a public park, the Centennial Park labyrinth is open to everyone, including children. Their joyful exuberance can sometimes disturb those wishing to pray in silence. If you find yourself in this situation, gently explain to the child and/or to their parents, that you’ve come to the labyrinth to pray and that if they’d like to join you they could make a wish for someone they love when they get to the centre. This often gives them enough focus to quieten down.
Remember that the labyrinth is a mirror reflecting where we are in our lives. You might want to consider what it is exactly that bothers you about their presence on ‘your’ path. Does that occur anywhere else in your life? Do you hold expectations about the ‘right’ way to walk a labyrinth? Does spiritual practice always have be serious or can it be joyful? Children are less disconnected from spirit than us. They don’t need to slow down as we do to reconnect with Spirit – they can skim the surface of the labyrinth and receive the benefit. Surely joy is the fast track to Spirit – perhaps they have something to teach us…
Desk Top Labyrinths
These desk top labyrinths were originally created for people in hospital. You run your finger along the path and it has a calming effect similar to walking the labyrinth. You literally ‘walk’ the labyrinth with your fingers…
Here are some websites from which you can purchase finger labyrinths:
For more on labyrinths see: