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The Return of the Magical
Intuition - Spirituality - Wisdom
19th Working Days
20 - 24 March 2004
Ilse M. Seifried
The Art of Transformation
Becoming Aware of Self in the Labyrinth
Today is the first day of Spring. We are in exactly the same place as we were last year: on the threshhold of a new annual cycle. And that threshhold marks both the end of the old year and our entrance into the new year. But between these two - which are both the same and yet different - so much has happened.
Why am I stating something so self-evident?
Perhaps there is a wealth of wisdom buried in the self-evident, wisdom that seeks to be discovered again and again. Thus to arrive again at the point from which I set out is a life-experience. And it is also a labyrinth-experience.
The title of my presentation is The Art of Transformation or Becoming Aware of Self in the Labyrinth.
Firstly I want make clear that a labyrinth is not a maze, although in everyday speech they are considered equivalent. (translator's note - the German word for maze - Irrgarten - is based on the verb 'irren' to be mistaken) Unlike, for example, the spiral or the meander, the labyrinth, as I will discuss it today, is a form that is not to be found in nature. The Labyrinth is a cultural artefact created by man, but it is also not found in all cultures.
You would have found a piece of paper on your seats before you sat down: I
invite you to pick it up and observe it.
How did or does the form affect you? Does it remind you of anything?
If the form is inviting to you, then allow it to be so.
Look for the entrance to the form and trace the path with your finger or a pencil.
Follow it to the middle, to the centre and back. Observe whether you notice any changes and what they are.
If a word or sentence comes to mind, write it down.
Irrespective of whether you have just discovered this Way of the Labyrinth or it was already familiar to you, now you all understand what I am talking about.
The labyrinth (and above you can see the original form, which has changed
over the centuries) is defined by the following criteria:
* There is an exterior border which has only one opening.
* The shape can (physically or mentally) be walked through.
* The path never crosses itself so that there is no choice about the direction to take; the direction of the path changes back and forth like a pendulum; The path doubles back on itself close to the centre and then finally leads to a dead-end at its centre.
* The interior of the labyrinth consists of a path which takes a detour to travel from the entrance to the centre.
* The centre of the labyrinth is not the geometric centre.
* The centre is an empty space.
· Within the labyrinth the path can only be continued by a turn of 180°.
* The return path is the same but is experienced from a different perspective.
* The sequence of the path layout within the labyrinth is: 3-2-1-4-7-6-5
The first known examples of labyrinths which can be accurately dated are from around 1200 b.c. Although there are no earlier examples extant it can be assumed from these that the labyrinth existed much earlier. The origins of the labyrinth - how, when and from whom it came, and how it was used in pre-historic times - are unknown. Hermann Kern's Erscheinungsformen und Deutungen - 5000 Jahre Gegenwart eines Urbilds - Labyrinthe is the standard text. Kern documented the art and cultural history of the labyrinth over the millenia but unfortunately within the parameters of this presentation I am not able to deal with this more fully.
Before I discuss the title of my own paper, I would like to address the theme
of the day - magic.
All and everything can relate to magic. And the labyrinth too has its own connections with magic. For example in India labyrinths before the doorways protect against evil spirits, which are only able to move in straight lines; pregnant women sprinkle saffron into the shape of a labyrinth onto a tablet then drink the the powder mixed with water, preferably from the Ganges, to make childbirth easier.
In childhood everyone experiences a phase of believing in magic. But magic accompanies us throughout life, whether or not we believe in it, whether we decide for or against it, whether indeed it is officially recognised or not. Magic is just part of life.
The word 'magic' came into being in the 16th century from the Latin magia (Greek mageia, secret art, by those who sought to make these supernatural powers useful. But how can the word be understood and interpreted today?
In Man's Seventh Sense (2003) Rupert Sheldrake seeks to demonstrate that biologically the human race has more than five senses. In his opinion the sixth sense is an electro-magnetic sense (which has been proved to exist in animals). And we humans generate fields of perception through our spiritual awareness because the spirit reaches out into the world around us and connects us with everything. There is no indication that our spirit is limited to our brains.
Thoughts and feelings release energy. With magic thoughts and methods healing can occur. Shamanism is recognised by the WHO as a method of healing. However people also attempt to use magic to gain control, to obtain security. Socially it is considered positive to want to have control of one's life and understanding, technology and science are placed at the disposal of this wish. But is this not magic, tamed and presented under another guise?
Life is a process of change and to desire power and control over it means killing what is actually living. The river can be seen as a metaphor for life. At high tide the river can burst its banks. But when a course of river that has been brought under control overflows its banks, the resulting flood is far more devastating than that of a free flowing water mass. Scientists have been forced to concede this. Control and the exercise of power appear to offer security. The ego is here the driving force.
Fear is closely connected to the ego . The ego can give only the illusion of
If I enter the labyrinth, as you did with the drawing on the piece of paper, perhaps I am trying to avoid the feeling of anxiety, to get some kind of perspective, to foresee what I am getting involved in. Or perhaps I don't get involved at all and I do not even enter the labyrinth. Or does my curiosity lure and lead me bravely into the unknown?
Fixed concepts about the nature of things robs life of its flow (and strengthens the ego). To these concepts must be added our beliefs, that we have internalised on the basis of our own experiences. They work largely unconsciously but many are also known to us - because we have decided to take them on.
The beliefs of the Huna (Hawaii's indigenous people) are as follows:
The world is as I perceive it
There are no boundaries
energy comes from awareness
Now is the moment of power
Love means to be happy with
All power comes from within
Effectiveness is the measure of truth
I bless the present! I trust myself and await only good things
You are welcome to compare your own belief statements and their effectiveness
What effect does any particular thought have? Anyone can discover this immediately for themselves. The springcleaning of the spirit, what should be cleaned or discarded, can begin!
Developing knowledge of the self - in the Labyrinth
Any discussion about 'Awareness' is useless until we define the word 'Awareness'. A single general scientific definition still does not exist.
In the natural sciences all concepts are objective and can be measured by being reproduced. The concept of 'awareness' is completely subjective, as it can only be discerned and confirmed by the 'observer'. While quantum theory has displaced the role of the observer in physics, this has certainly not altered the general requirement for 'objectivity' in science.
National, political, global, health or emotional awareness could all be described as aspects of awareness.
I define Awareness as 'knowledge of self'.
In many religions the achievement of such awareness - to be aware - is described as 'enlightenment' - thus establishing a connection between light and awareness.
If we can approach what we see or experience in an open-minded way; if we can observe attentively and without pre-conceived ideas; and if we are prepared to discard deep-seated patterns of seeing and thinking - then we will discover new things.
i do not
take it upon
in my heart
i do not
take it upon
and i live it
as do the trees their leaves
the seven skins of illusion
i take upon
Light is not that which reveals, but rather it is the revelation. It is
a matter of holding to the light itself, not what it lights up. Light is apparently
untouchable and yet physically perceptible.
If we explore the light we explore ourselves. If we explore the labyrinth, we explore ourselves - and perhaps come to a new understanding (of the spiritual/of what it is to be human/of life). To date only 5% of matter can be directly observed through light. The spirit is largely unknown.
The path of 'living' thinking, thinking that is appropriate to life is not
a straight one.
What is to be found around the next turn is open . Knowledge that everyone is a part of me and I am a part of everyone else, radically changes the nature of self. Awareness of self can be defined as knowledge and experience of the light, the power of creation, or the love that is in me.
It is a decision that you make, when you choose: my journey of life is a maze - or a spiral or it is a labyrinth. And that decision has its consequences. I like to remember a particular seminar participant who after experiencing both the maze and the labyrinth on a piece of paper, commented, "My life is like a maze. But actually I would like my life to be like a labyrinth. Before tonight I want to know what my life is." And at the end of the course she said, " I have decided. For the next three months I will act on the assumption that my life is a labyrinth!"
Jorge Luis Borges was aware of this:
If we knew that the world was a labyrinth, then we would know that there is a centre. It is irrelevant what lives there - something terrible like the minotaur or some god-like creature. But there would be a centre. But if we assume that the world is chaos, then we would really be lost.
We humans think in terms of pictures and stories. We inform these with our own meanings in the knowledge that we can only ever approach one reality. Our understanding of the world is changeable .
The history of western civilisation leads from the paradise of unity to the
world of duality , to the maze - with opportunities for decisions and dead ends.
The maze is thus a symbol of temptation and of doubt and despair.
The maze confronts us with the question - right or left? Attention is directed outward. What is right? What is wrong? What is my attitude in relation to making mistakes? How do I assess, judge, condemn ? What is the basis for my decision. Is there a centre? How do I get to the centre? What if I make a mistake or get lost? etc. The question, "How should I live?" only arises in relation to higher inner or outer authorities answers are constructions.
Many associate the structure of the labyrinth with the brain, with the womb and also with the journey of life.
The labyrinth guides me. There is no right or wrong. I can direct my attention inwards. Searching is not necessary. The labyrinth is a clear and unambiguous structure, that through its boundaries has a pre-determined path (or perhaps what could be called a detour). I do not need to make decisions about which direction to take because there is one and one only path. It is up to me whether I simply stand there, turn around or go on, and how quickly and above all, how I travel this path.
On the path I can assess my situation. "Increased consciousness arises
from becoming aware of limitations," according to Heinrich Jacoby.
In the labyrinth there are no role models, nothing will be corrected - each individual is independent and on their own.
When I start walking the labyrinth, I start to move and something inside me
also starts to move. I may encounter hindrances on the path: ahead of me might
be the turns in the path and/or my own issues might reveal themselves - the
unknown, the worthless, old baggage, things I have taken on... Feelings, memories
arise into my consciousness; I can make contact with repressed or unconscious
thoughts or feelings - making change possible. Fear cut off from feelings and
emotions must be dealt with so that the fear is not perceived as truth, that
suffering does not result.
If I do not walk the labyrinth it means I am not yet ready for change, not yet ready to allow the new to enter or to eventually encounter the fear.
The path is not straight. It makes what are pre-determined yet unforeseen turns. It takes me close to the centre and then away again. Confrontation with impatience, insecurity, persistance, trust, flexibility, the need to let go, self-trust, the ability to be balanced , doubt .. this all requires enormous patience.
I remember a woman who, sensing that the centre was near, stopped, turned round and went out of the labyrinth. How can the centre be sensed? Why did she avoid it?
The structure of the labyrinth deals with the themes of boundaries and overstepping them as well as adaptability and individuality. Who has permission to cross all boundaries - and then does so? Where does the impulse to do this come from and what impulses hold us back?
What expectations, pre-conceptions do I have? Because I have a pre-conception that the labyrinth is a maze, I will get lost . In the labyrinth I reflect myself. The labyrinth is a mirror of the moment.
In the mirror not only do I see everything 1:1 (even if in reverse). There
is something more - whilst I know what awaits me when I look into the mirror,
I do not know what tiny detail will capture my eye (even if I have planned what
I will look at) - I do not know will be made known to me, where my attention,
and with it my energy, will be drawn.
Everything that I encounter is a reflection of myself, shows what is inside me. As soon as a very strong feeling arises in me - defensiveness or even affection, aggression, submissiveness or withdrawal - I decide on a theme that I can work through, bring into my consciousness, to dissolve buried or hidden pain.
Dr. Hannelore Eibach , a pioneer of therapeutic work with the labyrinth, sees the value of the labyrinth as relative to the extent that the client embraces it, takes it to their inner self. Furthermore the labyrinth leads patients to the fears and hopes that accompany them on the journey of the labyrinth/life.
Monica Monico had the same experience which she described as follows:
" In both therapy and the labyrinth what occurs after entry follows the principle of the detour. It's about searching the inner space to find something that is lost, to recognise something hidden, to make known something unknown there are many reasons to enter the inner space; it is not to confront the minotaur but rather to encounter oneself, as happens during therapy."
The therapist Rose Strunk has integrated the labyrinth into her group psychotherapy. In her experience, many patients are relieved that they do not need to make a decision about which path to take in the labyrinth; they are less concerned that the path is completely unknown. This is particularly noticeable in those who suffer from ambivalence in feeling and action.
Light labyrinth by Marianne Ewaldt
Each of the seven turns of the labyrinth is, or can be, a metaphor for the process on the path to awareness, that integrates the inner, the outer and the spiritual.
I do not know in advance what will happen. The labyrinth guides, it leads to
the centre - but I only know this, if I have already walked it. I come to the
centre via a long detour. When the inner mirrors the outer and the outer also
the inner, then I am in the labyrinth centre of my own inner centre, which vibrates
with peace and love.
On the way to the centre I may receive some insights . A healing element may be present, to make insights about life's journey, to reach the centre, to understand and accept the path. The labyrinth is a space which (remaining within the concept of duality) allows for the experiences of both the everday and the extraordinary.
The centre of the labyrinth and the centre of life is being. Polar opposites such as time and space no longer exist here; unity with all and everything is. The universal questions - Where do I come from? Where am I going? Who am I? - can be answered from experience.
For me the art of transformation is to transform but also to allow transformation
to occur and to then accept what does occur. The transformation of life and
death and life and death and life
Transforming is life. And life is the
art of transformation.
Walking the labyrinth need not be done alone but can also be undertaken together with others. But the themes and the dynamic are different. When I walk the labyrinth with other people, then I know that we all move on the same level, we are all on the same path, even though we do it in our own way. In this respect the labyrinth is non-hierarchical. Higher, faster, better, stronger - they do not exist. Along with space and time they lose their everyday meaning in the labyrinth. There are neither winners nor losers.
I encounter people - some are walking parallel to me, others are walking in
the opposite direction. I make contact with some of them, at other times I remain
self-contained. I can recognise that I am part of a whole, and we are all of
equal worth, we all come to seven turning points, to the centre and then out
again. I am myself, I maintain my own identity and yet at the same time I am
a part of the social structure.
The aspiration for a single reality, for certainty, is typical not only of the last century but in fact of a patriarchal philosophy, with its linear view and abstract-logical thinking.
Reality is a pattern of thought that unites phenomena. In this sense the labyrinth is a socially and politically relevant structure. And not only theoretically: in Zurich a labyrinth that was created thirteen years ago still remains an open and autonomous space for women, one which has continually generated positive vibrations.
Labyrinth in Zürich
Because of limited time I will leave it to you to pursue what might constitute a space intended for labyrinthic thinking and behaviour.
For me knowledge of self belongs in the realm of intuition and spirituality.
Intuition is defined in the dictionary, Duden as the capacity to acquire knowledge that is not a natural conclusion, observation, commonsense or drawn from experience. Intuition must be considered an independent source of knowledge as it transmits precisely the type of knowledge that cannot be obtained from other sources.
This quality generates itself in the labyrinth by contrast with the maze (the everyday?). The maze and the labyrinth are polar opposites and I can only hint at the labyrinthic quantum spring.
For me the labyrinth offers a space for discovery in therapeutic work. It offers the opportunity to engage with life themes, with one's self and the self and to be connected with the universal power of creation in a very real sense. Within the labyrinth this can be done at an individual rhythmn and pace; it is a place to engage with being self responsible, self-resolute and independent.
As far as I am aware the labyrinth is still rarely integrated into therapy . Perhaps I have aroused your curiousity enough that you might open yourselves to the labyrinth and make use of it for yourselves and your patients?
"We are both changing and permanent. Essentially we are an enigma. .....
If time is a representation of the eternal, then the future will be the movement of the soul in the direction of the future The future itself would be a return to the eternal."
"We will not stop to investigate and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot.
And finally in my own words: If we have reached not only the external centre but also our own internal universal centre, then we will find that at the end of the path we are united with the universal source of creation.
The Labyrinth's path is the path (back) to the source of love.
Thankyou for accompanying me through this presentation!
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