Using a Labyrinth As an Integration Tool
Change is hard. By nature, it’s scary and unfamiliar. So too is the process of integration for some. Nevertheless, the only constant in life is change, so how do we navigate this inevitable aspect? How do we integrate change, whether we asked for it or not?
A potentially transformational experience that helps with integration I like to use for both myself and the people I work with is the labyrinth. I trained as a labyrinth facilitator in college, and I’ve witnessed many lives transforming through its intentional use.
What is a labyrinth, and why is it useful? While it has been popularized in the Christian tradition, it has wide applications that are very secular in mind-body integration, dance and movement therapy, art therapy, and somatic therapy. It is used as an intentionally created design to engender a lived experience; it may or may not be affiliated with any religion or sect.
The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. You pause, take a break, charge forward, become annoyed if someone is “in your way,” or even experience loneliness if you are walking alone. Alternatively, you may feel a sense of solace from being alone. There’s one way in and one way out, but along the way, there are many twists and turns. There are no dead ends, no wrong choices like in a maze. Instead, you can be confident that if you keep going, eventually you will reach the center of the labyrinth.
Explore and Integrate
I view labyrinths as vessels, sacred containers, or temenos, to deepen your practice of embodiment and to integrate the body-mind. Labyrinths allow us to have an honest look at how we live this one life we have. They provide a space to contemplate, confront challenges, meditate, pray, and find serenity by integrating the body-mind. Arguably, and this is a bold statement, experiencing the labyrinth is an incredible, lived-integration process. When people take the time to walk to the middle of the labyrinth, it takes great courage. They are willing and able to walk to the middle of themselves. It is no small feat!
I use the labyrinth to integrate the self overall and, sometimes, as an adjunct to dreamwork or to help someone integrate traumatic events in their lives. I also use it as an experiential process for psychedelic integration because experiencing a labyrinth journey can help someone make sense of what was unlocked from the depths of their unconscious during their psychedelic journey.
Brain Science and the Labyrinth
But how does this happen – scientifically? According to psychotherapist Neal Harris, who has studied this subject extensively, labyrinths help with mental focus, group cohesion, and spiritual connection by producing Alpha and Theta brain waves. When the brain is generating a wave of 9-14 cycles per second (Alpha), a gentle, relaxed feeling is produced. When the brain is generating a wave of 5-8 cycles per second (Theta), a deeper form of relaxation and creative, non-linear thinking is produced. As the brain drops down into these Alpha and Theta waves, there is an increase in left and right brain balance known as brain synchrony.
Regular meditators experience brain synchrony. This state can produce deep tranquility, creative insight, euphoria, and increased attention. Brain synchrony leads to integration because both brain hemispheres are working together. This, in turn, can lead to more balanced psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing.
Give Attention to Your Labyrinth Experience
As depth integration work continues, people dance with the labyrinth in different ways. The labyrinth is a way to create space in your hour, day, life to notice what comes up within your awareness as you walk it. It is a practice. Again, the labyrinth is a metaphor for life. People evolve with continued work in discovering their internal landscape. Thus, they may find they can exercise increased patience with themselves and with their world both internally and externally. They are able to engage with the labyrinth experience deeply and, in turn, more deeply commit to themselves and the process of integration. The labyrinth is not a game or a competition – the goal isn’t to walk to the center as fast as you can (although if you find yourself doing that, consider it more information about yourself that you’re uncovering). The labyrinth is a journey and practice of self-discovery.
What Do You Notice… in Your Body and Feelings?
If you’re willing to experience a labyrinth, I have some suggestions. As you step up to the start of the labyrinth, consider touching the ground and setting your intention for your journey. And then, as you begin with the first step, you realize you are well on your way already. Notice what happens for you as you twist and turn in the spirals. Are you quick-paced? Meandering? Pleased that you are on a journey? Feeling heaviness in your chest? Sensing a lightness in your heart? Aware of judgment or expectation?
What Do You Notice… in Your Behavior?
In the center of some labyrinths, you may find treasures left by fellow travelers before you. You may choose to bring something of an offering yourself to leave in the center – a bauble, a symbol or a figurine, or even an item that represents something you wish to let go of. You can leave it in the center and even sit to contemplate, journal, or witness your breath. Commemorate the moment, the letting go, the surrender. Again, be mindful of your whole being. Notice what you choose to do and consider it.
- Do you only give an item without taking one? What was your intention in bringing this item to the center? How might that reflect how you live your life off of the physical labyrinth?
- Do you only take an item without leaving one in return? Does this show up as part of a familiar pattern in your life?
What Do You Notice… in Your Own Growth?
As you walk on the path, twisting and turning toward the center or on your way back out, be mindful of what arises within you. You may find treasures fellow travelers left in the center, or you may find some newly discovered gems within yourself. Maybe you’ll find David Bowie or perhaps your own Trickster within. You could consider dancing with it as you move forward on your journey.
The depths of the labyrinth provide us with many opportunities for deepening our practices of contemplation.
If you’d like to have a non-facilitated labyrinth experience, use this link to search anywhere in the world. Reverend Dr. Laura Artress, the woman who brought the labyrinth out of the shadows, offers some fantastic resources through her organization, Veriditas.
If you’re not physically able to go to a labyrinth for whatever reason, that’s totally fine! I also use finger labyrinths in my practice, and they provide a pause for contemplation in a similar way. Click the link to download a finger labyrinth.
If you want support with the integration process or to share your experience with someone who understands what it’s like to experience a labyrinth, reach out to me.
Artress, L. (1996). Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. New York: Riverhead Books.
Harris, Neal. “Effective, Short-term Therapy: Utilizing Finger Labyrinths to Promote Brain Synchrony.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association. September/October 2002.
Dr. Denise Renye is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified sexologist and yoga therapist as well as psychedelic integrationist. She has a friendly, down-to-earth and professional approach that will allow space for you to be at ease when talking about sensitive subjects. She has specialized training and works with people in the areas of complex trauma, sexuality, intimacy, states of consciousness, and fringe relationships. Her practice is currently in Northern California and globally via virtual therapy and coaching.
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© Copyright 2020 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Psychologist (PsyD), Sex Therapist, Life Coach