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How Walking a Labyrinth Helped Me to Heal after Cancer

by Robin B. Dilley, PhD

Wellness image

As a breast cancer survivor, I found the end of treatment to be absolutely terrifying. I did not experience the relief I assumed would come after completing my final chemotherapy session. What I got in­stead were tears – and they weren’t exactly tears of joy. It was like all of the pent-up fear, anger, and emotional turmoil, which I had pushed aside while I was focusing on surviving, suddenly gushed out. Actively fighting cancer through chemotherapy and radiation had given me a sense of control. But when I was no longer solely focused on fighting, I realized I still felt helpless.

I needed something to help me cope with the emotions I was experiencing in the wake of cancer. It just so happened that as my treatment ended, a beautiful labyrinth was permanently installed in downtown Phoenix, AZ, near where I live. If you’re unfamiliar, a labyrinth is a complex series of winding paths, similar to a maze. However, a laby­rinth is different from a maze in that it is one singular path to follow, rather than a puzzle to be solved. Labyrinths have been around for over 4,000 years, but they are being redis­covered and used in many ways today – walking meditation is one of them.

I made a commitment during my first year post-treatment to walk the labyrinth one day each week. As I made my reflective walk each week, I began to let go of the angst and fear I had been holding on to since my cancer diagnosis. After a few weeks of walking, I soon realized that I was walking my way to a place of inner peace, acceptance, and resiliency. In some ways, cancer was no longer the enemy. My hatred for the illness had dissipated, and I had reached a place of neutrality. My walking medi­tations allowed me to work through the despair and helplessness I felt when I began the recovery phase of my cancer journey. My medical battle was com­pleted, and through walking the carefully placed curves of the labyrinth, one singular path to the center and out again, I began to fully heal.

I soon realized that I was walking my way to a place of inner peace, acceptance, and resiliency.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Robin Dilley

How You Can Discover the Healing Power of the Labyrinth for Yourself
As a cancer survivor, you have likely also experienced the maze of cancer treatment – full of dead ends and confusing and conflicting treat­ment protocols. You, too, can use labyrinths as a path to healing after cancer, or during any part of your cancer journey. If you are unable to walk comfortably or steadily, don’t fret. It is possible to “walk” a labyrinth with your fingers using a hand-held replica or a mobile app.

Unlike a maze, which can be stress­ful to solve, labyrinths bring peace, reflection, and healing. You just have to put one foot in front of the other and stay the course; the path is already laid out for you. At times you may feel a little disoriented or lost, but keep going with the confidence that moving for­ward will take you exactly where you need to be.

When you stand at the entrance of your labyrinth – whether it’s a physical one or virtual – begin your meditation with these three simple words: release, receive, return. Your walk to the center will be filled with the release of fears, worries, hurts, and concerns. When you arrive at the center, it may be helpful to envision it as a beautiful garden over­flowing with everything you need to heal. Imagine picking yourself some blooms of hope, courage, bravery, energy, and health.

Once you’ve collected what you need, begin your return – one bend at a time – the same way you entered. When you reach the end, I hope you will have received the renewal you need – to return to treatment, to life, to the world – restored as the wonder­ful human being you are. I wish you well on your journey, and I wish you joy in your heart.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Robin Dilley is a private-practice psy­chologist and the author of In a Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer. To learn more about Dr. Dilley, visit her website, PsychotherapyUnlimited.com.

Labyrinths are finding their way to medical facilities, colleges, schools, and prisons, as their meditative uses are becoming more recognized. You can also find them in parks and churches. To locate one in your area, go to LabyrinthLocator.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2016.