by Hannah Papp
In the cover of one of my travel journals, I drew an elaborate labyrinth. As I was traveling, the language of the labyrinth spoke to me. A labyrinth, unlike a maze, has no tricks up its sleeve. You can trust it implicitly and relax as you move through it, knowing you will easily find your way. A labyrinth consists of a direct path to the center and direct path out from the center. There are no frighten- ing twists and turns, no paths that end in impermeable walls, no spaces that hold the intent to confuse the person within. When I first discovered this distinction, the labyrinth became a symbol for me, representing both the physical and spiritual journey I was on. Labyrinths are meant to be spiritual tools, and there are records of their existence as far back as four thousand years. Chartres Cathedral in France has a beautiful thirteenth-century labyrinth within its walls, and many abbeys, monasteries, and churches worldwide include them in their gardens and courtyards. Retreat centers, parks, and New Age destinations have labyrinths aplenty as well. In this environment, guests are invited to walk the labyrinth in silence, and multiple people can be in the labyrinth at the same time. As you pass another labyrinth walker, you simply turn sideways so both of you can fit and pass each other, and proper labyrinth etiquette is to nod at most but not say anything at all to disrupt the process for either one of you. Walking a labyrinth alone is a real treat because you don’t have to worry about etiquette and there aren’t any distractions from your process. As you enter the labyrinth, you have the opportunity to reflect on your life or to meditate. Your brain, having to pay attention to the path as well as your thoughts, becomes focused. You begin to feel still and peaceful. You become centered. You may reflect on long-dormant memories or ideas that reveal something to you about the nature of who you have become, or you may enter a deeply meditative state.
The labyrinth is a mystic’s symbol if ever there was one. As a Mystical Backpacker, hold the intent that your journey is a labyrinth, not a maze. You are not entering a time of frightened confusion. You are traveling a straight path to the core of your being as you walk a straight and trick-free physical path on your backpacking adventure. Knowing this is true, the moments of uncertainty or challenges you face can be perceived simply as exercises toward your own enlightenment. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel discomfort. I certainly did. The cover of that journal is worn by my touch, for each time I was frightened or uncomfortable I would look at the labyrinth I had drawn and remind myself that I was just where I needed to be.
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