Lauren Artress reintroduces the ancient labyrinth, a walking meditation  that trancends the limits of still meditation, and shows us the possibilities it brings for renewal and change.

'Walking the Labyrinth' has reemerged today as a metaphor for the spiritual journey and a powerful tool for transformation. This walking meditation is an archetype, a mystical ritual found in all religious traditions. It quiets the mind and opens the soul. Walking a Sacred Path explores the historical origins of this divine imprint and shares the discoveries of modern day seekers. It shows us the potential of the Labyrinth to inspire change and renewal, and serves as a guide to help us develop the higher level of human awareness we need to survive in the twenty-first century.

What is a labyrinth?

The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the ends. Unlike a maze where you lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

Labyrinths are usually in the form of a circle with a meandering but purposeful path, from the edge to the centre and back out again. Each has only one path, and once we make the choice to enter it the path becomes a metaphor for out path through life, sending us to the centre of the labyrinth, and then back out to the edge on the same path.

The labyrinth is spiritual tool meant to awaken is to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves and to the Light that calls from within. In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds healing and wholeness.

Walking the Labyrinth quiets the mind, opens the heart and grounds the body ... Some find answers to questions long asked, some find healing, creativity, or a sense of wholeness

By comparison. mazes offer a choice of paths, some with many entrances and exits. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs present riddles to be solved. They challenge the choice-making part of ourselves. This is different from the labyrinth, which has one path, into the centre and back out again, and no tricks or dead ends.


The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles that date as far back as 5000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals and circles mirrored in nature. In Native American tradition, the labyrinth is identical to the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts described the labyrinth as the Never Ending Circle. It is also known as the Ka bala in mystical Judaism. One feature labyrinths have in common is that they have one path that winds in a circuitous way to the center.

The labyrinth design used by Lauren Artress is a replica of the Eleven-circuit Medieval Labyrinth from Chartres Cathedral in France. This pattern, made of Beauce quarry stone and an unnamed black stone to delineate the path, was inlaid into the stone floor in 1201. For the last 250 years, however, it has been forgotten and covered with chairs until Artress led a small group of people into Chartres cathedral to remove the chairs to experience the meditative walk first hand.

After her experience in Chartres, she returned home to Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, painted the design on canvas and opened it to the public. In 1994 the indoor tapestry labyrinth -- open during cathedral hours -- was installed and in 1995 the outdoor terrazzo labyrinth -- open 24 hours a day -- was installed in the Melvin E. Swig Interfaith Meditation Garden. Literally millions of people have walked these labyrinths. In the summer of 2007, Grace Cathedral replaced the tapestry labyrinth with a beautiful new limestone and marble labyrinth in the floor of the cathedral.

After introducing the labyrinth through the International Transpersonal Association in Ireland in 1994 and to Switzerland, Germany in 1995, her work began to focus intensely in both Grace Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral. She has led workshops around the United States, Canada, the UK and Europe. In 1997 she began to train facilitators to present the labyrinth in their communities. Now, over 4000 people have been trained in this transformational work.

Labyrinths are currently being used world-wide as a way to quiet the mind, recover a balance in life, and encourage meditation, insight, self-reflection, stress reduction, and to discover innovation and celebration. They are

open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural blueprint for well-being. The practice of labyrinth walking integrates the body with the mind and the mind with the spirit. They can be found in medical centers, parks, churches, schools, prisons, memorial parks, spas, cathedrals and retreat centers as well as in people's backyards.


Seeking a Sacred Path

All of the larger-than-life questions about our presence here on earth and what gifts we have to offer are spiritual questions. To seek answers to these questions is to seek a sacred path. As we find our meaning and purpose we also realize that some invisible being that has guided u, challenged us, and carried us through times of crisis...

The spiritual hunger that is present in the Western world is calling forth millions of people. They are seeking answers through a variety of paths.....

The labyrinth, in its strange and uncanny way, offers a sacred and stable space to focus the attention an listen to the longing of the soul...

To walk a sacred path is to discover our inner sacred space: that core of feeling that is waiting to have life breathed back into it through symbols, archetypal forms like to labyrinth, rituals, stories and myths. Understanding the invisible world, the world of pattern and process, opens us to the movement of the Spirit.

(Hildegard if Bingen was a twelfth century mystic, composer and author of a theology that knitted together nature and spirit, cosmos and soul. She described the Holy Spirit as the Greening Power of God. Just as plants are greened, so we are as well. As we grow, our spark of life continually shines forth. If we ignore this spark, this greening power, we become thirsty and shrivelled. And if we respond to the spark, we flower. Our task is to flower, to come into full blossom before out time comes to an end.)

Lights-On Experiences

Why does the labyrinth attract people? Because it is a tool to guide healing, deepen self knowledge, and empower creativity. Walking the labyrinth clears the mind and give insight into the spiritual journey. It urges actions. It calms people in the throes of life transitions. It helps them see their lives in the context of a path, a pilgrimage...The experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material. We bring our unique hopes, dreams, history and longings of the soul.  


The Path through Silence

The path through silence is called the apophatic path. It is the path of meditation or contemplation which leads us to the center of our being. We plant the seed of silence within ourselves by quieting the mind. We allow our minds to empty of thoughts so we can enter our own resounding silence, a state from which we gain deep refreshment. Gregory the Great called this “resting in God”.

The Path through Images

The cataphatic path uses the imaginative process as a guide to the Light within. However, the path through images has traditionally been less honoured than the path through silence. It is enjoying a revitalisation partly because of therapeutic approaches and guided visualisation.

The Inner Way: The Three-Fold Mystical Plan

In Western Christianity the mystical path is traditionally called the Threefold Path, where the sequence is Purgation, Illumination and Union... This is the path that is energetically embedded in the labyrinth design...

Purgation, the walk from the entrance of the labyrinth to its centre, represents the first part of the mystical path...

Illumination, the second stage, may be found in the centre of the labyrinth.... After we have quieted the mind on the labyrinth’s path, the centre is a place for meditation and prayer...We may come to clarity in the centre...

Union begins as we leave the centre of the labyrinth, following the same path back out that brought us in. In this stage, our meditation produces a grounded, empowered feeling...Union means communing, or communion with the Holy.

The Outer Way: Pilgrimage

The tradition of pilgrimage is being revitalised during our own times to seek answers to our longings... The pilgrim seeks to follow the spirit’s compass, which guides us to find an inner openness to the outer world of people, places, and events that become the fabric of our lives.


Much of our spiritual seeking is driven by the desire to manifest our unique and individual gifts on the world... Something within us carries a deep, sometimes buried, sense that we have a special task...Many people find their way to the labyrinth in the process of searching for their own special talents. 

A Wide and Gracious Path

The labyrinth introduces us to the idea of a wide and gracious path. It redefines the journey to God: from a vertical perspective that goes from earth up to heaven, to a horizontal perspective in which we are all walking the path together. The horizontal path communicated that we are all in this together.


Walking the labyrinth does not demand a great amount of concentration in orde rot benefit from the experience. The sheer act of walking a complicated pat...begins to focus the mind. A quiet mind does not happen automatically. But the labyrinth experience sensitises us, educated us, and helps us distinguish superficial extraneous thoughts from the “thought” that comes from our soul level and that each of us longs to hear.

The First Walk

Nurturing ourselves spiritually is not an easy thing to do in a culture that disconnects us from our depths. [But] the simple act of walking the labyrinth invites us back into the centre of our being...

The labyrinth is especially helpful to those of us in transition who are chilled by the winds of change. It also gives solace to those struggling with painful life experiences.

There are no easy solutions to life’s many difficult problems, yet walking the labyrinth imparts peace. The walk can also begin a process of insight so a “new opportunity” can come into our awareness....

Small miracles can happen in the labyrinth. We can strengthen ourselves by shedding tears, feeling the anger and hurt that keeps us from experiencing our soul level. We can decide that we have held on to revenge too long, and take action to heal our hateful feelings.

A Process Meditation

There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth.... This can be a valuable lesson about control and surrendering to the process...

There is a creative tension between between allowing images, memories and feelings to emerge and guiding them through a gentle, gracious, open and expanded thought process...

The walk out of the labyrinth is realistically and symbolically the act of taking when we have received out into the world.

Basic Approaches to the Walk

What seems to work best when preparing to walk the labyrinth it to take a moment to reflect on where you are in your life...

Gracious attention

One approach is simply to quiet the mind, choosing to let all thoughts go when they present themselves in your awareness.   The task is to allow a gracious sense of attention to flow through you...

Asking a Question

One approach is to focus on a question that we have been asking ourselves...

Questions that we take into the labyrinth should be outside the realm of yes or no. There is nothing magical about the labyrinth. [But] it allows our conscious to open so that deeper, and perhaps new, parts of ourselves can speak to us more directly.

The Use of Repetition

Many of us meditate by repeating a word, a mantra, or a phrase over and over to ourselves. ..[People are] advised to use   a word or phrase that does not stir up either positive or negative feelings or thoughts....

[Or} the other approach is to use a meaningful phrase – which lends itself nicely to the walk.

Examples pg this are “Come, Holy Spirit, come”, “I am a daughter of the Light”,  “Help me God, to remember I am a daughter of the Light”, or “Guide me, Mother of God”.

Reading Scripture

[This is] reminiscent of monastic communities that practice lectio divina during mealtimes, when a designated reader reads aloud to the community from spiritual classics.

Asking for Help through Prayer

Another method is simply to pray throughout the labyrinth walk...One of the things we forget most readily is to ask for help from the divine...

The labyrinth is  a place where you can pour your heart out, express your anger, experience joy, express gratitude – and perhaps above all, ask for what you need.

Honoring a Benchmark in Time

Many people walk the labyrinth to honor a benchmark in time. It may be a birthday or the anniversary of a close friend’s death.

We can walk the labyrinth to pray for a person who is undergoing surgery or to support and sustain a board of members making an important decision...

A Body Prayer

Many of us are shy when is comes to movement. But in the container of the labyrinth there is support for moving spontaneously as our body wishes.

The structural nature of the path seems to encourage this. It provides a safe feeling of containment...

It is important to follow the impulses as they arise within us. Some people may chant, others may dance, cry, or laugh out loud. ..

[Moreover} using the gift of breath is not only a way into clearing our minds, it is a way through the anxiety, self-consciousness, or uncertainty that we may feel while we are in the labyrinth...

During workshops [with music] some people dance, and others skip or crawl..And, [some people] use scarves, and dance with them, or place them over their heads so that they can “hide” as they go deeply within.

Allowing the Ego to let Go

Stepping into the labyrinth, we see our thoughts for what they are. We may meet the impatient, judgemental thoughts that are so much a part of us that we no longer notice them...

When we are able to see though or step being the ego, the ... people and events in our lives become part of our path, part of the invisible thread that leads onward.

We feel surrounded by the Holy. And all the pain and joy that we experience tempers us, allows us clearly to see our struggling, suffering world...

We simply present ourselves as ready to release whatever come up in us, and to receive what awaits us in the center.

The Labyrinth as Metaphor

The labyrinth captures the mystical union between heaven and earth, an understanding of death and rebirth. It is a path of faith and doubt, the complexity of the brain, the turns of the intestine and the birth canal, and the Celestial City...

The walk, and all that happens on it, can be grasped through the intuitive, pattern-discerning faculty of the person walking it...

This is the gift of being able to see the infinite in the context of the finite. And somehow we are surrounded by a gentle love at the same time.

Experiencing our Experience

Experiencing our feelings and inner thoughts without judgement is part of developing spiritual mastery. In order to reflect, we need a quiet place inside ourselves. It is from this place we are able to make subtle shifts of attitude when necessary, without condemning ourselves...

The time on the labyrinth is meant to ne a reflective and meditative act when you stay in the moment with your experience.


Just as in other forms of meditation, it is possible to have an uneventful experience on the labyrinth. There are times when nothing significant happens, when the timing may not simply ne right for anything to emerge. There are benefits to walking it anyway...there seems to be a cumulative benefit.

Finding your Pace

Each experience in the labyrinth is different... The pace usually differs each time... It can also change dramatically within the different stages of a single walk. You can pass others, in order to honor your intuitive pace... or allow others to pass you. ..

The labyrinth’s winding path helps us to find our pace, allows us a spaciousness within, encourages our receptivity ... and develops our awareness of the habitual thoughts and issues we put in the way of our spiritual development. It is a road to self-knowledge.

Getting Lost in the Labyrinth

If we do get lost [on the labyrinth] one of two things can happen: we either return to the centre or return to the entrance, and usually we have learned something about ourselves,


Our souls hunger for the lost connection to our intuitive nature expressed through myths, drama, stories and images. We long for a creative, symbolic process that nurtures our spiritual nature, that feeds the soul.

We begin to nourish ourselves spiritually when we discover the dimensions of divine/human consciousness, when we begin to discover the Divine within. We need to understand that the spirit of creation lives and evolved within each human being, as well as through the whole of the created order. Many of us sense this mysterious unfolding. And many are seeking experiences that help us respond to the changes this evolution brings to our lives.


The extent to which labyrinths are considered effective is directly connected with the experience they engender; the emotions and insights they ignite, the sense of calm or Presence they evoke, the depth of solace they bring, and the activation of our interior symbolic realms that they stir...

After walking a specific labyrinth a few times, you will be able to tell if it helps you find a quiet place within, clarity of mind, release of emotions, and a sense of connection to others.

Artress, Lauren Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice

Riverhead Books, New York, 2006

ISBN 1-57322-007-8


The labyrinth is not a maze. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. It has a single circuitous path that winds its way into the center. The person walking it uses the same path to return from the center and the entrance then becomes the exit. The path is in full view, which allows a person to be quiet and focus internally.

Generally there are three stages to the walk: releasing on the way in, receiving in the center and returning when you follow the return path back out of the labyrinth. Symbolically, and sometimes actually, you are taking back out into the world that which you have received.

There is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Use the labyrinth in any way that meets what you need while being respectful of others walking. You may go directly to the center to sit quietly -- whatever meets your needs.

To prepare, you may want to sit quietly to 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.

Children enjoy the labyrinth and we ask that parents supervise their young children so all may enjoy the meditative aspects of the walk.

There are many ways to describe a labyrinth. It is a path of prayer, a walking meditation, a crucible of change, a watering hole for the spirit and a mirror of the soul.



I fully release and let go of those things I cannot change. I let go of my fear of my own challenging world and also that of the outside world.I breathe into my heart, I exhale from my heart. Let me begin my labyrinth walk with untying my own knots of chaos.

I breath into my heart. I exhale from my heart. I begin to feel the heart center opening.

Turmoil and disaster undoes the world beyond my world. When I take a breath into my heart center, I steady my own own energy, my own world.When I breathe into my heart I feed my spirit with the sustainer of life, the breathe.

When I exhale from the heart I am able to direct the gift of heart energy to anyone, anywhere. I know this to be true.I am grateful for this practice as I know I am full of generous potential, and capable of sharing it with others.

I open my heart wide proclaiming myself as a resource for humanity.

I begin walking my labyrinth, centered, unburdened, and connected to all.

We connect as One, when we share our heart’s coherent energy.




Welcome to the Labyrinth

You are about to step into ancient archetypal path that is hundreds of years old. The pattern has been walked by millions of people of all cultures for many reasons.

The labyrinth is a sacred place set aside for you to reflect, look within, pray, negotiate new behavior. The rhythm of walking, placing one foot in front of the other, empties the mind, relaxes the body and refreshes the spirit. Follow the pace your body wants to go.

The labyrinth can be walked in four stages. As you encounter other people walking the same path, simply allow them to pass. You walk the labyrinth with your body and rest your mind.

Remember - Before walking the labyrinth

Take time in gratitude be thankful for your life. Bless the people in your life. If there’s a specific event or situation troubling you, bring it to mind and form a healing question if possible.

Release - Walking into the labyrinth

This is the time to quiet the mind, let go of the mind chatter and release your troubles. Open your heart to feel whatever it might feel. Become aware of your breathing. Take slow breaths. Relax and move at your own pace.

Receive - Standing or Sitting in the Center

This is a place of reflection. Pause and stay as long as you like. Open yourself to your higher power. Listen to that small inner voice. In the safety of the labyrinth have a heart-to heart talk with yourself.

Return - Walking out of the labyrinth

When you are ready, begin walking out the same path you followed in. Walking out, integration of your experience happens. Experience the sense of well-being, healing, excitement, calm or peace.

Each labyrinth experience is different. You may feel nothing or have a powerful reaction. Whatever, listen to your heart and take all the time you need. The above description is only a thumbnail sketch. You provide the bigger picture.



Rose Isbell

For the Knox Church Book Group

Christchurch, New Zealand

September 2021

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