This last weekend, I spent a day at the beach with the Yoga Nook advanced teacher training group. The weather was cool and overcast when we arrived with shovels, gloves and tamping tools. Soon all of us were digging in the sand. As we worked, beachgoers walked by and asked what we were building. Some tried to guess, though no one was successful.
We were building a labyrinth, which is frequently confused with a maze, though they are quite different. A maze is a puzzle to be solved — which way will take me to the center? It has blind alleys, twists and turns, and requires one who enters to make choices at intersections. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is unicursal, meaning there is only one way in and one way out.
The labyrinthine pattern has been found on Greek coins dating back to 430 BCE, and the Romans reproduced many one-path patterns in tile and mosaic. By 1000 CE, labyrinths had begun to appear on the walls and floors of churches, providing a tool for private prayer and connection to the divine.
Walking a labyrinth is meditative and profound. The path is deceivingly long and seems to take you right into the center at first, then veers away, spiraling you outwards to explore the periphery.
The changes in direction require steady focus, and the outside world drops away as you concentrate on the task at hand. Just when you think you are furthest from the center, you are really closest to it; so coming into center is a surprise, almost unexpected.
We collected feathers, rocks and driftwood to decorate and define our project, and each person had an opportunity to walk the path several times. Then we left it in the sand for anyone to enjoy, and for the elements to reclaim — a wonderful practice in non-attachment.