So, what would possess me to build a forest meditation labyrinth? Well, each Mother’s Day I have the challenge of showing my wife, Liz, how grateful I am to her for being such an incredible mother to our daughter. I would say that she’s the best mother in the world (and she is in my eyes), but I hope every child out there feels the same about their mother.
This year I decided to construct a forest meditation labyrinth for Liz in our pine forest. We’re blessed with over 50 acres of land, most of which is wooded. And a few years ago I hand-carved walking trails through most of the hardwood forest—we have about two miles of walking trails in total. But we also have a stand of planted pine trees in neat, tidy rows. That area tends to be Liz’s favorite.
The problem is it’s something of a mess. Trees fall, as do branches, needles, pinecones, and so on. Over time it can become the opposite of meditative. It can be an eyesore. So I set out to remedy that in 2021 and give Liz a tranquil environment to meander in.
What is a Meditation Labyrinth
My original idea was to create a garden meditation labyrinth. Perhaps you’ve seen those. These are the circular structures, usually lined with stones, that lead to a center. Perhaps you’ve seen them—they look something like this:
I was going to create something like this in our apple orchard but decided on the more unique option of creating a labyrinth in the forest.
The Difference Between a Labyrinth and a Maze
Labyrinths are patterns found in many cultures. From the early Cretan labyrinths to the medieval cathedral labyrinths, labyrinths have long been a unique aspect of human civilization. Now, the words labyrinth and maze are often used interchangeably, but they differ. After all, not all circuitous paths are labyrinths.
Mazes, for example, do have a correct path. But mazes also attempt to trick someone into hitting a dead end or getting lost. Unlike mazes, labyrinths are unicursal with a single, continuous path toward the center. So, while both mazes and labyrinths are composed of paths leading towards a center, there is one key difference: Whereas a maze has many choices (some right, some wrong), the labyrinth has only one choice. Just keep walking. Even I can’t get lost.
An interesting fact is that the word “labyrinth” was misused in conjunction with the Minotaur of Daedalus. After all, real labyrinths only have one route and contain no wrong turns. Labyrinths aren’t puzzles; they are designed for lingering meditations.
Spiritual and religious traditions have relied on labyrinths as tools for meditation, prayer, and healing for thousands of years. How? Because walking a labyrinth invites focus on the step-by-step journey, just as we should focus on (and celebrate) our step-by-step journeys through life. Even though the path will ultimately get you to the center, it progresses slowly around in a spiral shape. At times it may look like you’re closing in on the destination only to find you’ve just doubled back in the opposite direction.
Most people walk meditative labyrinths in silence. This is something I’ve been trying to teach my daughter to do, as she hums, sings, and (too) loudly asks me obscure questions. Some pray or meditate while walking. Others simply observe each step and breath deeply along the way.
Some people believe walking a labyrinth is metaphoric of life’s journey. Not only does it have twists and turns, but it can also lead forward and back, up and down. So what’s the important life lesson here? To keep on walking and being grateful that you have the ability to take the journey.
Pictures of Liz’s Forest Labyrinth
How to Walk the Forest Labyrinth
Of course, there is no one “right way” to walk a labyrinth. After all, it depends on what you want to gain from the experience. One common approach is to walk by focusing on the ‘Three R’s.”
The Three R’s of Labyrinth Walking
- The first “R” refers to “Releasing.” This is the letting go of your cares, worries, and expectations upon entering into the labyrinth. As you’re walking, ask yourself, “What can I release at this moment?” Perhaps you’re worried about a relationship, health, or money. Whatever it is, this isn’t the time to dwell on it. Let it go.
- The second “R” stands for “Receiving.” With this, the aim is to make yourself open to accepting inspirations and thoughts offered along the way. As you listen to the sounds of nature and breathe the clean air, ask yourself, “What am I meant to receive at this moment?” You may receive the gift of gratitude, of knowing you have much in your life to be grateful for. And for the knowledge that the worries you have or either not as daunting as they seem, or not even real.
- And the final “R” is…”Returning.” That doesn’t simply mean turning around and heading out. Rather, it means to exit the labyrinth with a sense of gratitude for the healing forces that surround you in nature. Ask yourself, “What can I take back to the world to make me, it, and my relationships better?”
As you can see, walking a meditative labyrinth is a wonderful tool for dealing with anxieties or for simply increasing happiness. Believe me, we’ve had enough Covid and related anxieties in the past year.
Video Tour of Our Forest Meditation Labyrinth
It’s one thing to describe this labyrinth I constructed, right? And it’s even better to see it in the pictures above. Now, we’d love to invite you out here to see this for yourself, so here’s a virtual tour for you.
I walked this tour quickly for you—took me only two and a half minutes. Normally we’d take 10 minutes or so to walk, listen, and reflect. You take as long as you’d like—just don’t litter 🤪
How I Built the Forest Meditation Labyrinth
It took me a few days to create the labyrinth. And since the forest floor was littered with years of debris I had to really put my back into it.
The first thing I did was try to visualize a path in the midst of broken branches and forest litter. That was easier said than done, for while the rows may look neat and clean in that video, here’s what I started with.
As you can see the forest was strewn with sticks, vines, downed trees, leaning trees, sprouting vegetation, and tons of pine needles. But before I could get to clearing that I had to mark a path. I did that by taking a reel of our electric fence line, tying it around a starting tree, and then marking a path. Back and forth, up and down, I stumbled over debris as I defined how the labyrinth would twist and turn.
Then, I got out my tools and put my back into it.
Tools Needed to Build a Forest Labyrinth
I relied on four primary tools to create the labyrinth:
- Metal rake
- Leaf blower
- Strong back
I used other things too, such as a circular saw, router, and drill to make the signs out of barnwood. And a post hole digger to plant a couple of ferns beside the bench in the center. Oh, and of course I needed my circular saw and drill to build that bench out of wood I had lying around. But most of the work was done with the four primary tools.
After marking the path my first step was to use the metal rake to pull debris to the side. I’d do that for 30 seconds, bend over to pick up sticks to toss, and repeat. This was by far the most laborious part of the whole process.
After I had the path roughed out like that I went to round two. Here I switched to the weedeater to take out all the sprouting vegetation.
Next, I fired up the chainsaw. While there were many trees and branches down, plenty of sprouting saplings were growing in the path that needed to be removed. One tree, in particular, was actually three trees growing from a single trunk. I paused on this one and visualized cutting it off about knee high so that I could make a bench. Here’s what that tree looks like from below after I made the bench.
Across from the bench, I framed a mirror and inscribed, “happiness lies inside.” It’s a nice spot to sit and examine ourselves on our journey.
After cutting any trees in the way I then needed to line the path. Fortunately, there were many trees already down in the forest that I could carry and place as needed. But many were misshapen or too long, so I still needed the chainsaw to cut pieces to size.
Finally, I pulled out the leaf blower to clean up the path and make it nice and neat. While I enjoyed the hand raking and planning part of this project, the jarring sound of the leaf blower didn’t fit well in the tranquility of the forest. It was a great tool for the job, but I was glad when that part was over.
Maintaining the Labyrinth
Building the trail is the hard part. Maintaining it should be pretty straightforward as it’s a simple matter of picking up and tossing debris out of the path.
When I’m maintaining, I like to make a special trip for that purpose. Concentrating on picking up and cleaning kind of goes against reflecting and meditating. But unless we’ve had a big windstorm I can pretty much limit my clean-ups to once a month.
Was Building the Forest Labyrinth Worth It?
Liz puts family first every day of the year. While she and I both homeschool Maisy, who are we kidding. Liz does 90% (or more) of the heavy lifting with that. Maisy and I are the beneficiaries. She’s an amazing wife, mother, and human, whom I’m eternally grateful for.
So was it worth it to labor in the forest for a few days to create this for her? You betcha. We’ve already enjoyed it, almost daily, and it draws us outside into nature. There’s no better place to sit, reflect, and be grateful for all that life gives to each one of us.