When you’re living through a divorce, your mind will go into overdrive. The onslaught of thoughts and emotions can be confusing and overwhelming, leading to frustration because this is exactly when you need clarity and focus to make important decisions, understand complex legal concepts, and process confusing emotions.
Walking a labyrinth may be the step you need to take to calm your brain, and regain control of your thoughts.
A labyrinth is a circular path that winds on itself. It has only one entrance and one exit. As you move along the path, you wind your way to the center, then wind back out. There are no dead ends or wrong turns. You don’t need to pay attention to the path, because it leads you where you need to go. That sense of being guided can feel amazingly good in the midst of a separation.
While sitting is the most popular form of meditation in the west, strolling along a labyrinth adds a physical dimension to the practice, which can be very helpful. It’s another way to take command of thoughts that seem to be overpowering.
Various cultures around the world have used labyrinths for introspection and meditation for thousands of years. Registered nurse Diana Ng walked through her first labyrinth at age 40. Married with two teenagers, she had decided to return to school. She found the role of student tough, emotionally and physically. At the end of the day, her head felt overfull, and disconnected from her body.
During a class held outdoors, a fellow student used chalk to draw a labyrinth in the parking lot. Each of the 60 students in the class walked slowly along the pathway, one by one.
As Ng walked along the path toward the center, she felt her head reconnect with her body. “I was starting to notice the outside world, and not just me. I felt the breeze on my face and noticed my own breathing and a rhythm in by body and legs,” she says.
Later, she realized that what she felt was “presence,” a type of being in the moment. She had a kind of “ah-ha!” moment and threw herself into researching labyrinths.
Ng went on to write a book about labyrinths, Walking the Labyrinth: Your Path to Peace and Possibilities (KaDa Publishing, 2015). She also facilitates labyrinth walking workshops, and is known in her community as the "Labyrinth Lady."
Whether you walk through it quickly or slowly, what you get out of the practice depends on what you bring into it, says Ng. “We enter the labyrinth from the exterior world to access our interior world. That center is a symbol for the center of ourselves, who we are and our values and principles.
“When I walk the labyrinth, I feel calmer and my mind is clearer. By the time I’m done, I feel grateful. If I’m having a bad day or experience and need to deal with it, I find walking discharges more negative energy from my body,” she says.
A labyrinth can be particularly helpful in divorce. “Someone going through a divorce can walk the path of a labyrinth to leave the relationship and prepare for life ahead,” says Ng. “The observation of our thoughts, and being mindful gives us more self-knowledge. You may need to process emotions and meanings associated with the divorce. A meditative walk through a labyrinth can help you accept your feelings without letting the emotions overwhelm you.
“The labyrinth itself is a symbol for the journey of life. Like life, it is full of twists and turns. Life is a journey, and a labyrinth can be a good tool for calming the mind so you can see more clearly and be more creative in your problem solving,” says Ng.
Here’s how to walk your way to mental clarity.
Let the negative chatter take a hike.
As thoughts come up during the walk, simply observe them, and then let them go. Think of your thoughts as drifting clouds moving along a breeze, or leaves floating away on the surface of a bubbling brook. “Seeing your thoughts leave like that means they lose their power and intensity,” says Ng.
Go solo, or not.
A labyrinth is flexible in that it can be done alone, or with others. In the early stages of the divorce transition, you can do the labyrinth work alone as a way to calm yourself. Or, if you’re feeling at odds with others, that might be a great day to walk it alone. Ng has designed a labyrinth that can be used in the privacy of one’s home.
Doing it with a friend or in a community can help you feel more connected to others and more supported. Ng worked with the town of Surrey in Vancouver to create a 42-foot public labyrinth. There, a community can share the experience. Each person walks his or her own path, in silence, but conscious of the support of those around them.
Use a labyrinth as a divorce ceremony.
Some couples have tried using a labyrinth together as a ritual to give meaning to a separation. As the last experience of that relationship, the couple steps into the labyrinth together, walking the path to the center. There, they share a few words and part, each walking out of the circle alone.
“A wedding brings a couple together, but we don’t have a corresponding ceremony for a divorce. We don’t have that ritual for saying good bye; that’s seen as a negative. So, how do we honor a relationship that existed and the good times that did happen?” says Ng. “How can we hold onto those good moments and recognize that, for whatever the reasons, the relationship has changed?
Create your own labyrinth
A labyrinth can be outside or inside, as wide as 100 feet, or small enough to “walk” with a finger. Most are about 40 feet wide, large enough to accommodate a walking adult. The materials used to build a labyrinth can be as simple as chalk used to trace a path in a parking lot, or as intricate as this one planted with flowers and herbs in West Michigan[L3] .
Diana Ng’s book, Walking the Labyrinth: Your Path to Peace and Possibilities, includes a seed pattern you can use to plant your own labyrinth. More information about, check out labyrinthlady.ca.
Want to visit a labyrinth?
Approximately 30 years ago, Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress, priest of the Episcopal Church, speaker, and teacher, replicated the labyrinth design from the cathedral in Chartes, France, and revived the labyrinth for the modern day. She went on to found a non-profit organization called Veriditas in California, which uses the labyrinth experience to help people heal and grow, build communities, and promote global peace.
Linda Zukauskas is a freelance writer and journalist in Connecticut. After more than a decade of marriage, she and her husband split amicably in 2008. She works primarily as a ghostwriter.