I have been building and walking labyrinths the last couple of weeks, and I love it.
Spiral art, and I take labyrinths to be a type of spiral art, have long been a part of contemplative practice for both non-religious and religious people.
I first started noticing spirals when I was researching art and culture for an Asian philosophy course I was teaching.
Mandalas, which are a type of spiral art, are very common in Buddhist and Hindu art. (You can read more about this here and here.) They represent moving closer and closer to the heart of enlightenment or to the heart of love or God.
This is a nature mandala my friend, Annemarie made. (Picture courtesy of her.)
Spiral art shows up in western culture often in the shape of the labyrinth. For instance, many Catholic or Episcopal churches often incorporated labyrinths into their gardens in order to serve as a prayer and meditation aid to both clergy and parishioners. Many churches today feature a labyrinth somewhere on their property. You can read about one here.
The more I learned about spirals and labyrinths, the more I began incorporating them into my own art.
This is a recent one I painted.
I have been wanting to visit labyrinths in my home state. And I will probably do that eventually. But the other day I thought, “Why not make a labyrinth in my back yard?”
So I did.
I do contemplative practices regularly as a way to nourish my mind, body, and emotions. You can read more about contemplative practices here:
So, in the last couple of weeks, I decided to make labyrinths a part of my contemplative practice. (Please note that the labyrinths I build in my back yard are a very simplified form of labyrinths. Most labyrinths are constructed in a maze-type pattern. I couldn’t build one of these, so I just built a simple spiral. You can read more about labyrinths here.)
First, I built a rope labyrinth. This is a fifty foot rope I got for about ten dollars from Home Depot.
As I walked this labyrinth, I said this intention to myself:
May I move closer to the heart of wisdom.
And may I move closer to the heart of love.
May I know that I am safe and secure.
And may I know that I am loved.
I am religious (Quaker), and so I also turned this intention into a prayer:
God, may I move closer to the heart of wisdom…
My husband and I have been doing a lot of yard work this summer, and we recently cleaned out a back corner of our yard. We also had a pile of stones from all our yard work.
So this morning, I decided I was going to make a stone labyrinth.
Here is my labyrinth.
It took me about an hour to make, and it was a really meditative process. I didn’t think of putting flowers in it until the end. And that was a fun part of building it. I used some flowers that had fallen to the ground from a nearby Rose of Sharon bush. And I also got some other flowers from plants in our front yard.
I had thought about making a stone labyrinth a few weeks ago and had considered buying river rock to do it. The stones in this picture are just old stones we dug up while gardening and landscaping.
I really like how they look in the labyrinth.
As I walked in my stone labyrinth, I used the prayer above that I used with my rope labyrinth, and I also used a simple breathing meditation:
Breath in peace, breathe out love.
As I was walking to the heart of the labyrinth, I imagined myself getting closer and closer to the heart of love and understanding. As I walked out of the heart of the labyrinth, I imagined myself taking this love and understanding to share with the world.
I wanted to share my labyrinth practice because it has been a peaceful, joyful, and meditative contemplative practice for me. And really, I think anyone can use labyrinths as a part of their contemplative practice.
(Apparently even animals can: Update–Believe it or not, a groundhog recently visited my labyrinth. You can read more about it here.)
Here’s how you might do your labyrinth practice:
One: You can build a labyrinth in your living room, your kitchen, your back yard, a friend’s back yard, at a park, in a forest.
Two: You can use string, rope, bricks, crayons, markers, books, leaves, sticks, stones, flowers, or any item that allows you to build the spiral pattern.
Three: As you walk your labyrinth, you can say an intention or prayer to yourself like the ones I used above, or you can be completely silent.
Four: You can walk your labyrinth alone or with friends.
Five: You can leave your labyrinth up permanently or move or disassemble it after every use.
Six: It may be helpful to know that when you walk your labyrinth, you may feel a lot of peace and wisdom, or you may not. That’s okay. Sometimes with contemplative practices, we see a lot of results immediately. At other times, it takes a while to see results. It’s kind of like gardening that way.
I wish you well on your labyrinth adventures. And if you ever do build one, I would love to hear about it and see pictures below, if you care to share.
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Have you ever built or walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like? What did you learn from it, or how did it help you grow?
You might also enjoy these posts about contemplative practices like seeking wisdom and using intentions and prayers:
My name is Shelly Johnson, and I am a writer and philosopher with a Ph.D. in philosophy. One of my primary personal and philosophical interests is how we can learn to love ourselves and each other better in order to cultivate personal and political resilience. I teach ethics and a variety of other courses at a local college. I am the author of the blog Love is Stronger. I am also the author of three logic and critical thinking books for high school and middle school: _Argument Builder_, _Discovery of Deduction_ (co-author), and _Everyday Debate_, published by Classical Academic Press. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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