An Invitation To Walk

Labyrinth Walking For Breast Cancer HealingBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

I have written before about this ancient symbol, The Labyrinth. However, I want to write again as I believe in the synchronicity of all events in each of our lives and that information that we need arrives just at the time we need it. I just returned from nine days of being immersed in all things Labyrinth. I returned knowing again that the Labyrinth has something important to share, especially with cancer patients.

That is something you and I have in common. We have been touched by cancer in one form or another and we are learning together how to manage the fear as well the changes to our lives that are so necessary to help us manage the disease with adjunctive holistic approaches such as yoga, exercise, clean eating and spiritual and psychological health.

Each of us are somewhere in our journey of treatment, maybe beginning, middle, or management stage. We did not have a choice about cancer. It didn’t knock or even announce itself when it entered. The next thing that you and I have in common is we did choose to show up in life and educate ourselves about what “best and informed choices” we can make now that cancer is a part of our tapestry of life. I understand the word “tapestry” is an interesting word choice because the underlying feeling is perhaps more like, “cancer has entered my body and ruined my tapestry”. Hating has never helped any of us get better and I believe gives us the mindset of fighting the enemy. But this duality of thinking can raise our anxiety and set us up for failure when a treatment does not work the way we want it to.

Over the years, I have found a very valuable resource in my cancer journey and that is this ancient symbol I have come to know as the labyrinth. At over 4,000 years old, the Labyrinth predates Christianity and its eleven or seven circuit path is found in all parts of the world. During my first year post treatment I made a commitment to walk the labyrinth one day each week. At that time (2000) the closest Labyrinth to me was thirty minutes away in downtown Phoenix at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. On New Year’s Eve of 2000 Trinity dedicated their beautiful outdoor eleven-circuit Chartres style Labyrinth. During that year, as I made my way down to the labyrinth and reflectively walked it (it is like a walking meditation) I began to let go of some of the angst and fear. I found myself re-evaluating my life’s choices and asking hard questions like, “Why me?” or “Why now?” As I maintained my commitment to walk, I realized I walked my way into a place of inner peace, acceptance, and resiliency. In some ways I integrated my journey and it was no longer the enemy. My hatred for the illness had dissipated and I had a sense of neutrality. It is what it is. My choice became “How do I come to it since it is now here?” These harder, more uncomfortable feelings were below my consciousness during treatment because the only things there are room for during treatment are survival muscles and survival thinking. It was post treatment that had hit me the hardest. Walking out of my last Chemo and crying because, now what can I do? The labyrinth answered that question with open arms by calling me to come and walk. It was not like I heard a voice, or read a book, it was as subtle as that inner voice could be, but I knew with no doubt that I needed to walk the Labyrinth. So, I did. I was curious about this need to walk the Labyrinth and had no concrete expectation.

Now that I have shared my personal experience, I hope I have tweaked your curiosity about this ancient symbol. Let me introduce you to my friend the Medieval Chartres Labyrinth, often referred to as the “Chartres Labyrinth” because it was discovered in the congregational area of the Chartres cathedral in France. This ancient symbol is being rediscovered today and being used in many ways–walking meditation is just one of those ways. If cancer has stolen your ability to walk comfortably or steadily, don’t fret. It is possible to “walk” a Labyrinth with your fingers, a hand-held replica or even by downloading an app on your smartphone or tablet called IPause. I use this app often, especially when waiting. Your finger serves your body in the same way your feet do. Notice the Labyrinth has a pattern of back and forth, left to right. When we walk the path with our feet our brain fires back and forth. When you follow your finger with your eyes, your brain does the same thing. So your brain will respond to the movement either way, by foot or by finger.

A Labyrinth is different than a maze in that it is one singular path. It is the same path into the center and when you get to the center it is the same path out again. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER and keep going. Perhaps, at first glance the Labyrinth may have reminded you of a maze but it is much different. A maze has many dead ends and many decision or choice points. As a cancer patient, perhaps you are experiencing your treatment like a maze, many dead ends and many confusing and conflicting treatment protocols. That is stressful. The labyrinth is the opposite of that as you only have to put one foot in front of the other. At times you may feel a little disorientated or lost but keep going with the confidence that moving forward will take you exactly where you need to be.

How do you do this thing called a labyrinth walk? Here are three guidelines for you:

  • Release
  • Receive
  • Return

As you stand at the opening of the labyrinth, think about what it is today that bothers you most or what it is that you are needing some help or guidance about. As you walk, just allow yourself to ponder that question and just put one foot in front of the other. Do not try to come up with an answer, just walk and ponder.

When you get to center, imagine yourself receiving a response to your pondering. Maybe you won’t have an immediate ah-ha, but imagine that here in the center there are many possibilities to your refection. Just allow a sense of acceptance and when you feel your energy shift, turn and walk out, circling your path out of the center as you did walking in. Return to your life with a sense of curiosity and let peace float around you like a rainbow. Return to your life knowing that you can take the next step of your cancer journey because you CAN, you have always had the power in you.

Other things that you might want to do as you explore your own journey with my friend the Labyrinth is to listen to music on the way in and out. You may want to carry a rock or something that represents your issue to the center and leave it there, walking out with your hands open in a receiving gesture. I find it helpful to journal before or after a walk. The writing about it for me helps me to punctuate my intention of this meditative time.

I suppose by now you are asking how do you find a labyrinth near you? Visit and type in your zip code. The webmasters at this site work hard to keep it updated and if you find a labyrinth near you and it is not on the site, please let them know so they can place it on there. Other helpful sites are

Enjoy your new journey as you use your curiosity to explore how this symbol might be helpful to you along your journey.

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

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  1. HJ Albanese says:

    9 DAYS OF LABYRINTH? Did you attend a workshop? Can you share that specific resource with us?

    I’ve managed 24 hour prayer vigils at my church for some 10 years; we “discovered” labyrinths about 7 years ago and our attendees love the huge canvas one we borrow, the Chartres plan. For safety, we use electric tea lights around the edges. Ethereal at night. We provide socks and do not allow shoes on the canvas.



  1. […] walk? I’ve done a few in Ireland – so it was interesting to read more about it on the Breast Cancer Yoga […]


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