The labyrinth can be a tool for working on relationships, and walking a labyrinth with other people can be a powerful way to understand how you relate to others.
I have been offering full-moon labyrinth walks on Maui for more than twenty years. Occasionally I hear people say, “I’ll come back to walk the labyrinth when there is no one else here.” I encouragingly respond, “By all means come back when no one else is here, but don’t miss the opportunity to walk with all these people!”
I often point out that it is easy to think we have mastered relationships at home with no one else there. Mastering relationships while in relationships is harder. It is easy to find peace and serenity in an otherwise empty labyrinth, but being able to access those qualities with thirty other pilgrims is an entirely different experience—and opportunity.
Ironically, walking the labyrinth with a crowd can seem like such a solitary process. You are focused on your footing, your thoughts, your breath, barely looking at others who may be walking the path as well. And yet, the opportunities to learn about relationship are ever present.
When I first introduced my husband to the labyrinth we walked in one right after the other. Soon we were on opposite sides of the labyrinth, seemingly going different directions. Then we were walking side by side, then again turning away from each other. I couldn’t help but notice how this reflected the cyclical nature of relationships. Sometimes we feel so close, going the same way, and at other times we feel like we are moving apart. In the labyrinth and in real life, when we seem to be drifting apart, there are steps we can take to bring ourselves back into closeness.
You also have an opportunity on the labyrinth to notice when your way of being, or your way of thinking, is actually harming your relationships rather than healing them. When you are walking out of the labyrinth from the center while another is walking in from the entrance, the two of you will end up encountering each other face to face at some point. This is a great moment for self-observation.
People typically think either that the new person did something wrong (like entering too soon and not respecting their presence) or that they did something wrong (like walking too slowly and taking too much time).
In actuality neither of you did anything wrong; the labyrinth is a two-way street with people coming and going on the same narrow path. How you react will quickly show you your tendency to be judgmental or to have self-doubt off the labyrinth. This awareness allows you to be more mindful of your immediate judgments and put them in check before spewing them on others or harming yourself.
When you remember you are walking to learn about yourself, not others, the lessons are endless—as are the opportunities to grow. Other people and the way they do things will provide you the chance to observe your own reactions and see if you can master a kinder, gentler way of thinking and interacting.
I had traveled thousands of miles to walk the Grace Cathedral Labyrinth in San Francisco and had invited friends to walk with me.
A tourist woman walked right across the labyrinth, right in front of me. I went into judgment. I thought, “Doesn’t she know what this is? She just walked across my spiritual path, blocking me.” When I reflected on the reality that I did not travel thousands of miles to practice being judgmental, I took a breath to let my judgments go. It was then that I realized that she was walking to the altar of the cathedral and that I, too, was right in the way of her spiritual path. Humbled, I silently offered my apologies, rather than my judgment.