Pilgrimages are popular again today. Perhaps not as popular as they were in Europe during the Middle Ages, but a walk such as the Camino Way through France and Spain, attracts thousands of walkers each year. While there must be something very satisfying when these walkers reach the great cathedral of St. James Compostela, the real experience seems to have been the walk itself; the people met along the way, the hostels at the end of the day, the countryside, the camaraderie, the silence, the blisters on the feet. There are glorious moments and there is the sheer, hard slog of the journey.
It’s the achievement of having arrived at the destination but also of what they discover about themselves along the way; about tolerance and endurance and their own human weaknesses.
It would have been the same for the Christian pilgrims in the 12th and 13th centuries who followed the paths and roads to the great cathedrals of Europe. Those who arrived at the cathedral of Chartres near Paris were said to have entered by the great West door and walked the labyrinth that was built into the floor, before they moved into the nave of the church and marvelled at the beauty of the towering arches and stained-glass windows.
Walking the winding path of the Labyrinth gave them time to pause, to gather themselves after the constant movement of the road and all that had happened to them along the road. It gave them time to re-collect themselves before they moved into another space, another dimension.
When we walk the labyrinth today, whether in a building or out in the woodland or a park, we will often find ourselves consciously shedding anxieties and preoccupations as we follow a narrow path that winds and circles in a bewildering way, but always takes the walker to the centre, the heart of the labyrinth.
Some have spoken of their experience of a distracted mind settling into a calm rhythm; of the feeling of irritation towards other walkers transformed into an unexpected feeling of warmth and companionship. ‘We’re all on the journey together.’
When the walker reaches the centre of the labyrinth, there is a pause. There is time to be still and to enter into the stillness and quiet of the heart; to take a few deep breaths and, if outdoors, to listen to the breathing of creation and find ourselves breathing with it.
Like the pilgrim, the walker then moves into the return journey. The way out of the circle is a mirror image of the way in but the traveller walks with a new energy carrying that moment of stillness and listening and the knowledge that there is a vibrant stillness within each of us.
The next time you stand at the entrance to a labyrinth, recall the importance of walking on the earth. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, encourages each of us to walk mindfully, not just concentrating on the destination but imagining that, with each footprint we are impressing peace on the earth.
You can join us on a Labyrinth Walk Day at Barragup. April 17th.
Enquiries. Kathy Fenner.0401090159 | Barbara Stapleton.0438525527