Healing Environments

The Evolution of the Labyrinth into A Spiritual Healing Tool

Victoria Stone, StoneCircle PrincipleVictoria Stone, M.P.H., Allied A.S.I.D.

The labyrinth is an ancient circular mandala pattern found in cultures throughout the world. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path that leads to a center and out again. The oldest labyrinth pattern was discovered on stone tablets in Greece and traced back to 1200 BC. The labyrinth is associated with the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur, a beast that was half man and half bull, imprisoned at the center of a labyrinth by King Minos of Crete.

The labyrinth is a pattern whose meaning is expressed on both conscious and unconscious levels. Its shape, the circle, is a universal symbol of wholeness and unity. Its meandering path is a metaphor for the path of life. According to the psychologist Carl Jung, the labyrinth pattern is an archetypal image of the psyche. Walking the labyrinth path leads each of us to our own center.

The labyrinth's use as a spiritual tool dates back to the 13th century when it was placed in the floors of gothic cathedrals in Europe. There it was walked by Christian pilgrims as a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is where the roots of the labyrinth as a walking meditation are found. The most famous labyrinth in Europe is in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.

In 1991 Reverend Lauren Artress, Ph.D., Canon Pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, introduced the labyrinth to her congregation for the purpose of creating a bridge of understanding between the traditional church and nontraditional forms of spirituality. The labyrinth walk became a popular event with members and non-members alike. Over the years Dr. Artress has taken her portable labyrinth to churches and conferences throughout the country. She has presented it as a spiritual tool that can help heal the split between reason and imagination, thought and feeling, psyche and spirit.

Grace Cathedral now has two permanent labyrinth walks available to the public. The cathedral has found that many of the people who come to walk the labyrinth do so as a result of a health crisis, either their own or a loved one's. The labyrinth has begun to be used as a tool to support the inner healing journey.

Medical science is beginning to acknowledge, and conduct research on, the role spiritual faith and practice plays in the health and healing process. While the spiritual component of healing is becoming recognized, there are few tools currently available that provide this type of support for patients, families, medical staff and the community. The experience at Grace Cathedral has demonstrated the labyrinth's potential to meet this need. By taking the labyrinth out of a religious setting, and placing it in a non-denominational healing environment, people of all faiths and religious traditions will have an opportunity to experience the spiritual support it provides when facing a serious health problem.

In June 1997 StoneCircle installed a labyrinth walk at the entrance to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. This is the first labyrinth to be placed in a health care institution. Since that time there has been a very positive response on the part of patients, medical center staff and the surrounding community. In the medical center setting the labyrinth walk becomes as a holistic healing tool, a mind, body, prayer path. It is an experience that honors the whole person. With its holistic nature and simplicity of use, the labyrinth is an excellent tool for integrating spiritual self-care into a health care setting.

StoneCircle is currently consulting with medical centers, health care providers and community organizations across the country in response to their interest in the labyrinth as a spiritual healing tool. Our goal is to create a bridge between the spiritual and health care communities and to use the labyrinth to help reunite body and spirit in the health and healing process.

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