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    How to Relieve Stress with a Labyrinth

    relieve_stress_labyrinthWhen you’re under stress, do you feel like you are just going around in circles? Well, it might be that deliberately walking in circles is one of the best things you can do. I am talking about relieving your stress by walking in a labyrinth.

    Pretty much everyone knows that labyrinths are ancient designs, possibly begun in Greece, but sometimes people get them confused with tall mazes, which block your view, and can be pretty scary if you feel you can’t get out. No doubt the Minoan labyrinth was pretty stressful with a Minotaur in the center, but finding monsters in labyrinths is unlikely today, even in Crete.

    In fact, most modern day labyrinths follow the Medieval idea of a pattern on the ground or a floor. They are open and inviting, and all you have to do is be quiet and walk. The two most recognized patterns are probably the Cretan style, which sort of looks like a tree, and the Chartres Cathedral floor’s design, which has far more rings and revolves around a flower-like symbol in the center. You can find these designs in churches, parks, gardens, and the back yards of private homes. But there are many other designs as well, or you can create your own.

    Simply walking soothes your mind.

    Labyrinths show up in sacred spaces of many faiths, because there is something in the gentle movement, simply following where the lines lead, that focuses your attention and allows distractions and stress to slip away. Some adherents use the walking as a peaceful release from their problems. Other people may enter a labyrinth with a specific question on their minds, hoping to gain insight when they reach the center and return.

    One of the things I like best about walking a labyrinth is that just when you think you know where you are going, you don’t. Like so much of life, just when we think something is over, or we are back where we started, there is another turn. The turns are usually there all along, but we don’t see them. Much of the time we don’t really look at where we are going, or where we really are on our own path.

    In a labyrinth, I might feel momentarily sad because the walk seems too short. But then I am happily surprised to find I wasn’t really seeing it at all. It loops back. There is much more to follow. There is much more to see. Just because the end is right in front of me doesn’t mean that’s where I am actually going.

    Finding a labyrinth.

    Once you start looking for labyrinths, you may be surprised to find how common they are. When I first went searching on the internet, I did not expect to find one in my own neighborhood. But there it was, in the garden of a local church. You might also find them in vacations spots, especially if you like to visit historical places, or at spas and retreats.

    If you have a large enough lawn, you can create lovely spiral labyrinth designs with simple stones, though mowing might be tricky. There are also extensive paving kits for the truly inspired, or large plastic designs you can roll up when you are done, and even rugs.

    Try a finger labyrinth to get the idea.

    If there are no walking labyrinths close to you, that doesn’t mean you can’t share some of the experience, and calm your stress. Finger labyrinths are small versions of the same designs, which you can trace slowly with a finger, a stylus, a computer mouse, or even a stick. They can be printed on paper, vinyl or fabric, carved into wood, or pressed into jewelry.

    When you find a pattern that appeals to you, print it on a sheet of paper and follow the lines as you breathe in and out, and let your thoughts unwind. Adding the gentle movement of your finger to a meditation practice you already do may help you if your mind tends to wander, or simply add a new dimension to your experience.

    A wealth of websites feature ancient labyrinth designs you can copy, as well as excellent guides for how to recreate classic patterns or create new ones. Some interactive sites even let you trace along with the image on the screen.

    Drawing your own labyrinth is a bit like Zen doodling. Most labyrinth patterns start with a core set of lines, such as a center cross or concentric circles. Then the designs build upon that basic structure, so you create new lines much like you would walk them. It can be a lovely way to leave stress behind as your pen or pencil moves silently along.

    Labyrinth walkers may surprise you, too.

    I recently read an article by CNN and Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn, and was amazed to learn she built a labyrinth at her home. In her early days as a ambitious young journalist, Quinn moved in the highest circles of Washington, D.C., along with major players in the news business, and at a time of great upheaval in American politics. She was not anyone I would ever expect to walk a labyrinth on a regular basis, or to find solace and comfort in her own times of personal stress. You can read her inspiring story at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/08/my-faith-how-walking-the-labyrinth-changed-my-life/.

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