I punched a zip code into the labyrinth locater. Jackpot! The search returned two labyrinths in Asheville, North Carolina. The first was at a Catholic church, but I wasn’t ready to step foot in one of those at this point in my life. The second was an outdoor labyrinth at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. It was a mere one-and-a-half mile walk from my temporary home. The next morning, I headed out in search of this circle of stones, eager to walk the labyrinth and hear what it had to tell me.
My body fills with a comfort upon seeing a labyrinth. For those that have never walked one, know that it is not a maze. There are no wrong turns in a labyrinth. There’s a definitive starting point with just one path to follow — and that path is guaranteed to lead you to the center. If only life were so simple.
Instructions for “how” to walk a labyrinth vary. I tend to use the method I learned the first time I was introduced to these circular paths:
- I pause at the start to think of the question into which I’d like some insight.
- I walk the path at my own pace. If there are others walking the labyrinth, I pass them quietly or let them pass me.
- At the center, I pause. I spend as much time there as I’d like, reflecting, listening, then I follow the path back out.
- When finished, I like to turn around, face the labyrinth, and send up a prayer of thanks.
That morning, I stood between the two large stones standing sentinel over the entrance. I was having trouble coming up with a question, so I finally just asked, “What do you want to tell me?”
As I started my walk to the center, I thought about how I’d rather look at life as a labyrinth than a maze. A maze brings thoughts of frustration — at reaching dead ends, getting lost, not knowing which way to go. Mazes have high walls — so I can’t see where I’ve been, nor get a big picture view.
A labyrinth, however, gives me a sense of peace. Everything I encounter ultimately leads me toward the center. I can move forward, or pause. I can look out to see the big picture, or put my head down and focus on staying on the path. There is no pressure to find my way — the way is there for me, if I just look around. Sometimes I pass by places I’ve already been — seeing them from a different view. Sometimes the destination seems so close, but then a turn in the path takes me further from it, until I find myself — sometimes almost unexpectedly — at the center. There, I take the time to pause and reflect.
As I walked the labyrinth that day, the word “journey” kept coming to me. I thought about the journey I’d been on over the last year. A journey that took me from my home state of New York to the mountains of Western North Carolina to Italy and finally to Spain to walk the Camino to Santiago.
I realized that so many aspects of my life follow this labyrinthine path — my work life, my family life, my love life, my spiritual life. But many times I feel like I’m in a maze: frustrated with no idea where to go next, which path I should take.
Many of you followed me on my journey to Santiago. Now, I invite you to follow me on my continued spiritual journey — whatever that might mean. Some days it feels like a maze, other days like a labyrinth. I’ll share with you the stops I make along the way, beliefs I find myself considering, questions I ask, experiences I have, people I meet.
Come, join me.
Does your spiritual journey feel like a maze or a labyrinth? Or something else entirely?