While a maze is a puzzle or a trap, filled with false starts, wrong turns and dead ends—a labyrinth is a single winding path, opening at each step as we go around and around the circle, back and forth, spiraling inward and then outward again over and over, gradually working our way to the center. While the final exit from a maze is just an ending, the center of a labyrinth is a turning point. When we come to the center, we pause to center ourselves, and then turn and return the way we came, following our own footsteps back to the beginning.
Some dreams can seem like mazes—a mess of frustrations, disappointments, confusions and anxieties from which we are relieved to wake up. But when we begin to explore even the most tangled maze of a dream, we begin to find that its paths are labyrinthine: there’s a pattern (or many patterns) even though we are going around in circles; there’s always a way forward even though we are often turning back; there’s balance and symmetry even when we keep finding ourselves further from what we thought was our goal.
The reason I’m saying “we” is because the labyrinth of dreamwork is most evident when we are in it together—as a group. Several times, I’ve taken labyrinth walks with others—and it’s amazing (pun intended) how many different ways there are to walk this one path. Each person enters at the same place, but at a slightly different point in time. And then, as I proceed, I keep encountering the same people over and over, unpredictably—we may walk side by side for a while, or pass each other going opposite directions. We converge repeatedly, but never intercept each other, never cross paths. But we all find the same center, and we all return to the same place when we have completed our journey.
Labyrinths speak the language of metaphor (or walk the path of metaphor) just as dreams do. The labyrinth is a pilgrimage—following the call inward to the sacred center of life, and then returning outward to the everyday world that is also always calling, along a path that appears to be complicated and convoluted yet turns out to be somehow simple and unobstructed. Like a labyrinth, a dream takes us to another place, into another world; it is a real world within us, and also a map of the world around us. And when we work on a dream together in a group, we are like labyrinth walkers who wind our way around each other, finding a simultaneous story in our separate experiences of the dream.
The labyrinth image accompanying this post is a fabric mandala created by artist Melanie Weidner, to represent “the intentions of all of us traveling on a spiritual journey.” She describes how its imagery “honors many faith traditions and marks the path into the Life around us and within us. Along the way, we travel through molten creative fires, the darkness of mystery, the cooling waters of life, and the greening of creation.” This passage through the rich colors and textures of lived experience, accompanied by others, might also be a description of group dreamwork.
I am continually surprised by the labyrinthine process of exploring dreams with others. Working with my own dreams surprises me, too, but like walking the labyrinth (or like the walk of life itself), this work expands exponentially into the mystery and miracle of shared experience when different people are reflecting their own versions of the same dream journey. We start out with the same dream story, but each one of us walks through this story in a unique way. As our ideas and impressions wander in and out, we weave our own individual paths into the dream, our own individual patches on the collage of the dreamwork. It seems like a tangle at first: there are knots and scraps and hanging threads… Are we all wandering around blindly in a maze? No, all at once the flowing movement becomes apparent—every one of us passes into and out from the same center. And if you step back and look, those patches of color and strands of thread have come together to become the fabric of a labyrinth mandala collage. How did this happen? It’s a work of art, a living dream.
In another post, I described a dream group as being like a “doggy jamboree” (like dogs getting to know each other in an “off-leash area”)… But this labyrinth metaphor may seem a bit more esoteric. I hope not. Labyrinths, and dream groups, can be profound spiritual experiences, but they can also be light-hearted. You can skip or hop along the labyrinth path, and in a dream group you can turn dream images upside down or inside out. Members of the group spark each other’s creativity and playfulness. It’s improvisation all the way in, and all the way out again. And you don’t have to be brilliant to join the journey—walking or dreaming the winding path.