Throughout the world there are religions that celebrate the arrival of spring as a time of renewal. It is easy to understand why this season inspires awe in our spirits: In places where there are four distinct seasons, spring is the time when the world seems to burst into green, life and light after months of white, cold and dark.
The earth, seen variously as being asleep or dead, reawakens or is reborn so that all the colors and energy that had been muted for so long explode in a frenzy of activity and growth.
Whether it be the celebration of Navaratri, Easter, Passover, Lichun, Noruz or Ostara, festivals abound as Light conquers Dark, a metaphor that has not been lost on peoples around the world for several millennia.
Although traditions will attach mythological or historical narratives to these concepts (e.g. Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension), they still ultimately come from a celebration of life erupting victoriously out of death.
And yet the cycle of life goes on. Spring, the infancy of the year in most cultures, is followed by a period of strength in summer, maturity in autumn and death in winter. This process is mirrored in ourselves, both physically and spiritually. We go through ups and downs, many times as a result of the time of year (which has been shown to directly affect depression and euphoria).
With this in mind, there is a spiritual practice appropriate to this particular time of year that can also have benefits throughout the calendar: walking the labyrinth.
Ambling through a labyrinth has been a spiritual practice for thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks immortalized Theseus’ adventures with the Minotaur, recording the story in festivals and art work. The entire palace at Knossos in Crete (thought to be the origin of the myth itself), was built with labyrinths at the core of the design.
Cathedrals have used them as decorative motifs inside their naves, as well as outside in their gardens, so that the penitent might walk along a cleansing path.
It is important to understand that labyrinths are not mazes. They are unicoursal, meaning that they have only one route in and out. It is therefore not truly possible to be lost in a labyrinth. There is only one destination. Mazes, however, are full of wandering dead ends and can yield a multitude of errant solutions.
Labyrinths, although twisted and convoluted, are not traps, and in that way they convey a different philosophy or attitude about the course of our lives. They are a physical manifestation of spiritual balance.
The path through a labyrinth is fascinating. Just as you come to the destination (usually mere moments upon first entering), you are forced to take an extended and protracted route around the obvious center in order to approach it from a slightly different angle after many turns that come with varying intervals of frequency and acuteness.
This is one of the immediate lessons of the labyrinth: Nothing worth doing is achieved immediately, and throughout the journey of your life you will have to wander at times, yet you will still ultimately come to your destination (even though it requires many seemingly confusing changes in direction or perspective).
Just remember: You cannot get lost in the labyrinth. Trust the voyage and allow it to give you time to meditate. You will enter as one person, but your progression will give you time to grow so that when you exit you will be reborn as someone more endowed than the one who started the passage.
Although dizzying, just like life itself, the expanding and contracting rhythms of the layers of folded turns are also soothing and comforting. They have an almost perfectly symmetrical structure, giving their apparent confusion a beautiful order.
Before entering, reflect for a moment upon that which is causing you confusion, frustration or duress. Labyrinths that follow the “classical” form are generally seven or 11 layers of folds divided into quadrants. They can be used to invoke a very structured form of meditation.
While traversing the first quadrant think directly about your challenge. Try to identify in clear terms why it requires your attention. In the second quadrant identify the sources of your conflict. In the third quadrant identify solutions. While you follow the fourth quadrant narrow down your options. Upon arriving at the center, pause and form your initial conclusions.
While retracing the fourth quadrant take the time to consider the validity of your impressions. In the third quadrant select your probable course of action. Through the second quadrant consider the consequences of your choices. On your way out of the first quadrant refine your conclusion. As you exit take a moment to appreciate the journey.
Of course, it can also be enormously satisfying to simply let thoughts and impressions flood through one’s mind, channeling the images into a wandering daydream that provides insights gradually or at a later time.
The peaceful strolling connects the traveler not only to the physical reality of the journey, but also to the metaphysical enlightenment that comes from a meditative consideration of the process of growth.
In the end, however you prefer to experience the labyrinth, you will come out reborn as a more enlightened person than the individual who went in.
Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and a national certification in personal fitness training through NASM.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness spirituality, green living and medical wellness.