By Paul Edwards (Fr. Paul)
WALKING THE VIRTUAL CHARTRES LABYRINTH
A path to the Presence of God within
Father Paul D. Edwards
Author of "THE SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE HANDBOOK"
The use of the word "virtual" is from its traditional definition of "existing or resulting in effect or essence though not in actual fact, form, or name," as opposed to its more contemporary association with digital environments which should be classified as "computer based".
DEDICATION: This manual is dedicated to all labyrinth lovers that they may discover the secret.........we can take it with us!
PREFACE: For more information see the video on U tube: Introduction to the virtual labyrinth.
WALKING A VIRTUAL LABYRINTH FOR THE FIRST TIME
This is the very first time that the concept of walking a virtual labyrinth has ever been taught in the history of the Christian Church, as far as we know. If you know of anyone who has ever taught others how to walk a virtual labyrinth, please share it with us.
INTRODUCTION: Twenty years ago I walked the Chartres labyrinth for the first time at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. The concept was intriguing, the experience was spiritually moving, the potential was beyond my imagination. I brought back the diagram to our congregation. Emmanuel Episcopal Church, as a church in the round, was very adaptable to a labyrinth. We set one up in the church for Lent. People were moved by it. However, it was time consuming to set it up each time we used it.
Most who have walked a labyrinth have found it rewarding. Because of busy lives, many go back to it only occasionally.
In the summer of 2003 I began to prepare for a monthly workshop to be held that Fall. I began to wonder if it would be possible to put a labyrinth on a wall which people could follow. It would save money, time and space. After studying labyrinth designs, the idea of the "labyrinth shuffle" suddenly appeared. The shuffle is a segment of a labyrinth that is repeated in various ways. The next step in my development of this workshop was coming up with the idea of a virtual labyrinth, one which individuals could take with them to use anytime, anyplace, and under any conditio0ns
I found that the virtual labyrinth is different from a stationary one, but it does not really make a difference. It is not a matter of which one is better, stationary or virtual. It is a matter of "both and" rather than "either or". There are some things which we can learn from each one. There are others things that are similar for both.
As I began to work with the labyrinth, I realized how difficult it was to pass on this idea of a virtual labyrinth to others. It was Providence that I met Pat Vanderveen at that time. His background of years of spiritual journeying allowed him to lock into the concept. He had the time, interest, and understanding to listen and question. We were able to talk, work, and pray together. Most importantly, he began walking the virtual labyrinth and sharing his insights. He found walking the virtual labyrinth added to his centering prayer experience. He and I spent hours working with the vision.
This article is about learning how to access the Presence of God which is within all of us. The labyrinth is the most powerful spiritual exercise that I know of which enables a person to access the Presence. If you have questions these classes, you can email me at paulnanita@sbcglpbalnet.
LEARNING TO WALK A VIRTUAL LABYRINTH
Learn to walk the labyrinth. Take it home with you.
SPIRITUAL THINKING: The purpose of the virtual labyrinth exercise is to learn to walk it daily. It needs to be walked daily to discover the insightful power that the labyrinth has to deal with issues that need understanding. We form habits after twenty one days of repetition. Repetition is the best way spiritual understanding occurs. Walk the labyrinth each day for a month. See how your life will change. The exercise will have a synergistic effect greater than the sum total of each daily walk. The dictionary defines the theological definition of synergism is the doctrine that the human will cooperates with divine grace in effecting regeneration.
THE STATIONARY LABYRINTH: The problem with most labyrinths is that they are stationary and requires valuable space. You can buy canvas labyrinths at a cost from $2,000 to $7,000. The canvas ones require set up time and storage space. Their use is limited to the space available in a parish hall or other appropriate place. Some therapists and clergy have suggested people make their own labyrinth at home so that they can use it more regularly. Few are able to afford the luxury of having one in their own home for daily use.
What would it take to have a permanent one in your back yard? It would cost more than $50,000 for it to be built professionally. You might want to purchase a canvas one; you could set up at your leisure. It would however take up a large piece of your yard, require storage space and set up time, and cost $2,000 to $5,000.
YOUR OWN LABYRINTH: Would you like to have a labyrinth in your own back yard, perhaps even in your living room? Would you like to have a portable one that you could use any time, in any place, and under any conditions? One that would not take up much room, cost anything, and take any time to set up? One that would be a convenience rather than an inconvenience?
Well, the good news is, you can have your own personal labyrinth for both private and community use. One that you can share with others, or use for your own personal meditations. One that will cost you nothing, except some exciting time, that will take up no external space, can be used any time, in any place and under any circumstance. It is a "Virtual Labyrinth".
VIRTUAL.....The use of the word "virtual" is from its traditional definition of "existing or resulting in effect or essence though not in actual fact, form, or name," as opposed to its more contemporary association with digital environments which should be classified as "computer based".
VIRTUES OF A VIRTUAL LABYRINTH: The virtual labyrinth has the potential to give the same experience as a stationary labyrinth. But just because it is the same experience, don't expect it to be exactly the same. As a friend of mine has said, "Every time I walk the labyrinth it is a different experience."
The virtue of the virtual labyrinth is that we can walk it on a daily basis. This can bring balance to our lives. When one visits another person in a hospital, an important part of the visit is not only the time when they are together. It is important, but more important is the feeling of the visitor's presence after she leaves. This is the way that the labyrinth works. Walking it is important, but even more important is the sense of the Presence when one leaves.
Awareness of the Presence brings a balance to life. A balanced life is one that depends on the internal Presence rather than external events. A balanced life depends upon the internal Peace, Love and Joy of God's Presence for his life whether events go well or not, whether others affirm or reject him, whether he does well or not. He can still find the Peace of God's Presence within himself.
Another obvious virtue is that the Virtual Labyrinth is portable. You can walk it any time, in any space and under any circumstances. The spiritual power of the labyrinth is not in the size of the walk, but in the walk itself. A stationary labyrinth by design must be concentric, the paths cannot run into or cross each other. When you walk a virtual labyrinth you can cross paths in such a way that it is possible to have a complete walk in a small space. It will work because the power is in what I call "the shuffle". I will explain this in the next section.
PART TWO: PUTTING IT TOGETHER: A PATH TO THE PRESENCE.
Don't go home without a labyrinth.
VIRTUAL LABYRINTH GOALS: A goal of the virtual labyrinth is to enable journeyer's to become familiar with the sense of the Presence as they take their daily walk. The result should be a sense of the labyrinth Peace, which is the ability to enter into the Presence without the aid of a labyrinth.
Another goal is to teach people how to take the labyrinth to heart in such a way it would be as if it was in their back yard or living room. They could use it on a regular basis. It could light up their Christian Faith in ways they never could imagine. It cannot be explained. It must be experienced. We need to realize the difference between going in "out" of the Presence and coming out "in" the Presence makes in our lives.
The most important goal is to teach the basic principles of spirituality. One can then consciously and with intent use this or other spiritual exercises more effectively. When one realizes the simple principle that the way to access the Presence is through the conscious heart and never through the rational head, then the person can focus their attention on the work ahead.
THE LABYRINTH SHUFFLE: The idea of teaching a person to walk a labyrinth by heart sounds good, but how do you do it? The key came to me by cracking the Labyrinth code. While walking a labyrinth, I discovered the "labyrinth shuffle". It broke the secret to the labyrinth to me. Utilizing the shuffle, taking the labyrinth to heart can easily be taught in one class session so that it can be taken home and walked daily. Trying to describe the shuffle in lieu of doing it is very difficult. It takes determination, discipline and patience. The shuffle can be taught through experience rather than by theory.
You will find a loose design of the shuffle on one side and the Basic Training model on the other. Put the shuffle side up and walk around it following the design. When you can work your way both going in and going out turn it over and work with the Basic Training model.
Now enter the Center. Then start coming out reversing the movement. It will be frustrating at times, but it will also be freeing in the end. We will learn a lot about ourselves and our need to control our surroundings.
THE BASIC TRAINING CHARTRES LABYRINTH: We have created a Basic Training Chartres Labyrinth, a simplified version of the classic type. The Chartres labyrinths has as its basis four shuffles. You see how the shuffles make up the whole labyrinth.
USE THE BASIC TRAINING CHARTRES LABYRINTH AS YOUR MAP: You are now ready to walk the Basic Training Labyrinth. Do not be in a hurry to go it alone without a map. Get a feel for the movement before going solo.
The labyrinth is a puzzle. How we think about the labyrinth and the shuffle will determine whether we will solve the puzzle. The shuffle is not an answer. It is a solution. To walk it, we must discover a clue. To solve the puzzle we discover the shuffle in the labyrinth and thereby discover the labyrinth in the shuffle.
One can approach the solution either by breaking it down from completeness, or by building it up from a foundation. Do we start with the labyrinth, or do we start with the shuffle? The answer is both. They must be seen as inseparable. Four shuffles make up a whole labyrinth. However, we need to see the labyrinth as a sum total of all the shuffles. Each shuffle is a part of the whole labyrinth. The labyrinth can be seen as a picture we are painting. We do not walk one shuffle as a separate entity. It is always part of the whole picture. The shuffle is the key to the labyrinth in that it is creating either the outside or the inside edge of the circle. Lines move around the outside or inside edge of the circle in the more complex labyrinths. Yet, the basic core of all classic labyrinths is still the four shuffles.
To walk the virtual labyrinth you MUST master the shuffle. Whatever is written here is not an answer on how to walk the shuffle. It is a puzzle whose solution you must discover for yourself. It is a key to solving the puzzle of the labyrinth. It can unlock the mystery of the labyrinth. It cracks the "labyrinth code".
As you become aware of doing the shuffle, continue to be aware of how it fits into the labyrinth design. Note this is the source of the labyrinth's power. It all rests on the spiritual principles of head, heart and focus. You cannot see the spiritual from rational, worldly thinking, which sees the seen. We must use conscious, Godly, thinking to sense the spiritual, unseen Presence of God.
BASIS FOR ALL LABYRINTHS: We can only think rationally with our head about one thing at a time. We can be conscious in our heart of several things at the same time. If we concentrate rationally on the shuffle, we will become confused. When we are conscious of both the design of the labyrinth and the movement of the shuffle, we can then focus on the Inner Presence at the center.
You can make square or circle labyrinths. There was a time a conflict arose as to which was better, square or circular labyrinths. They are both good. It is the shuffles that hold the power. You can walk over old paths while completing two outside and two inside shuffles going in. Coming out by reversing them, you have eighty percent of the spiritual power of the labyrinth.
Because of the problem of space, most people will walk their own version. This is because most of them have some pressing problems they need to work with. This is the kind of drive it may take to learn it and to do it. Just start doing it. Do not worry if you miss a few steps. Just keep walking. The experience can be valuable no matter what the route is. The power is in the shuffle.
One way to start is with square shuffles, then round them out. The square shuffle may turn out to be the one you graduate with. It is easier to walk square shuffles when working indoors because most rooms are square.
THE KEY TO THE SHUFFLE: The purpose of the labyrinth is to get us out of rational head thinking and into conscious heart feeling. Understanding the shuffle makes the labyrinth fairly simple to walk. There is no one way to teach the virtual labyrinth. Different people grasp the vision in different ways.
Learning the shuffle is similar to the way we learn to ride a bike. All the rational instruction seems to bounce off until suddenly, there it is. You get a feel for it. You have taken it to heart. Swimming is the same way. Teaching a person to swim as an academic exercise might be helpful, but it is only effective when one takes it to heart.
I discovered the shuffle while walking the labyrinth. Now, I have already given you the labyrinth key in the shuffle. Use the Basic Training Labyrinth as a map. See how the shuffles make up the whole of the labyrinth. Start walking it by being aware of the shuffles. Let the shuffles pop up. Once you discover them, the rest will come.
THE LABYRINTH PACE: Because there is no record of anyone daily walking a virtual labyrinth, there is also no research about it. We can only share with you what we have experienced. With a traditional labyrinth, most people will find that they can only walk it sporadically. They tend to take their time walking it, because it happens so infrequently. It takes a significant amount of time. When you walk a virtual labyrinth daily, it does not take up much time. You could do it within a period of five or ten minutes.
What is needed is to become so familiar with the experience that accessing the Presence becomes a natural process through walking a labyrinth. It may be helpful to walk in with certain familiar prayers. Take time in the center to honor the sacredness of the Presence. Coming out, take the Presence with you. Once the Presence is experienced, it is important to become familiar with the pace of the walk. As we walk a labyrinth daily, perhaps even twice a day, we will begin to get a feel for being in the Presence. I call this "the labyrinth pace." Once we get a feel for it, we will be able to access this Presence while walking, talking, sitting, at other times and places, under any conditions.
LEARNING TO WALK THE VIRTUAL LABYRINTH: The following notes are not as much instructions but insights, which might be helpful. The shuffles must be caught, not taught. Until the shuffles are discovered in the labyrinth, these insights will remain instructions.
The principle about learning things spiritual applies here. It must be experienced and then taught. Start with a picture of a shuffle. Trace the diagram of the shuffle with a finger. Try to feel the movement, don't just copy it. Next, without following the diagram, trace the shuffle with your finger. Next, try to see, feel and follow the shuffle in your mind, without paper or finger movement. Do the same exercise with an opposite shuffle, remembering that you always follow one shuffle with its opposite. Do an inside shuffle the same way. Draw two outside and two inside shuffles using circles for boundaries. Get a feel for making an outside and then an inside circle with shuffles.
It is helpful to use a cross or some other4 symbol as the center. Make the center a sacred place in your home or wherever you walk. Notice how you operate around it. Your short shuffle movements go up to the cross. The long ones go an equal distance above the cross.
Walk the labyrinth through one shuffle at a time. Do not try to follow the labyrinth step by step, but shuffle by shuffle. As you come out of the center, you will be doing a reverse labyrinth. See how each shuffle coming out has the reverse right and left turns as when going in.
Once you are in, it is important to come out. Take your time. Get a feel for the reverse shuffles. You should not rush coming out, because the process is reverses. Do reverse inside and outside shuffles. After you get a feel for the square shuffle, start to circle them out.
Discover the shuffle in the labyrinth design. The main mistake is to try to memorize the shuffle separate from a conscious awareness of how it fits into the overall labyrinth design. Learn to be conscious of both the overall design of the labyrinth and the shuffle. If you concentrate on either one, you will probably get mixed up in a maze. It is not something you should think about too much. You need to get a "feel" for it when you walk the labyrinth through the shuffle.
Think of a labyrinth as a puzzle with eight pieces. Each piece has only one place to fit into. Your job is put the right pieces into the right places. If you find that you put a piece into the wrong place, don't stop, just keep walking. You will find you will still appreciate the walk as long as you keep from making an issue out of it. Each time you will improve from the last walk.
The good news is that you do not have to memorize all eight shuffles. You need to look at the design of the basic training labyrinth and see the logic of how they fit in. It might be helpful to know when your turns change. It is more important to recognize the logic of the shuffles and how they create the body of the labyrinth.
Do not try to understand the Chartres Labyrinths until you have mastered the Basic Training Virtual model. It can only be understood when the code is cracked, the shuffles are mastered, and the logic understood. This requires a familiarity with the Basic Training Labyrinth, with its shuffles going in and the reverse shuffles coming out.
After you have mastered the Basic training Chartres Labyrinth you need to understand how the complex connecting lines from the right to the left sides differ from the Basic connecting line
This is how I see the construction, others might see it differently; do whatever best fits your imagination:
It takes an understanding of balance. Like weight, we must add to one side what we add to the other in order to keep an equal balance. We are not balancing weights but loops. To compensate for the extra connection line we add loops on both sides to keep the balance. We start with the left side loop as we first go in and we end up with a right side loop as we move into the center. As we come out it is all in reverse order. This is why we must get a feel for the large picture and not just memorize the one movement.
Having mastered the basic pattern, begin to walk with intention. If you want to lose weight, deal with a crisis, or mend a broken relationship, work on it going in. At the God Spot, begin to wonder what difference being in or out of the Presence makes about how you feel concerning the problem. Discover the difference, and you will discover the answer. Enjoy the walk coming out, spending time in the silence of God.
Walk the Labyrinth being conscious of the unseen presence of things around you. Then, focus on the unseen Presence within you. That which is with you, becomes that which is in you. What is the difference between this and just walking? This is not a physical exercise. No calories are burned. No physical weight is lost. You can however lose burdens, the spiritual unseen kind.
The walk is not an aimless stroll. There are principles behind it. When a person is feeling insecure, they will think, feel and act differently, than when they are sensing the Presence of God's Peace. As one enters the Labyrinth, moving towards the center, they begin to examine issues and struggles out of the Presence. Once in the middle they begin to sense the Presence within. Walking out, they will see things differently than when they began the walk. Try it for fives day. Walk in with a familiar prayer.
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT: The ultimate purpose of walking a labyrinth is to walk in the Spirit. It has nothing to do with actually walking; it is the ability to stay conscious of the Presence while going about one's daily business. This is done by moving from the head to the heart and staying there. Look at something with rational thinking. Say "There it is." Turn away and open your heart, becoming conscious of its presence. Focus on the Presence of God within you. Then practice staying conscious of the "here" Presence of God.
One of the first people to practice the virtual labyrinth had this to say, "I begin with an outer loop and back, then a pair of shuffles or two. I sit in the center and pray. Then I retrace the path out from the center. I find that I carry the (Spirit) with me after leaving the Labyrinth. This has become a very helpful practice for me. It helps to center and focus me and to settle me into my prayer. I don't know if I will be typical of what others will take from this practice, but I know of no other that so easily takes me from my head to my heart and helps me stay there."
OUT OF THE BOX: Questions will arise as to the efficacy of such an approach. The answer is that if you have not tried it, you cannot know how it works, or what a differences it would make in your life. This may well be the first virtual labyrinth teaching in history. To the best of our understanding, no one has ever written or taught about the idea of committing to memory the various images of a labyrinth.
There is no record of anyone teaching others how to walk a virtual labyrinth in Orange County. Neither is there any record of anyone teaching it in the Diocese of Los Angeles. It would be fair to say it has never been taught in the National Church or in the world wide Anglican Communion. This may very well be the first class on record ever taught on how to walk a virtual labyrinth in the entire history of the Christian Church.
NO TIME FOR PURISTS: Those who walk a stationary labyrinth might feel that a virtual one could not compare with the real thing. They might think that the virtual one is less of a practice than what they are used to. This kind of thinking can become a barrier to discovering the virtue of the virtual labyrinth. Keep an open mind and heart.
The two types of labyrinths can compliment and enhance each other. Those who walk stationary ones can gain new insights by walking a virtual one daily. Those who walk a virtual one can appreciate the stationary type more than if they never had contact with any type of labyrinth. The impact of both types becomes greater than the sum total of the two separately.
Some now say that accessing the Presence by walking a virtual labyrinth is like taking a long walk or bike ride. It probably is, but a virtual labyrinth can take only a few minutes to walk. The other practices are difficult to fit in daily in our heavily scheduled routines.
WHAT GOOD DOES WALKING THE LABYRINTH DO?: A permanent labyrinth that is only walked once or twice a month can be walked for its novelty. It is different when you walk a labyrinth daily. The more you walk it, the more you find it as a solution to immediate problems.
WALKING THE VIRTUAL LABYRINTH IN PROCESSION: Walking a labyrinth is a different experience for each individual. One unique approach is to be led by a facilitator in a procession. There is a special gift offered by following others in a line. The experience of walking the labyrinth together starts out as individuals following one another. When coming out of the labyrinth, there is a sense of being part of the Body of Christ. That is what the church is in reality. It is a community living in the Presence of the Spirit of Jesus. We become as in John's Gospel when Jesus prayed. "Father may they all be one as we are one." (John 17:22). We are not in union, but unity with Jesus as He is in unity with the Father.
CONCLUSION, TAKE TIME TO SHARPEN THE SAW: We need to be realistic about our spiritual lives. What do they look like? How regular are we in working on them? How often do we have private and corporate prayer? Does it measure up to what we would call adequate, or is it lacking? Does it have the proper balance between heaven and earth? Some peoples' spiritual lives can be so heavenly that it is of no earthly good. Others can be so earthly in their spiritual lives that they never get off the ground towards true spirituality.
Most people would admit that their spiritual lives are not what they should be. But who has the time? For those who do not feel they have time for regular spiritual lives, the virtual labyrinth is an ideal starting point. You can travel light. There are no attachments once you learn the pace. You can walk it daily within five to fifteen minutes, any time, any place, and under any circumstances.
For those who wish to grow deeper spiritually, the virtual labyrinth can be used in conjunction with prayer life. It is not an either/or, rather it is a both/and. It does not have to take up more time. People can walk the virtual labyrinth and make their petitions, do their centering prayers, or whatever personal practices they might do. The two exercises together will enhance their lives more than each done separately.
A student once remarked after walking the community labyrinth in a class that it brought him a sense of peace. He had come into class feeling the pressures of school. Afterwards, he felt balanced. I asked him if he would try to walk the labyrinth daily. He stated he that did not have time to do this. It reminded me of what Stephen Covey wrote in the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. He tells the story of a man who met a friend one day sawing intensely. The man asked his friend what was he was doing? The reply was, "I am sawing wood for the fire tonight, but I will never finish." The man noted that the friend should sharpen his saw. The response was, "I don't have time to sharpen the saw". A sharpened spiritual life can make a world of difference.
Copyright (c) 2003
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review or article without the written permission of the author.