Labyrinth World versus Maze World

I recently walked a local labyrinth, in wonderful natural setting, on a bright sunny day, and found it provoked an interesting walking meditation. I then, as I do, started to read about labyrinths, and the fundamental difference between a labyrinth and a maze. A labyrinth is one winding path into the center with no choices of path, and so from a meditation point of view it represents a sort of spiritual journey, where you can relax into the moment and the walking, because there are no choice of route to be made. In contrast, a maze is a more complicated structure, in which there are constant choices to be made and some of the choice end up in dead ends, and you have to re-trace your steps. Indeed you may get lost in a maze and have to be directed out. 

To quote Wikipedia: In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate

So what has this to do with conflict? Well, I think in many ways these two models represent fundamentally different and conflicting ways to live and experience life, both with their use but understanding the difference is key. They often get them confused and we may be using the wrong one for what we have in mind. The two models may be in conflict and their inappropriate use may generate both internal and external conflict.

The labyrinth is useful for spiritual journeys, for situations where to get deeper inside ourselves we need to let go, to just let the path unroll under our feet and focus on things other than decisions as to the route we walk. Of course, paradoxically this may help us think about who we are, and indirectly find out our Interests, our preferences for the route we want to take or how we want to handle conflict with others, including about the route we want to take. But the labyrinth itself is a powerful metaphor for temporarily letting go of route choices.

The maze in contrast is a powerful metaphor for our life in the outside world, where we need to make career choices, choose our life partner, choose where we live and so on. These are real choices with real consequences and can feel maze-like. We fear we may become lost in the maze of these choices, lose our sense of direction or make mistakes. So thinking about such choices, the metaphor of a maze may be helpful.

Meanwhile, other people are impacting us. It occurs to me, that many parents have a labyrinth model of the path their children should take…to follow a particular career: become a doctor, to marry a certain sort of person or within a certain caste/class, whatever. And the conflict is generated because their children experience life as a maze with real profound consequential choices. But equally, faced with a maze-like career or partner choice, some time walking a labyrinth may actually help free us from over-control by our ego or others and allow us the space to better understand ourselves and overcome our internal conflicts. And hence be better able to navigate life’s maze.

So for me, labyrinths and mazes have their uses as powerful metaphors and both have important purposes that are inter-related and can contribute to each other. The navigational key is to know which is appropriate and to use it appropriately. I am no expert on this but thought the contrast might prove interesting. I would be happy to hear from people who know more about mazes and labyrinths than I do, as always in this blog. I may be mistaken.

A labyrinth: see

A maze: see

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Art, Conflict Processes, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Religious Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Labyrinth World versus Maze World

  1. Kyrie Eleison says:

    This really makes me wonder about the true purpose of all those Nazca lines. They are characteristically labyrinthine. Adds credence to the theory that they were in fact for meditation and/or ceremonial purposes and not simply the product of LGM.

    Nobody knows for certain, however some of these theories weather Occam’s razor much better than others.

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