This week, David and I finally finished creating a labyrinth at Heartwood. We’ve been talking about building one ever since we bought this 7 ½ acre property two and a half years ago. We originally thought we’d make the path out of some kind of affordable landscaping, but after our wedding venue adventure collapsed and we dismantled our event tent, we found ourselves with a beautiful large slab just begging to be used for something special. I doubt we’d ever allocate so much in the way of resources to making a permanent labyrinth this size on such a beautiful surface were it not for the unexpected shift in our business plans, but somehow, this project was meant to be. A labyrinth is a metaphor for life with all the turns and unexpected shifts of direction you take on your path to get to your center – so the very creation of this project is an example of what the labyrinth is here to teach us. In our case, we built a retreat center with one expectation, then responded to innocent requests from a few students that somehow lead us to hosting weddings (a different expectation), and less than a year later, another twist demands we go a different direction yet again. Life is unpredictable and all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow your life’s path trusting you will eventually be lead to the core of your existence.
I first got a hankering for a labyrinth from an image I saw on a monthly e-mail from a center for journal therapy that I very much admire. I was impressed by the picture and the attached message about the power of the labyrinth for personal awakening as an artist and writer. I thought, “Well, if that is what a labyrinth does, I gotta have one!” I sent the e-mail to David, and a two year discussion about how one might make such a thing began.
David and I started to read and research labyrinths – their history, use, and deeper purposes. We were not in a hurry to create one, but we hoped one day we’d get a chance to make some kind of labyrinth. Once we decided to act on this whimsical dream, serious planning was required. A labyrinth is complex, created through the use of “sacred geometry” and the design must be exact for the correct impact.
We looked at hundreds of different labyrinths and in the end decided to go with the most classic design – the 11 circuit famed “Chartres Labyrinth,’ built in the 13th century which is at Chartres Cathedral in France. Our labyrinth is just a few feet shy of the original, but the path has been painstakingly laid out to keep the integrity of the design intact in respect of the history and heritage of this renowned and beloved symbol of spiritual awakening. The perimeter is designed to hold 114 candles for inspirational evening walks, making the experience quite magnificent. But choosing the design was the easy part. We had to figure out how to get the dang thing actually onto the slab in a way that keep the integrity of the design intact and would hold up to use.
David thought about how to go about things a long while and did some research to learn how others accomplished the task. Laying down a labyrinth without a kit or instructions was a complex project, but one he insisted he could handle. On the day he planned to begin marking the slab, I spied him on the back porch, just staring at a piece of paper for the longest time. His engineering mind was rolling over the challenge, coming up with the best way to go about recreating the intricate pattern. In the end, he established the exact center of the slab and used string and stencils made from plywood to get the labyrinth set. He plowed through a dozen magic markers, all quickly torn up on the concrete, to establish the outline. He spent so many hours hunched over that he could barely walk for two days. Then, Soraya (my yoga teaching assistant) and I spent days painting the design. We too were so sore we could barely move. We laughed about how people will no doubt see our labyrinth and think, “Ah, all they did was paint a design on a slab. No biggie…” But man, it’s been quite an undertaking to manifest this thing.
We still have to clean and then seal the slab, and we have plans to add bamboo landscaping, build entrances and exits, add lighting, and other detail to create an amazing sacred space that will feel inspirational to visitors, but the full spectrum will take time and money that we don’t have now. What we do have is a walk-able labyrinth and I am thrilled.
So, what is a labyrinth, exactly? Unlike a maze, which offers choices, decisions and challenges that engage the active mind, A Labyrinth is designed in a pattern which curves and slowly leads a visitor into the quiet center. There is only one path out of the labyrinth as well, offering a visitor time to reflect on life, see parables with existence, and to forge inner stillness and peace. Walking the exacting path of the labyrinth invites a visitor to turn off the intellect to quiet the mind as they experience the path as a metaphor of the winding path of our lives and the twisting journey we take to find our spiritual center. It represents our journey from birth to death. Each person experiences the labyrinth differently, carrying away individual insight, awareness and inspiration. Whether you walk the labyrinth to quiet the active mind, to unleash your creativity, or to reflect and better understand your life, you need only step on the path with an open heart and mind (and no judgement) to have an experience.
I’ve walked our new labyrinth about a dozen times already. Each time, I have brought a different question or focused on a different area of my life as I walk. And dang, if I haven’t felt moved and been afforded new insight about my ongoing life journey. I can’t wait to incorporate our labyrinth into writing classes, trainings and retreats. But for now, I am delighted to have it here for me. Something very special seems to be happening at Heartwood in a slow, steady way, and I feel deeply honored with the right-purpose of my work here. With all the stress, disappointment and loss we’ve faced in regards to the wedding fiasco, this labyrinth represents our faith in the future of Heartwood and a reestablishment of our true purpose here.
No doubt, our labyrinth, which looks rather simple now, will evolve and become more beautiful, like the Chakra garden and all of the other special areas of Heartwood. But what is important is that something that wasn’t here a week ago now exists – ready to be cared for and embellished. This new meditative outlet will become a part of the grander scheme over time, and will offer solitude and personal growth to many people. Knowing others will benefit made the work of creating this labyrinth meaningful, rather than cumbersome.
I am never surprised, but always fascinated, with the synchronicity of events as they unfold in my life. On the very week we decided to build this labyrinth, that very same writing center that set the seed of the idea years ago sent me a solicitation for their first convention for therapeutic journaling and memoir writing at a retreat center in Ashville GA. Just about every author of every book on journaling and memoir that I have here in our library and that I use when teaching, is a featured guest speaker. I signed up immediately, deeply thrilled to have the opportunity to study this kind of writing with these kinds of teachers – and because I was an early registrant, I was given the opportunity to get first pick of what sessions to attend. And guess what the first seminar (limited to only a few lucky enrollees) will be. WALKING THE LABYRINTH! So, I’ll witness how they introduce the subject and learn even more about this process, and I’ll bring home that knowledge to share with others.
Like walking the labyrinth, I just keep following the path as a writer, teacher, and retreat center director. In the process, the direction I’m going often shifts and changes, sending me outward and then inward, then outward again, in a constant motion I don’t fully understand, until eventually I find I’ve moved ever closer to the core of my purpose. Reaching the center only demands that I keep on moving -trusting in the process, and finishing what I begin.
When others walk the labyrinth, perhaps they will see the value in this approach to life as well.