June: Square eyes and labyrinths
Updated: Jul 15
Very late with writing the blog this month. Is the last day of the month cutting it too fine? Perhaps, but I felt the need for a bit a break from pounding the keyboard after writing more than usual during May, the result of which you can view here (which links to an article I wrote for the counselling-directory website). And I don’t know about you, but since work and social matters are still unfolding online, I feel like I’ve developed some seriously square eyes.
What I’ve been enjoying most however, is how convenient modern technology can make life. The advantage of having the internet at your fingertips has been a blessing while juggling work from home and family life. That said, I am becoming increasingly aware of IT inequalities lately. There are of course many people who find themselves still house bound, but without the technology or resources to communicate online. So, lest we not forget, that what is convenient and familiar for some, may well be alien and inaccessible for others. The sad reality is, there are some whose circumstances place them at greater risk of suffering as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. A thought this Extinction Rebellion image demonstrates well.
While I’ve been trying to find a balance between my screen time and natural light and surroundings this June, I’m also keen to practice gratitude for life’s small blessings. This reminded me of walking my first Labyrinth as part of a gratitude practice in 2018. I was at the Small Earth Conference at Snape Maltings, attending a workshop with Dr Kim Brown, who had spent a number of years researching the many different ways nature impacts on human wellbeing through the senses. The conference was for therapists and others interested in bringing ecological understanding and appreciation closer to the heart of their work. During the workshop, I was introduced to an intriguing brief history on labyrinths. I was fascinated by the thought that no one actually knows the true origins of the labyrinth, yet they have appeared throughout the world, throughout human history, often in locations associated with healing. Some of the earliest known labyrinths were associated with places for the shadow self to dwell, where evil spirits were trapped and/or confronted such as the Minotaur in Greek mythology. Medieval labyrinths however, represented a path to god, while more modern labyrinths are used for contemplation and to quieten the mind.
Kim discussed using the labyrinth structure as a path to engage the body with the mind. The labyrinth, in all its geometric splendour, is a masterful tool for engaging both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, owing to the unicursal nature of the path. The practice of walking the labyrinth path is therefore known to induce a sense of equilibrium and can be used in meditation or as a tool for mindfulness. The gratitude practice I engaged in involved entering the labyrinth in contemplation of what you are grateful for, arriving at the centre of the labyrinth to give thanks for these things, and make offerings if so inclined, before leaving the labyrinth with a more focused, gracious mind. What I liked about the labyrinth model was how it could be adapted for personal use based on one’s own needs. For example, the basic principles of the model are to begin with an inward journey, moving towards the central space, or metaphorically speaking: towards the heart of any matter you wish to address. This provides opportunity to separate out aspects of the matter that are not relevant, enabling you to contemplate the matter in the central space, and to hold whatever is arising before taking the outward journey. The opportunity to examine any possible solutions on the outward journey and emerge from the process gives rise to a sense of wholeness or completion that could be particularly helpful for clients, or indeed therapists. The sensory experience of movement and introspective aspects of walking a labyrinth, integrate both the mind and body which may also be helpful in trauma recovery.
It is important to note that a labyrinth differs from a maze, in which there are branching pathways which can easily lead the participant to getting lost. The unbroken path of the labyrinth, which prevents a wrong turning and leads you neatly to the centre, then guides you back out again along the same path. While the meaning of the labyrinth appears to have changed over time, the general principles for its construction remain the same, involving one single circuitous path, that winds in direction back and forth on itself toward a core space, before repeating the process toward the one point exit/entrance.
So, if that has interested you, and you would like to construct your own labyrinth to walk or practice in some way, then here is a short video I made on how to draw a basic labyrinth structure. Once you’ve nailed this, you can try creating a larger scale labyrinth outdoors, using birdseed perhaps, or drawing one in the sand big enough to walk.