The Lesson of the Labyrinth

Last month, my work took me to Wimberley, Texas, which was immensely satisfying on multiple levels. I had the privilege of providing a Vision Calibration Retreat for a wonderful new client at an amazing event center. And my client insisted we stay in their incredible weekend retreat home situated right on the banks of the beautiful Blanco River. Afterwards, back in one of the prettiest parts of my home state and with my husband in tow, we met up with my two grown boys and enjoyed all that a beautiful Fall season has to offer in the Texas Hill Country—history; art; food, wine, and beer; classic Texas culture; gorgeous lakes, rivers, and creeks with natural springs; and deep, blue swimming holes.

One of these was Jacob’s Well which is 140 feet deep and the second-largest fully submerged cave in Texas just outside of Wimberley with a constant water temperature of 68 degrees. After hiking down to Jacob’s Well, we continued exploring the surrounding trails and nature walk and ended up at a hidden labyrinth. I’ve seen labyrinths before but never actually walked one so we decided to experience it.

Like many people, I had a preconceived notion about what a labyrinth is. When my son asked, I explained it was like a maze on the ground which you walked within and tried to figure out how to get out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Turns out that a true labyrinth is not a maze at all but rather a singular walk for meditative and introspective purposes.

In our current language, a labyrinth truly has become synonymous with the word maze. But while a maze is defined as a multicursal puzzle with many choices of paths and directions, a labyrinth is a unicursal experience containing a single path. It’s an unambiguous route to the center and back, presenting no puzzle or navigational challenge. A Labyrinth is a geometric walk with which we form an almost symbiotic relationship as it allows us to enter its physical form while we enter into a non-physical communication within ourselves.

Labyrinths first appeared in Greek Mythology and have been discovered on coins as early as 430 BC. They have been found in all major religions and in most countries including Crete, Italy, France, Egypt, India, Scandinavia, Sumeria, the Americas and British Isles. In all cases, they share a common theme of human pilgrimage, spiritual exploration, and personal growth.

At its core, a labyrinth is a metaphor for life that we can walk and contemplate. It is a symbol that creates a private, sacred space which leads us into its heart and then back out again along the same path. Although we can cross the lines at any time, we almost always feel compelled to follow the meandering path to the center and back again. There is no getting lost in the labyrinth. Rather, we are offered a path that weaves back and forth, in and out, until it ends in a central, circular area. Here we can pause to reflect on the successful journey to our center before departing as we came in, carrying back wisdom gained on the inbound journey.

Labyrinth walkers say that the certitude of the path, knowing all decisions about direction have already been made, frees them to focus on contemplation instead of navigation. Some call this prayer residing in faith while others refer to it as a deep, internal self-reflection. Whatever people call it, the practice has been used to nourish the soul around the world for thousands of years.

Once I read the correct definition on the informational plaque, I stood at the opening of the labyrinth and decided to surrender to the experience fully. I took a few deep cleansing breaths and opened my palms outward to bring my whole being to the walk. (I was so moved when I snapped a picture of my son stepping into the labyrinth adopting my same stance and attitude.) Afterwards, as we made our way back to our car, we talked about our individual walks and experiences.

Both my son and husband found the labyrinth interesting and fun and said that they thought about the creativity of the creators as they walked it. They felt fully comfortable talking and exchanging ideas during their walk. I had a profoundly different experience.

I had a deep desire not to talk and focused hard on not noticing the conversation outside of my personal experience. I discovered that understanding the labyrinth in this new way at the beginning of my walk put me almost immediately at ease about not having to navigate or figure anything out. I was instantly able to trust the path, even though at times I could not understand where it was going. Even though sometimes it felt as though I was reversing direction, retracing my steps, or even potentially lost, I was able to trust the process and focus on reaching the center which, of course, I eventually did. I loved the feeling of walking in that kind of faith and certainty, even in the apparent evidence to the contrary. And I loved the idea of taking that deepened understanding and trust back out with me as I embarked on my return journey to the space outside the labyrinth and stepped back into my normal world.

A month later, the lesson of the labyrinth is still with me. At times our world seems to be spiraling out of control, business seems to be more challenging than ever, and the future seems to be littered with pitfalls and frightening predictions. The pilgrimage of the labyrinth reminds us that when we trust and follow our own path and focus less on the actual navigation and more on the perfection of our growth on the journey, the more amazed, centered, and successful we will become.

This week, I hope you will walk through work and life in a labyrinth state of mind… trusting your path, keeping faith with the perfection of what you’re learning, understanding that everything serves. I hope you’ll make a commitment to carve out some time to put yourself first and to get in touch with and focus on your internal guidance system so that it may guide you throughout your journey as a leader, team member, parent, spouse, and friend.

“Time spent in self-reflection is never wasted. It is an intimate date with yourself.”

~ Dr. Paul T.P. Wong

Leave a Comment