Have You Walked Your Labyrinth Today?
Visit a labyrinth lately? It turns out, they’re everywhere: arboreta, backyards, hospital roofs, equine therapy centers, churches, inside cathedrals, city streets and all kinds of places where people gather or go for solitude.
Labyrinths look like a cross between a maze and hopscotch. Their lines are made of rock or spring bulbs, painted stones with messages to loved ones lost, rope, paint, tree limbs and crystals like rose quartz and other stones with good vibrations. Their paths are gravel or trodden ground, concrete or pavers. Some are portable, painted on linen, rolled up and transported to school, hospitals, corporations and prisons.
To further confuse the basic simplicity of a labyrinth, it is meant to walk in, dance in, pray in, meditate in, be sad in, happy in, twirl around in (but respect the lines and put back any knocked out of place), to just empty your mind in…a time of reflection.
There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth and there are no expectations, religious connotations or cultural connections. It’s a timeless global ritual. It’s another way to escape the daily grind and get lost in the physical geometry of it all.
It is related to self: to reconnect with yourself and enjoy the moment. Walk one and find out what it does for you.
The Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown, NJ
Take the serpentine path toward the museum, pass the rose garden, cross the drive and step onto the soft cinder path. Along the way, check out the Japanese stewartia and Japanese maples. Through the knot garden and pergola, watch for the labyrinth sign and go straight through the trees.
A young couple walks quickly through the labyrinth, stopping to look at the stones below that bear colorful, heart-felt messages. Sounds of the other world stir beyond the trees that shimmer in the breeze. This visitor soaks up the tree sound that rises above the noise of cars, the shimmer that transcends suburbia as I enter the world of the woods. Mind over matter. Be loose. See if you can escape in the labyrinth.
The labyrinth was made by Good Grief, Northern New Jersey’s premier resource for grieving children and their families, for their special day: Hope Blooms, a Walk of Remembrance for families to reconnect with loved ones who have died.
“Lesley Parness (Superintendent of Horticultural Education / Horticulture and Natural Resource Management, Morris County Park Commission) thought of the labyrinth,” says Marisa Bolognese, Good Grief executive director. “We loved the idea. We jumped on it. Some people at Good Grief had experience with labyrinths so we ran with it.”
But why at the arboretum? “We wanted an event in a natural environment. There are so many twists and turns and trails and beautiful gardens. There were many families who were never there before and the labyrinth was a way they would return. It was a collaboration between the Arboretum and us. People had a beautiful day at the Arboretum,” Bolognese adds.
Says Parness: “I wanted one for a long time because a labyrinth is a tool for meditation and healing. It is a perfect match between the Frelinghuysen Arboretum and Good Grief. They understand death. Death and renewal is the story of a garden. They understand death. They are not afraid of it and are willing to talk about death.”
Good Grief’s labyrinth team chose the design, marked it out in winter and built it a week before the festival-like event, Hope Blooms. A ceramist made tiles with nature motifs. Painting the stones was part of the day’s activities for family members that included creating something to bring home, something to bring back to Good Grief, and something to leave at the Arboretum. On that day, with 400+ people involved, family members selected a rock that spoke to them, painted a message on it and placed it in the woodland labyrinth.
Good Grief will return in May 2013 to hold their second Hope Blooms “because the rocks have meaning to people. We couldn’t let the rocks disappear because people put their hearts and souls into them. The Arboretum was wonderful. It was a great match and a great example of how two organizations can work together,” Bolognese says.
Take your Labyrinth Walk daily from 8am- dusk.
Unity Church of Sussex County, Lafayette, New Jersey
Head for the line of blue spruce and stop inside the pergola to feel the vibes that begin to change the spirit. Feel the pulse as you step onto a path between spruces that stretch out to touch you. A quiet labyrinth lay surrounded by wildflower meadow and woods. A perennial-shrub garden borders the stone-lined, gravel path: St. Johnswort, buddleia, artemesia, spirea, nandina and Old Gold juniper.
The sound of bugs and birds. I want to feel the here and now. A dead bird carcass on the stone. Peace for some… in some way. Life and death as in a garden, as in life. Goldenrod, spotted knapweed, crown vetch…
Built on a hillside by the church members, gravel accumulates above the lowest rocks of each spiral. I walk slowly, look down, searching for enlightenment. I see a weed, a spot of bright green against grey. At the center, artfully placed pebbles on a flat rock make a face and gravel in a hole with very neatly smooth edges. Was it carved or just dissolved?
Butterflies, moths, flying grasshoppers…moss-covered rock. The meadow comes to the edge. Like any garden, the labyrinth must be maintained.
Must come back to this beautiful, wild labyrinth. Open anytime.
Residence of Carol House
Carol House was always into spiritual things: meditation, yoga, walking circles in the woods. Walking labyrinths began 20 years ago when she saw a photo of the 800 year-old labyrinth in the nave of the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France where priests performed their Easter dances. That was when she had an epiphany.
Her seven-acre property in Blairstown, New Jersey is quite divine. The hilly land borders the Paulins Kill and woodland, has a seasonal stream that splashes down glacial boulders, sports a swimming pool built on an extinct quarry pit, has floriferous gardens and lots of art. Not only is this restorative in itself, she created three labyrinths: an ephemeral 5-circuit crocus labyrinth, a 7-circuit stone labyrinth moved from a previous home, and a small stone spiral on a defunct tennis court.
“When you walk a labyrinth you are accepting an invitation to pray, meditate, focus, play, dance, concentrate – be in the moment. It just has it all” says House, a labyrinth consultant and owner of Labyrinth Ways. “When you have to put one foot in front of the other, you don’t have to think. And because you are in the present, every moment is different. You may feel sad or energized or joyful. That’s what’s so cool about it.” It is a tool (of the spirit).
“The pattern is so ancient, walking in it I feel connected to ancient ancestors, connected to time and space when it was slower,” says Connie Fentley, a consultant who helps communities build labyrinths, such as one at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
“And the more people who walk in the space, the more they leave peace and harmony and the space becomes more sanctified,” House adds.
When designing a labyrinth, House douses to find its entrance and center. Holding a short, L-shaped metal dousing rod in each hand, she asks a series of yes or no questions such as “Is this a good place for a labyrinth?” If the answer is yes, the rods swing to cross over each other. If not, they swing open. “X marks the spot!”
This writer tried dowsing after House queried a particular spot in her garden several times and located the entrance and center. The rods reacted to confirm the location and center.
House’s favorite labyrinth to walk is the one at Chartres Cathedral. “Walking it, you get involved and you don’t know where you are,” she says. “I like stepping in and out of time and when you get to the center and people are walking it around you, it’s a very good feeling.”
Get in touch with yourself at a labyrinth near you. You’ll like it!
The Frelinghuysen Arboretum www.arboretumfriends.org/events
(website says thru September but goes beyond, call if concerned)
Good Grief: http://www.good-grief.org/
Unity of Sussex County: http://unityofsussex.org
Carol House at Labyrinth Ways: 908-362-5969
Locate a labyrinth near you: The Labyrinth Society
World Labyrinth Day: Saturday, May 4, 2013. This is a day when people all over the world lay out labyrinths and walk labyrinths for healing and peace.
** All photos by Mary Jasch unless otherwise noted.
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published September 23, 2012