What is a labyrinth (Not)?

by Linda Nansteel Lovell

Have you ever walked a labyrinth as part of a meditation practice? Full-size WALKING LABYRINTHS are popping up all over the Central Maryland area, and smaller FINGER LABYRINTHS are as a close as your next Google search or even a pencil and paper.

With this blog post, we begin a series about labyrinths – their history, their creation and their uses as tools for achieving inner balance and peace. Before we embark on all those topics, however, we need a bit of clarification.

The terms “labyrinth” and “maze” are used interchangeably more often than not. Although their shapes may be similar, their purposes are completely at odds with one another. They embody two different concepts. Make no mistake: they are not interchangeable terms.

To wit: the labyrinth provides the user with a smooth path to a goal so as to free the mind to turn inward. The maze sets up constant obstacles and demands the user make choices at every intersection. In the labyrinth, there is one single way to the center, and the same path is followed back out. In the maze, there is usually a single starting point and a single ending point. However, the user faces a choice of many paths leading to different places, most far removed from the ending point.

The purpose of a labyrinth is to offer the user an opportunity for introspection, to soothe the soul, to provide the mind a place of refuge from the constant barrage of choices the user faces each day. The purpose of a maze is to challenge the user at every turn, to thwart and (pleasingly) frustrate the user with so many blind alleys.

In short, the purpose of a maze is to get the user lost; the purpose of a labyrinth is to allow the user to find him/herself.

Watch this space for a future blog post about the history of labyrinths.

Samira Shuruk