curiosity ~ presence ~ creativity

opening the labyrinth

“No one belongs here more than you”

Miranda July

I went to pick Finn up from school the other day and had half an hour to spare.

I knew there was a labyrinth a couple of blocks away and decided to check it out, and maybe walk it, since I had a bit of time.

It’s a beautiful labyrinth, tucked away at the back of a little cottage.

This cottage is home to a spiritual book store. The labyrinth is laid out over a small yard with grey and white river stones, and is bounded by a low hedge with a gap at the entrance to the path.

At this entrance is a small sign. Here is my artistic rendering of the sign:

Here is my artistic rendering of a sad trombone:sad trombone napo


the first rule of labyrinths

I walk labyrinths. I like to paint, color, and study them as well. I also run labyrinth workshops, and my main goal in a workshop is to make labyrinths available to everyone.

Because labyrinths are fun.

And surprisingly easy to work with once you’ve got the general idea. They’re also a powerful way to centre yourself, get in touch with your intuition, and feel peace.

I like to help people work with labyrinths in a way that fits them. Some people want to walk them. Others might want to sit at the kitchen table to colour one in, or keep a finger labyrinth in their desk drawer.

Labyrinths come in many forms and sizes.

And they’re helpful, so why not make them accessible to everyone? Even children. Especially children.

Children instinctively know the first rule of labyrinths: “There’s no right way to walk a labyrinth.”

To them, a labyrinth isn’t a meditative space, or a spiritual tool. It’s a thing. They jump in and play with it, and maybe fun happens.

the quality of belonging

What really bugged me about that sign was the sense of exclusion.

We’ve all been excluded. And we all know being excluded doesn’t feel good.

Also, who gets to say what a meditative space is anyway? Every space is a meditative space if we bring a meditative mind to it.

I’ve struggled with a meditation practice for many years. Sometimes it’s strong and at other times it’s a mess, but when everything’s going well I always feel at least a small glimmer of belonging.

When preparing for a walk I have a private ritual of opening the labyrinth. I go around the outside and fill it up with intentions and qualities I’d like to be there for myself, or whoever is going to walk it.

I don’t know that I’ve ever put in the quality of belonging, but it will be a standard from now on.

children + meditation + space

My current labyrinth is painted on the driveway in acrylic paint. It’s a miniature seven-circuit replica of the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France. It’s painted in a very meditative shade of purple.

Finn and Fred ride their bikes all over it.

They also walk it, run it, scream it, blow bubbles across it, play soccer in it, and have treasure hunts in it.

When things are getting out of control, sometimes I’ll open up the door and invite them to walk the labyrinth. They’re usually happy to do it, and a couple of minutes is all it takes to settle them down. At least a bit.

When things are getting out of control, sometimes I’ll open the door and invite myself to walk the labyrinth. That helps too.

Often when I walk the labyrinth one, or both, of the boys will grab a leg and not let go. Or they’ll come flying at me on a tricycle. Sometimes they’ll push past then walk, or run, in front of me (because everything is a race).

Whenever this happens my meditative space falls to pieces, and I’m left walking around in circles with two gorgeous, funny, sometimes maddening, always miraculous and lovable boys. Which is kind of where I started anyway.

24 Responses to opening the labyrinth

  1. Bobbi Emel says:

    Beautiful, Dave. The last line of this post is brilliant and sums up the entire idea of beginning where you are and realizing you are always there.

    • Dave says:

      Hi Bobbi,

      That’s one of the things I love about labyrinths, they embody that idea of growth as a spiral, where we are continuously moving and changing and ending up where we started, but somehow different.

  2. Patti says:

    When we visited Virginia Beach this summer, we toured the Edgar Cayce A.R.E. Center. It had a large, beautiful stone labyrinth and we walked it in a quite meditative state. That was my first and so far, only experience with a labyrinth. I didn’t see any signs asking that children keep off … I think I would have felt the same way you did if there had been one.

    You have a lot of experience with labyrinths! I’ve never heard of a finger labyrinth … how would that work?

    • Dave says:

      Hi Patti,

      I looked up the Edgar Cayce Center, and there’s a short video about the labyrinth on their site. It looks beautiful!

      Finger labyrinths are often made out of wood and the pattern of a labyrinth is carved into them, and you run your fingers along the groove. I’ve used drawings the same way, and some people make them out of fabric, too. They are great to work with.

  3. Love this Dave! I think people all too easily get obsessed with creating all sorts of rules and boundaries around their ‘meditative’ or ‘spiritual’ space. But what could be more representative of life, of joy , of spirit than the exuberance of children?
    Easy for me to say of course, now that mine are grown…

    I admire your patience, your willingness to just be with what is. Walking the labyrinth with a little one dragging on your leg. This post reminds me to open up the labyrinth in my heart!

    Fun ‘sad trombone’ drawing too..:-)

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Sarah,

      I’ve been in meditation groups with strict rules and boundaries, and they can be great for holding the space to practice in. But when people are inflexible with those rules it can also alienate people. I’ve seen that happen and I have a problem with that.

      I’m not always feeling patient when the boys grab my leg :) but I’ve learned to just drop my walk at that point, or at least any notion that it’s going to be ‘meditative’ (that is such an odd word to me). I can always walk later.

  4. Kim Thirion says:

    Feeling excluded is a horrible feeling and one I know well. That said, as a step-mom of a 6 & 7 year old, for me, children and meditation don’t go well together. In fact, children are the primary source of my NEED to meditate.

    Of course, I get that everyone is different. Everyone is supposed to be different.

    I’ve never had the experience of a labyrinth and not entirely sure what they are in this sense. But they sound lovely.

  5. Dave says:

    Hi Kim,

    You make a really good point, having boundaries is super important if you are to have any hope of maintaining a meditation practice. Being a parent is hard, and it’s also one of my main motivations for wanting to meditate, or walk the labyrinth.

    My problem with the sign is that it was an example of harsh and unskillful boundary setting, especially in relation to a labyrinth walk, as opposed to a meditation hall.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, responding to your concerns helped clarify things for me too.

  6. Nora Amala says:

    Aaahhh – I love your post although I would enjoy more the labyrinth would be really open. This closing-approach is so sad – I believe that there are always easy ways to integrate and combine – which will enrich everyone. Is it neccessary to mention, that our labyrinth was open (but kind of hidden)? :)

    • Dave says:

      Hi Nora,

      “Ways to integrate and combine. ” is a lovely way to put it. I like that your labyrinth was kind of hidden, there’s something mysterious and playful about that.


  7. Chris Edgar says:

    Yes, the sign excluding children was kind of surprising for me to hear about — after all, even if we do consider children to be disruptive of our calm (and I don’t see them that way), isn’t meditation about retaining our centeredness even in the face of things that we think of as disruptive?

    • Dave says:

      Hi Chris,

      I don’t see children as inherently disruptive either, but my boys certainly disrupt my calm on a regular basis :) That’s why meditation or labyrinth walking can be so helpful in retaining centeredness in the face of disruption, as you say. I have a sitting meditation practice too, and usually schedule it after the boys bedtime. So I totally get the desire to have a child free meditation space. That sign was just so absolute, that’s what bugged me about it.

  8. Jodi Chapman says:

    Hi Dave,
    I love what you said about bringing a meditative mind to our space. And this can happen wherever we are – since we’ll always be there. :) It comes back to us and to our choice of how we’re going to be – what we’re choosing to focus on. I love that you have your own labyrinth – fitting mindfulness into your own life – kids and all!

    • Dave says:

      Hello Jodi,

      I’m glad this resonated with you. I really liked what you said here: ” It comes back to us and to our choice of how we’re going to be – what we’re choosing to focus on.” that’s so well stated, thank you for your thoughts, Jodi.

  9. I seem to be the only one who’s not getting the multiple contexts of a labyrinth. And I don’t think Wikipedia’s explanation is going to match your definition Dave. Do you have a definition of a labyrinth you wrote about and can link to for somewhere who’s dense?

    By the way, these words of yours went into my spreadsheet where I keep track of all the words of wisdom I encounter:

    “Who gets to say what a meditative space is anyway? Every space is a meditative space if we bring a meditative mind to it.”

    Powerful stuff.

    • Dave says:

      Hey Joel,

      I talk about labyrinths a lot and reading your comment made me realize that I’ve NEVER done an introductory post explaining what labyrinths are. Whaat?

      Here’s a really quick intro: A labyrinth is a spiral-like pattern that has a single path from the entrance to the centre. It is often confused with a maze, but has a completely different purpose. A maze is designed to trick people into getting lost, while a labyrinth works to centre and focus the walker through lulling the analytical side of the mind and opening up the more intuitive side.

      I am already making notes for an full introductory post. Thank you so much for alerting me to my enormous blind spot here!


  10. Kristin says:

    Yeah, great post! I would be hearing the sad trombones as well, that sounds ridiculous. We went to a great labyrinth this summer at Lonnie’s dad’s Episcopal church in Ashland, OR. Whole family had fun, kids loved it and were very welcome.

    Nice to find your blog!

    • Dave says:

      Hi Kristin!

      So great to see you here :) I hear there are about a million labyrinths in Oregon, and yes–labyrinths + kids is a perfect mix!


  11. Amit Amin says:

    I second Joel. The subtext is lost on me :(

    I can sympathize with whoever wrote the sign. Back when I lived in san fransisco, there use to be this amazing hill which overlooked the city. There was this unwritten rule that you keep quiet and let others relax. Whenever someone brought up kids, you could feel the calm of the space getting destroyed.

    But I suppose we adults never had the right to claim that space as our own. And if we were true monks, a meditative mind could conquer the craziness of children.

    Sadly, I am no true monk. Like you, I’ve struggled with my practice over the years.

    • Dave says:

      Hi Amit,

      No true monk here, either :)

      San Francisco is actually the epicentre of the modern labyrinth revival.

      I can sympathize with the people who wrote the sign, too.

      I actually went back yesterday and introduced myself, they are very nice people and they were happy to let me walk their labyrinth.

  12. Hi Dave,

    As a yoga retreat, we walked a labyrinth at night. It was such a beautiful experience, just the quiet pacing, one behind another. I can see your point about excluding children. It is to be enjoyed by all, especially when it is in a public place. Love your drawings, especially the sad trombone! Take care.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Cathy,

      That’s so beautiful, a group labyrinth walk at night. It must have been a wonderful experience after opening up through a day of yoga practice, too.

  13. […] labyrinth on the beach is a great idea and kids + labyrinths are always a wonderful   combination. But it’s not like I need to make a labyrinth in order to […]

Leave a Reply