In a recent post, I mentioned my stint as the "book doctor" at Room to Write, a writing retreat held in Nashville. The retreat was held at the Scarritt-Bennett center. Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the organizer and guiding light of the retreat, talked to us about the history of the labyrinth one very cold morning, and afterward guided us on a labyrinth walk. I'd like to share a bit of that experience with you here.
Most people hear the word labyrinth and think maze. But a maze is a very different beast from a labyrinth. Navigating a maze, your left brain is activated. At each puzzling juncture, you are forced to make a choice or a decision as to which path to take to reach the center. It is a problem-solving activity.
Conversely, there's only one choice to be made with the labyrinth: whether to enter or not. (Isn't this a great metaphor for writing already?) Because once you do make the choice to enter the labyrinth, there is only one way to go and your only job is to follow it. Once you are on the writing path, you’ll need to trust that you are exactly where you need to be. You need to allow yourself to succumb to the process of writing.
Once you set foot on the labyrinth, the way in is the way out. Walking the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to your deepest self and returning again to the world with a more profound understanding of yourself—and the words to share it. This is the very process that the writer repeats day by day, one word at a time onto the page. The labyrinth encourages a deep trust in the process, that surrendering to it is not only okay, but desirable—something we often forget in our organized, logical world.
A labyrinth is also a symbolic form of pilgrimage, and as writers we make pilgrimages to our deepest selves every day. The labyrinth is an ancient form, with the first labyrinths being mentioned in Pliny's Natural History as being located in Crete, Egypt, and Italy. Later adopted by Christians, they fell out of favor for many centuries but have recently been resurrected as a tool for spiritual, contemplative, transformational and creative paths. Not surprisingly, they are incredibly useful for solving writing problems.
On that cold morning last week, as we walked the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett, Rami encouraged us to repeat a problem with our writing (or life) on the way in, pause in the center, and then ponder a possible answer on the way out. Or, he said, you can just repeat a word such as peace or love or home. I was quite taken with labyrinth walking and how useful it was to shaking free ideas.
One of the most famous labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral in France, and many labyrinths are modeled in this style, including the one at Scarritt-Bennett. Because of a recent surge in popularity, you’ll find labyrinths in many public places, including parks and churches, most of which are open to the public. A quick internet search will find you a labyrinth in your area. If you absolutely can’t find a labyrinth to walk, you can find finger labyrinths for sale on the internet, or perhaps at your new age bookstore.
I highly recommend it as a creative tool, to say nothing of a profound spiritual experience. I've already scoped out a few labyrinths here in Portland, and plan to visit them as soon as possible. Do any of you have experience walking the labyrinth? Feel free to share.
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