The Labyrinth of Recovery: An Ancient and Mysterious Archetype in “Eating in the Light of the Moon”

“In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds wholeness.”

As I embark upon research and reading for my presentation at Friday’s Conscious Living Book Club event, I have come across the metaphor of the labyrinth.  This metaphor is truly speaking to me at this moment.  In Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston, PhD, the symbol of the labyrinth highlights each of the chapters as Dr. Johnston explores how metaphors, stories, and fables can describe our relationships with food and can help us understand and heal from disordered patterns of eating and experiencing our bodies.

“The labyrinth walk is a request to nature for harmony.”

A labyrinth is a pathway that loops back repeatedly upon itself, reaches the center, and then winds its way back out again.  It’s different from a maze in that there are no barriers, false turns, or dead ends.  You cannot do anything wrong.  There’s only one path to the labyrinth, and you have no choice but to follow it.  The labyrinth is typically in the form of a circle, with a meandering but purposeful path, from the edge to the center and back out again.  On the spiritual journey we meet fellow travelers, obstacles and unexpected turns. The labyrinth walk is a process meditation that seems to suspend time as well as judgment and invites us to embody our experience in a completely new way.

Many see the labyrinth as a symbol of the journey of life, death, and rebirth and our journey through life.  In recovery from disordered eating or from any other type of addictive behavior, says Dr. Johnston, the journey requires you to follow a twisting, turning, winding path to your center.  You must leave behind perceptions of yourself that you have adopted from others and you must reclaim your own inner authority.

On your path, listen to your inner voice and allow it to offer guidance and support as you search for true thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Let go of linear expectation of progress, disengage the rational mind, embrace the power of emotion and intuition.  When you are able to do this, you can find freedom from behaviors and compulsions that have seemed to be holding you hostage, and your inner voice can guide you to nourish the TRUE hunger that you are feeling.

One of the cool things that I love about the labyrinth is that you can actually, physically, take this walk.  There are hundreds of labyrinths dotting our earth, many ancient and naturally born.  They have been healing tools for us for thousands of years!

As you wander the maze either literally or figuratively, imagine that you are wandering to the true center of yourself, you inner voice, your pure soul.  However, when you get to the center, when you find the essence of who you truly are, this is not the end of your journey — your task then becomes to find your way back out again and exit the labyrinth, and as you do so, integrate this new vision or understanding of yourself with a new way of being in the world.  This is the most pure definition of eating disorder recovery.

A mentor of mine uses the labyrinth concept regularly with the clients she helps, and envisions someday creating a real labyrinth for them to follow as they are working through healing issues in their own lives.  She had the idea that as they wandered through the labyrinth they could share all of the worries, anxieties, doubts, or negative self talk that plague them every day, and offer space to these feelings.  But once they reach the center and turn to find their way back out, they will come up against these feelings again on the path and this time they must offer them compassion, hope, and grace.  This exercise allows our FULL experience to be accepted and all feelings we might have, but as we integrate a new worldview on our way out of the labyrinth (or on our way in recovery) we can show ourselves that we are able to fully experience joy, peace, and love as well as the “negative” feelings.

Tell me:

  • How do you think the labyrinth could be a rich tool for eating disorder recovery?
  • How could it help you heal parts of yourself and discover what you are TRULY hungry for?
  • How does the metaphor of the labyrinth fit in with your own life journey and soul searching?
  • What other metaphors can be used in recovery?

Leave a comment with your own thoughts on this concept and any other ideas for how it can be healing!