Tara Bennett-Goleman shares a personal story of how the ancient practice of labyrinth walking offered her a way to open her mind and leave her cares and thoughts behind.

In a small town in the Berkshire Mountains I came across a large field surrounded by woods that holds a meticulously designed labyrinth, a smaller version of the famous one at Chartres Cathedral. This maze of stone walkways adorned with floral plantings invites you to embark on a mini-pilgrimage, a timeless, leisurely stroll.

Near the entrance a plaque encourages you to leave your thoughts behind as you enter, and be open to what you experience as you meander its turns and twists.

At the entrance itself you walk under a freestanding arbor gateway. As I walked toward that arbor I recalled the torii gates—gracefully curved archways you pass through to enter a Japanese temple or tea garden—I saw while visiting the temple gardens of Kyoto. They stand as symbolic reminders of leaving behind the ordinary and stepping into the extraordinary.

“Great,” I thought. “This is a helpful reminder to bring to any experience. I’ll give it a try,” and stepped under the labyrinth’s gateway, resolving to leave behind my interpretive thoughts or any judgments about the experience I was about to set foot on…or so I thought.

I stepped into this mysterious path to unfamiliar territory with an open mind, and marveled at the beauty of the cascading plantings that adorned carefully placed stones aligning the pathway, delighting in this experience.

But then my gaze strayed further ahead on down the path, which wound around and about in a confusing maze.

As I did, the thought occurred to me, “I feel a bit trapped in this lovely maze.” I couldn’t help but wonder what was ahead, and how long it would take me to wind through this matrix.

No wonder. A labyrinth’s very design triggers that wonderment, taking you to and fro, so you walk long ways without seeming to get any closer to the goal. Just to walk one creates a journey that, like life itself, takes you here and there on your way to awakening.

My thoughts wandered back to the plaque at the entrance with its reminder to leave your thoughts behind and be open to this experience.

My likes and dislikes settled into the dust beneath my feet as I found myself being mindfully present while walking—without hurrying to some destination—and relaxed into the bare sense of gliding through the maze, appreciating it just as it was. Thoughts and feelings came and went, and the labyrinth gently unfolded before me.

The late afternoon sun played on the massive oaks surrounding the ancient pathway, as the soft light of dusk softly illumined the space between the branches, shadows dappling the stone walkway, softening the edges of my attitudes, inviting me into the present. With nowhere to go, no one to be, untangled from the mazes of mind that construct labyrinths within, I felt freed.

Our thoughts can be a mere passing show in the mind, or become the core beliefs that solidify into our negative habits, claustrophobic inner spaces that hold us tight simply because we fail to see any way out.

As Bob Marley sings in his song Redemption, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our mind.”


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