At Grace Cathedral on California Street in San Francisco, scholar Lauren Artress oversaw the installation of not one but two labyrinths. Sue Patton Thoele, author of The Woman’s Book of Soul, invited me to go there one fine day a few years ago. I remember squeezing it into my schedule, feeling hurried, and hoping it would not take more than half an hour or so. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I know I am not the only busy life-juggler who has found herself surprised by the Sacred. When we got there, a magnificent stillness presided over the entire cathedral. We chose the indoor labyrinth instead of the outdoor one, as there was a distinct chill in the foggy air that day. We read the simple instructions and, as told, removed our shoes to tread the path in bare or stocking feet. For my part, I had already begun to calm down, thanks to the peaceful atmosphere. As I walked in the light of the stained glass shadows, my schedule started to seem petty. Suddenly it seemed as if I could give this just a little more time.

 

Sue, an experienced labyrinth walker, had gone ahead and seemed to be in a reverie, as did the tourists, students, and random folks who populated the nave. I checked the instructions again just to make sure I performed my barefoot ritual “correctly.”

 

As I began, thoughts skittered through my head, and I had to struggle to focus and be in the now. With no small amount of effort, I was able to have an authentic experience. As I walked the winding path, a replica of the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral, I felt a growing excitement. This was meaningful; perhaps there was hope even for me and my over-busy “monkey mind.” My breathing relaxed and I had a growing sense that I was going somewhere. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I looked up at the soaring high ceiling of Grace Cathedral. At that exact moment, the sun struck a stained glass window and a golden shaft of light shone directly upon me. I was mystified, and a beaming Sue, having completed her walk, noticed what was happening to me. I studied the window to see if there was any kind of symbol from which to draw further meaning. To my astonishment, the sun had lit up a window that contained the medieval tableau of a sword in a rock. As a lapsed medieval scholar, I immediately recognized Excalibur of the famous Arthurian legend. Tears came into my eyes, and I realized this was a message. I had often felt a bit guilty for not completing my master’s degree in medieval studies. At that moment, I knew I had to complete that quest. One of my specializations was the Arthurian saga, and here, in no uncertain terms, Arthur’s sword had spoken to me as I stood in the center of the labyrinth. Exhilarated, I retraced my steps, and returned as I entered, brimming with joy. Now, I truly understand what it means to be “illuminated.”

 

Walking Meditation—How to Walk the Labyrinth

 

The labyrinth represented wholeness to the ancients, combining the circle and the spiral in one archetypal image. The labyrinth is unicursal, meaning there is only one path, both in and out. Put simply, it is a journey into the self, into your own center, and back into the world again. As a prayer and meditation tool, labyrinths are peerless; they awaken intuition.

 

Do your best to relax before you enter. Deep breaths will help a great deal. If you have a specific question in mind, think it or whisper it to yourself. You will meet others on the pilgrim’s path as you are walking; simply step aside and let them continue on their journey as you do the same. The three stages of the labyrinth walk are as follows:

 

Purgation: Here is where you free your mind of all worldly concerns. It is a release, a letting go. Still your mind and open your heart. Shed worries and emotion as you step out on the path.

 

Illumination: When you have come to the center, you are in the place of illumination. Here, you should stay as long as you feel the need to pray and meditate. In this quiet center, the heart of the labyrinth, you will receive messages from the Divine or from your own higher power. Illumination can also come from deep inside yourself.

 

Union: This last phase is where you will experience union with the divine. Lauren Artress says that as you “walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul requires.”

 

Use the rituals in this chapter to become one with yourself and find peace within. May you use this learned tranquility to better participate in other rituals that focus on important aspects of your life.