Circling inward, eyes down, the sweeping lines of the labyrinth guide me. Though my mind wants to make sense of it, and plan ahead, I quiet it down. All I need is trust: follow the pattern, go with the flow.
My feet follow the spiral path which will lead me to the center and out again. I breathe deep, inspired.
The waves dance in and out on the beach beside me, whispering their song as they lap on the shore. The lines of the labyrinth ruffle the smooth beige sand, cool and damp beneath my feet. I rest in the center. Looking out on the vast ocean, wave upon wave into infinity – I enjoy the sense of my own smallness. The gentle breeze caresses my cheeks; the warmth of the sun soaks through my skin. I drink in the sounds of the seagulls wheeling overhead, my children filling buckets with sand, and far off a barking dog. But here I am, quietly centerd in the midst of the busy world. I feel myself fully rooted in the present moment, connected to the flow of life. For the first time all day my thoughts slow down to near stillness, I can feel myself breathing deep into my belly. I am here.
I begin my walk back out, held in a bubble of serenity. This is truly as sacred space which I created for myself, with nothing more than my finger and the beach.
The children, sensing my new-found calm, come running, wanting to be part of it. “Race you, race you!” they call to each other and charge along the labyrinth’s paths, until they have to slow down to manoeuvre the hairpin bends. They go slower now, more carefully, following the lines into the center, and out again. “Again, again!” they call as they race back in, eager as puppies.
They tire of it after about ten minutes. We retreat to our picnic blanket to eat sandwiches and cooling drinks. We watch as people come and go. We are amazed how few people actually see our spiral in the sand. Dogs charge over it, pulling their day-dreaming owners behind them. Friends deep in conversation do not notice as they stride right through the middle of it.
And then, as we are beginning to wonder if it is truly invisible, three children come walking with their grandfather. They notice it immediately and start asking him questions, begging to know more. What is it? Why is it there? Who made it? We smile secretly together, leaving them to discover its magic by themselves. We watch closely from our rug, as they wander around the outside for a moment, until they discover the entrance. It is almost as if they are sucked in by its mouth. They follow its paths, learning as they go. No instructions needed – it creates its own answers. The old man stands to one side, smiling. So do we. We are delighted to see the labyrinth weaving its magic spell on more folk.
As the day goes on, and the sun begins to sink in the sky, we pack our things to go. Buckets, spades, shoes and socks. We check to be sure we have left nothing behind us. Only the labyrinth remains. But even now, the tide is encroaching. Little by little our sacred spiral will be washed away, subsumed by the waves. The sand retuned to its natural smoothness. We will make one again another day.
A Brief History of Labyrinths
Labyrinths have been used around the world throughout history: by meditating monastics and laboring mothers, by artists and visionaries, pilgrims and teachers, to calm the mind and bring the body into flow.
They can be seen in sacred buildings and creative works from Peru, ancient Crete, medieval France, Native America and India. They are a symbol of our life’s journey: twisting and turning, the path unknowable, often misleading, yet the destination is always certain.
Unlike a maze, which is designed to confuse, and is laid out with many dead ends, a labyrinth has a single path which spirals in to the center and out again.
The journey into the center is symbolic of death and release, and the journey back out represents birth and rebirth. This twisting, spiralling in and out connects us to ourselves, to the earth and to each other. The labyrinth transports us to another realm of conscious awareness: occupying the rational, busy mind and the body, thereby allowing the subconscious to emerge.
A spiral is the simplest form of a labyrinth. Found throughout nature from a snail shell to the umbilical cord, our brain structure and even our DNA, this shape seems to hold a fascination, a body-wisdom that we can tap into by drawing and walking the pattern. You can make simple spirals out of shells or stones on the beach, or leaves, flowers, pinecones from the woods or garden.
Spirals can be used for contemplation, or more actively can be walked, or traced with a finger. You can walk them slowly and mindfully, a footstep for each breath, or, like a child, you can fly them – whizzing surefooted round the paths, arms stretched wide, pausing briefly, joyously in the center of your achievement, before zooming out.
A Family Tradition
Labyrinths have become a family tradition for us. My mother first became intrigued by them when I was a teenager, drawing them on the beach as we went for a walk. But because they were hers, they were embarrassing and I left her to her hobby.
It was when I was pregnant with my second child that labyrinths found me, through the work of Pam England, founder of Birthing From Within. I was training to be a childbirth mentor with her and she showed us how she used them in her classes, equating not only the twists and turns of labor with them, but also as a way of integrating the whole prenatal and postpartum period of several years, into the concept of childbirth preparation.
I began to draw them for myself, brightly colored pictures made with soft artists pastels and then started to make them with the women in my classes. They responded instinctively to them, choosing to take them away and put them on the wall of their birthing rooms to focus on during their labors. I did the same for the birth of my second child and found it a deeply calming and centering image to return to as the waves of contractions intensified.
This encouraged me to explore them further. And then, with the guidance of her book, Labyrinth of Birth, I started to create them from the earth. This was even more powerful. Labyrinths are very tactile, flowing, tangible physical and spiritual forms and there is something deeply grounding and satisfying about making them from earth or clay. When we create them in the earth, we engage our whole bodies in the process.
First I formed them out of clay, for gifts for friend’s mother blessings. Then I began to draw them on the beach, just like my mother before me. My children, then aged five and three, were intrigued. They watched, and then asked to join in, following, pausing, getting a sense of them.
I have often tried yoga and meditation with my children, but these practices are too slow for their fluid bodies and high energy. But labyrinths impart their wisdom through movement, pattern and physical engagement at a pace and in a way that young children can totally embody.
The next time we went to the beach they asked me to draw another labyrinth. Now every time we go to the beach or play with clay (which is at least a weekly occurrence, as my father is a potter and we live on the coast!) they demand a labyrinth. It has become what we do. They often draw their own versions themselves, they have become an easy, natural part of their spiritual and creative vocabulary.
The Labyrinth Seed – How to Create a Labyrinth
“This seed has been passed from person to person, from midwife to mother, from mother to daughter, from one culture to another, for four thousand years. Now it is being passed to you.” Pam England, Labyrinth of Birth
Theory, words and images are all very well. But now I invite you to experience it for yourself by creating your own labyrinth. So that you can weave your own magic pathways, and spiral into your own center. And then share it with your children and friends.
Though they look complicated, each labyrinth starts with a simple pattern known as a seed. Take time to make this, everything else will fall into place.
Labyrinths need to be made in complete mindfulness. If you presume for a moment that you can do something else at the same time, or you get distracted, that’s when you get in a muddle and join up the wrong lines. My children know not to disturb me by asking questions when I am creating a labyrinth, because every time they do, I make a mistake, and then they have to wait twice as long for it to be done.
I will share with you my favourite labyrinth, the five circuit labyrinth, it is simple for a beginner than the more common seven circuit labyrinth, and makes a pleasing whorl shape, reminiscent of a finger print.
Step by Step Instructions
Make sure you have a clear space – remove any seaweed or large rocks, smooth out any lines already there which might confuse you. Get a sense of the space and the direction you want it to face. I usually draw it facing the sea.
Take a stick or an old piece of seaweed stem, or even just your foot or finger (but this can make your back ache!) Just below the center of your space draw a large Y (about 1 ½ feet tall).
Then a generous footstep away (so that the paths are wide enough to walk), draw a wide V, echoing the shape of the Y. Do the same in the other two angles of the Y. Pointing the Vs towards the Y angles.
Then, another foot-length away, draw a large dot which, if you joined it up, would make the fourth corner of a square with the V.
Now take your stick and draw a path from the top dot to the right hand arm of the top V in an arc shape. This will be the center of your labyrinth.
Now join the left hand arm of that top V looping over in an arc, a foot width away, to the right hand arm of the Y. Can you see the pattern emerging?
So now you just keep doing this –taking the next part of the left hand side of the seed and arcing it over to join up to the right hand side. Keep the paths an even width. Be sure to remember the dots!
So the process goes: top dot to right hand arm of the top V , left hand arm of top V to right Y, Left hand arm of Y to top arm of right hand V, top arm of left hand V to right dot, left dot to bottom of right V, bottom arm of left V to foot of Y.
You can put a marker at the threshold (entrance) of the labyrinth, such as footprints or a threshold stone. You may also want to put a marker in the center.
I must warn you: labyrinths seem to have a strangely hypnotic effect! Whilst many people discovering them for the first time are fascinated and curious about them, others (myself included) are nonplussed, and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Until they do one!
Then, as they begin to engage with labyrinths, walk them, draw them, they find themselves pulled in, mesmerised by the patterns. Soon they are doodling spirals and noticing labyrinths everywhere!
Happy labyrinth making!
Lucy H Pearce is author of Moon Time: a guide to celebrating your menstrual cycle and Moods of Motherhood, her forthcoming book (November 2013) The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood explores the creative path of a mother. You can get a free taster e-book version on her blog: Dreaming Aloud. She is the founder of The Happy Womb, for empowering women’s resources. Contributing editor at JUNO magazine, Connect with Dreaming Aloud and The Happy Womb on Facebook. and Twitter.