Discover the Healing Power of Labyrinths

Following the meandering path of a labyrinth is a form of moving meditation that clears mental clutter and brings balance.

Some people clear their heads by running. Others practice yoga, hike to a mountaintop, or walk in silence. A labyrinth is another form of moving meditation, spiraling its participants toward its center and back out again. The non-branching path, while meandering, is singular. Where a maze confounds, a labyrinth clarifies.

Photo by Getty Images/Frank Baker

Labyrinths and mazes are often referred to interchangeably, but nowadays, “labyrinth” typically means a design with one path that moves from the outer edge to the center and back out again; and “maze” refers to a design with many confusing paths, dead ends, and often distinct entrances and exits. In Greek mythology, the labyrinth that Daedalus built to house the Minotaur was actually a maze — otherwise, Theseus wouldn’t have needed the thread from Ariadne to find his way back out of it. And Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth wasn’t about a labyrinth at all, but instead featured a maze for its heroine to navigate.

Labyrinth patterns appear in ancient petroglyphs, basket-weaving designs, and drawings, as well as in hedge patterns throughout England and Greece. In the Middle Ages, particularly after Muslim forces recaptured Jerusalem from Christian control, labyrinths may have offered a spiritual path for pilgrims no longer able to travel to the city itself. Ancient labyrinth designs also appear in Indian cave art and manuscripts; there are stone labyrinths near the White Sea in northwest Russia that may be as many as 3,000 years old; and I’itoi, the creator god of the O’odham people of the Sonoran Desert in North America, is often depicted as a figure standing at the entrance of a labyrinthine pattern.

Walking these circling pathways is said to bring great joy and inner peace, particularly to those in times of grief or confusion. And while complex inlaid-tile labyrinths are certainly beautiful, you can make your own backyard labyrinth out of just about anything: plants, a mowed pattern in grass, paint on a tarp. Even a miniature labyrinth on a piece of paper, traced with a finger, can offer the calming benefits of a larger labyrinth.

Healing Hearts Through Labyrinths

Trying times require thoughtful, creative ways to embrace and connect within and without — with ourselves and with our communities — to heal.

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