It looked like the kind of intricate doodle that I would create to help me stay awake during calculus class in high school, except this maze was made of earth, grass and bricks. I’ve walked through hay mazes and followed elaborate scavenger hunts with my kids. Walking a labyrinth is not like walking through a maze.
It is 5:30 in the morning. I don’t generally do 5:30 a.m., but I was asked by a friend to walk her labyrinth. I’ve seen the labyrinth next to the lake in her backyard during parties and thought that designwise it brought something visually cool to her garden. I had little idea what labyrinths were all about. I found out that this early morning gathering of woman to walk the labyrinth was a tradition for my friend since the onset of her Parkinson’s Disease. Like the other women, I was an honored guest. Having no expectation at all, I started to walk.
What is a labyrinth? It is not a maze, because it really is not a puzzle. A labyrinth has only one single way to the center. The way in is the way out. It is designed to be easy to navigate. Historically, labyrinths were thought of as symbolic pilgrimages on the path towards enlightenment. As the religious significance faded, labyrinths served primarily for entertainment purposes. Lately, labyrinths have enjoyed a spiritual resurgence for health and well-being.
Many people today believe that labyrinths can help them achieve a contemplative state. Can labyrinths be a timely anecdote for, let’s say, folks who are experiencing the doom and gloom of our country’s financial situation? Maybe. Walking among the turnings, one can lose track of direction and of the outside world, thus quieting the mind. The result is a relaxed mental attitude. Like my friend, many people believe that labyrinths provide a type of meditation and clarity that has both health and spiritual benefits. The American Cancer Society suggests labyrinth walking to be “helpful as a complementary method to decrease stress and create a state of relaxation.”
I also learned that the labyrinth is an important subject in contemporary art. Mondrian, Miro, Picasso and Escher were all influenced by the artistic quality of the labyrinth. And yes, there are mathematical aspects to labyrinths.
When we gathered around the lake I asked what we were supposed to feel. My friend said, “Sometimes you feel something and sometimes it is just a nice walk.” I am the daughter of a hockey player and have very good balance, but while I was walking the labyrinth, I had some distinct stirrings of being off-balance. I felt the need to reground and refocus. Despite the caffeine that I downed quickly because I had gotten up so early, by the end of the walk I did feel slower, calmer, and maybe more rooted.
Why consider putting a labyrinth in your backyard? If the possibility of health benefits, spiritual awakenings and enhancing the beauty of your backyard doesn’t convince you, maybe it will just help get your kid through high school calculus. Cool.
Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.