Labyrinths versus mazes, the healing effects of labyrinths, and the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth in Winnipeg, Manitoba
A labyrinth is an intricate structure of interconnecting passageways, often formed of paths separated by high hedges. Some definitions say a labyrinth is confusing and difficult to navigate, synonymous with a maze. Others say a maze is a type of labyrinth.
Although we may use the term labyrinth and maze interchangeably in common speech, enthusiasts are adamant about the differences. A maze has choices in the path, a puzzle for the walker to solve. The path in a labyrinth may follow a complex and winding route, but it is unicursal, meaning there is only one path through the labyrinth to the centre and back out. A labyrinth has no blind alleys or dead ends. A labyrinth is not a puzzle to be solved, but a path of meaning to be explored.
Labyrinth walking is an ancient practice used by different faiths for contemplation and prayer. Christians in the middle ages walked labyrinths as substitutes for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Some of these labyrinths still exist today, the most famous being the one at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France, built around 1200.
The path of the labyrinth is a path of personal, psychological and spiritual transformation. We carry our burdens to the centre, reflect or pray there, and walk out lighter. It is a walking meditation. Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity. People report feeling more relaxed, centred, or reflective after walking a labyrinth. An emerging field of study is conducting research into the “labyrinth effect”. The effects have been noted not just when walking the path, but also when tracing a labyrinth design with one’s fingers.
In King’s Park in south Winnipeg, Manitoba, you’ll find the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth. Author Carol Shields was fascinated by labyrinths. In her novel Larry’s Party, the protagonist becomes a maze and labyrinth designer after visiting the maze at Hampton Court in England, the mazes and labyrinths in the book becoming a metaphor for his attempts to untangle and find meaning in his life.
The Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth is a new labyrinth, officially opening in 2009. It was designed as a healing labyrinth. It incorporates many of the hedges and flowers Larry used in his mazes, although the shrubs are still small, having been so recently planted. The labyrinth slopes slightly to the centre, a bowl shape creating a gentle gravitational pull that is said to increase the healing effects of the relaxation response and left-brain, right-brain integration.
I walked the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth this fall. A sign provides information about walking the labyrinth. It says:
There is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. … You simply enter the labyrinth and allow the pathway to lead you to the centre. After you have done what you need to do in the centre, or find what you need to find, you can follow the same pathway back out or use the shorter path through the meditation/healing garden to the entrance. Some people take a question or prayer with them as they walk the labyrinth.
I felt a sense of peace, calm, and quiet stillness as I walked the path. The curving path pulled me nearer and nearer the centre, but when I thought I’d reached it, the path meandered away from the centre before twisting back toward it, reminding me the path of life is not always straight and direct. In the labyrinth, you continue to follow the path, trusting it will take you to the centre.
To get to the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth from the second parking lot in King’s Park, walk past the duck pond, either on the paved pathway to the south, or over the red bridges and through the dog park on the north. The labyrinth is at the end of the pond.
To download finger labyrinths or walk a virtual labyrinth with your mouse, click here.