Thursday, August 29, 2013

Labyrinth: In Labor and In Life

A Labyrinth Journey Unfolding


About three years after the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress recreated the famous Chartres Labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, Pam England’s book, Birthing from Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation, was published.  

As a midwife, and mother, Pam saw a connection between the labyrinth and the journey of birth. 

The labyrinth is an ancient symbol representing our journey through life, ordeals and transitions. Its single, convoluted pathway begins at the opening, leads directly to the center, and out again. Walking or finger-tracing a labyrinth invokes a sensation of turning inward, then outward, perhaps reminding us of our first journey from our mother's body into the world.
-- Pam England, Birthing From Within

What is a labyrinth? 

Labyrinths are ancient patterns found all over the world. They are of many types sharing a single overall design. Their origin is as mysterious and their uses are as varied as their patterns.        

Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks, used by modern mystics to help achieve a contemplative state. Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind.  In addition, the labyrinth can serve as a metaphor for situations that are difficult to be extricated from. --Wikipedia

Pam’s experience in using the labyrinth as a tool to teach parents to prepare for the journey of labor led her to further expand the meaning of this ancient tool.

Labyrinth at La Casa De Maria, Santa Barbara, CA

A woman's psychic and physical journey from maidenhood-to-motherhood during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum, is surely labyrinthine.  Parents experienced in birth, without exception, enthusiastically confirm that their internal experience of labor and postpartum was exactly like moving through a labyrinth. Encouraged by the lively dialogues that accompanied making labyrinths in class, I began to add two important symbols to the labyrinth drawing: the Threshold and Footprints (symbols that are described in the book). Years ago, we began referring to this unique labyrinth as a Laborinth (TM).         --Pam England, BFW

It was in the late 90’s when the labyrinth first came to my consciousness.  A good friend of mine, a mentor and soul-sister, was working toward her Master’s in counseling and told me about the work of Lauren Artress who was key in bringing this ancient tool to modern culture.  With a goal of “peppering the world” with labyrinths, Lauren offered this explanation to modern contemplatives:

 The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center.  There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.  -Veriditas website, About the Labyrinth  

Outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA

 My journey with the labyrinth began in San Francisco, CA, at Grace Cathedral (the very church where Lauren brought the first modern labyrinth to contemporary culture).  That same friend who had piqued my interest in this tool, invited me to accompany her on an overnight  women’s retreat that was to be held “in” Grace Cathedral.

Without a doubt, this profound “first walk” imprinted the labyrinth on my psyche.

The unusual opportunity to “sleep” in a cathedral is mind-blowing it itself.  Sleep in the cathedral?  Add to that, a retreat program that introduced into my consciousness the history, legends, and new meanings emerging from this spiritual tool; without a doubt, this profound “first walk” imprinted the labyrinth on my psyche.

Upon returning home, it became my goal to learn more about labyrinths and to seek out local opportunities to walk the labyrinth.  A private labyrinth on a woman’s property in Corona; a small labyrinth at a local Episcopal church; a canvas version brought to my own parish--each opportunity to walk the labyrinth increased my interest and drew me toward this ancient path.  

In 2001, through the collaborative genius of Sr. Joan Marie Sasse (and the generosity of a team of volunteers and donors), the mother-of-all-local-labyrinths was born at the Benedictine Monastery in Grand Terrace, CA -- a mere eight miles from my house.

Benedictine Labyrinth in Grand Terrace, CA

Fast forward to 2009 when I attended a Birthing From Within workshop.  A shift occurred (within) as I  "drew" a labyrinth for the first time.  As the workshop progressed, I was introduced to concepts that initiated a broad expansion of my experience of the labyrinth journey.  

The labyrinth, as it turns out, is a brilliant metaphor for the process of birth.

Drawing the labyrinth, and bringing my life to the drawing through my pastels, brought a new turn in my labyrinth journey.  In time, my understanding of this tool expanded as I gained insight on parallels of the labyrinth path to the journey through birth.  During birth, just when you think you are nearly there, labor can stall.  At times, you read the signs in labor as an indication that the labor will be quite long, only to find that birth is imminent. The labyrinth, as it turns out, is a brilliant metaphor for the process of birth.

Mothers experience labor as a labyrinth, a LabOrinth.  “Ready” or not, with the first contraction, or when the water breaks, they are catapulted across an invisible, but felt, threshold. Once in labor or in the labyrinth, steady progress is made by taking one step at a time until the Center is reached. The Center represents the birth of the child, the birth of the mother, the birth of the family. -Pam England, Birthing From Within

Dad and Olivia in Grand Terrace where she had her prenatal labyrinth walk.
Mom introduces Olivia to the Labyrinth angel

As a Birthing From Within mentor, I now lead parents in drawing their own labyrinths as a preparation for labor and birth.  As a part of the class, I will sometimes take them to a nearby labyrinth to experience their art process in their bodies as they physically walk the labyrinth.  For some parents, the labyrinth walk speaks strongly to their birth journey and they return to the labyrinth with their baby to reflect on their dream that is now manifest.  For some, the labyrinth is a part of class they do not want to leave behind.

As a result of Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress’s dedication, and many who bought into her dream, labyrinths are available in many locations across the U.S. and throughout the world.

Labyrinths are currently being used world-wide as a way to quiet the mind, recover a balance in life, and encourage meditation, insight, self-reflection,stress reduction, and to discover innovation and celebration. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural blueprint for well-being. The practice of labyrinth walking integrates the body with the mind and the mind with the spirit. They can be found in medical centers, parks, churches, schools, prisons, memorial parks, spas, cathedrals and retreat centers as well as in people's backyards.  -Veriditas website, About the Labyrinth 

. . . and they are found in Birthing From Within classes.   

As I continue my journey as a BFW Mentor, my path of learning goes toward the center . .  . and then away . . . towards the center again . . .and then away from the center.  Through this process I am learning patience on my mentor journey - and in my journey through life - with my old friend, the labyrinth.

Today's blog was brought to you by Kathie Neff, CD(DONA), Owner of Seasons Within Doula Group & Birth Services  

DoulaTales. Real people. Real challenges. Real joy. Join us.

To find a labyrinth near you, visit:

Links to the quotes utilized in this article are:

Veriditas, About the Labyrinth: