Crossing Paths with LabyrinthsDec 01, 2013 01:14PM ● By Linda Sechrist
“The labyrinth is a spiritual tool that has many applications in various settings. It reduces stress, quiets the mind and opens the heart. It is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and a blueprint where psyche meets spirit.” ~ The Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress
Walking a labyrinth can be an illuminating experience capable of changing an individual’s life path. Each labyrinth walker responds differently to the inherent power of this ancient form, which was designed in the medieval era by freemasons who used sacred geometry, which incorporates the archetypal geometric patterns of nature for the purposes of spiritual communion and healing. Reverend Lauren Artress, Canon of Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco, Anne Bonney, a partner at Pilgrim’s Landing, in Chatham, Massachusetts; Don Moore, publisher of the South Jersey edition of Natural Awakenings, and Mick Seroka, owner of PAVERART reveal how the labyrinth can serve as a questing tool when the time is right.
An Archetype of Wholeness
The labyrinth is an archetype of wholeness, a sacred place that helps us rediscover the depths of our souls and connect to the Spirit that enlivens us. “The structure of the labyrinth path, especially the return from the center out, has a lot to do with what it offers. It can have a clarifying and strengthening effect for someone who has to dig deep to find the inner healing resources, energy and emotional strength to make a covenant with the self or a clear commitment to face the terrible naked truth of cancer. It can help someone emotionally prepare for an operation or deal with the loss of a loved one,” clarifies Artress.
PaverArt Chartres Rosette
A Journey to the Center of Our Being
“Upon entering the labyrinth we sense that it is a symbol representing the whole. Our world of splits and divisions disappears and the seeker enters a non-dualistic world, where clear thinking through the channel of intuition has a chance to emerge from deep within. This facilitates ‘both/and’ thinking, the compatibility of paradox, and a sense of the unity within the cosmos,” explains Artress, a leading force for popularizing the labyrinth in the U.S. and throughout the world for the past 20 years.
Artress has helped hundreds of thousands of people to experience this ancient spiritual practice, which fell into disuse with the shift to Cartesian thought, the philosophical school of René Descartes, who emphasized the use of reason to develop the natural sciences. A featured presenter at the leading centers for consciousness expansion such as the Omega Institute, Institute of Noetic Sciences and Chautauqua Institute, Artress is the author of three books on the labyrinth. Her first book, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, was instrumental in launching The Labyrinth Movement. Her work includes speaking on the contemporary spiritual issues we are confronted with in our daily lives.
According to Artress, the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, located approximately 50 miles southeast of Paris, France, articulates an ancient cosmology, much as the medicine wheel does for Native American culture. Professor Keith Critchlow, a leading expert in sacred architecture who has studied the mysteries of Chartres Cathedral for more than 40 years, believes the source of labyrinth cosmology is likely from Macrobius’ commentary on Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. This book was known to have been in the library at the School of Chartres, which taught mathematics, music and harmony, and astronomy, before the cathedral was built.
Chartres labyrinth with lighted lunations
Macrobius’ theory—the Earth was at the center of the labyrinth and the consecutive circle of paths held the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The three outermost paths represented the powers of the Soul, Mind and Supreme God. The person who walks the labyrinth is re-enacting the descent of the soul into manifestation on Earth (at the center).
Artress uses her favorite analogy when she teaches her labyrinth facilitation workshops or leads special pilgrimages to Chartres for Veriditas, her nonprofit, which connects people to the labyrinth and helps them learn how to use walking it as a practice that quiets the mind, opens the heart, and grounds the body. “To open people up to the many possible uses of the labyrinth, I suggest imagining the string bass. This musical instrument is played in a symphony, a jazz band and in a string quartet,” she says.
Anne Bonney, Pilgrim’s Landing
In 2012, Bonney, a member of the ecumenical Chatham Clergy Association and her colleagues Kathy Rhinesmith and Dawn Tolley at Pilgrim’s Landing in Chatham, Massachusetts, were trained by Artress after participating in one of her Divine Imagination workshops in Chartres France. This was in preparation for the grand opening of the Chatham labyrinth located in Chase Park behind a restored gristmill.
“One of the reasons that I looked forward to building our own labyrinth in Chatham was because I walked the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in 1999. Even though I didn’t yet know much about it, I recognized it as something spiritually significant that could calm my ‘monkey mind’. I still recall a sense of coming home and feeling less alone and scattered,” says Bonney, who is a partner at Pilgrim’s Landing, a new retail shop, which offers provisions for spiritual travelers or pilgrims. “To us, pilgrims are individuals who are seeking personal growth while enriching their connections with Spirit and discovering new directions for life. We offer a variety of events, workshops and pilgrimages throughout the year. Many of them involve labyrinth walks. For instance, last year we had an open walk at Thanksgiving and collected food for the local food pantry. This Winter Solstice we will enter the season of darkness with a candlelit walk,” advises Bonney.
Bonney considers the labyrinth a unifying tool that brings people and communities together. “It’s interesting that ours is located in the center of Chatham since walking to the center of a labyrinth mirrors the journey to the heart and soul of our own lives,” notes Bonney. “Walking the labyrinth can be an illuminating experience. When you encounter another person in a group walk, the labyrinth becomes a learning tool that brings about self-reflection. When I meet someone on the path it teaches me about how I tend to relate to another person outside the realm of the labyrinth. For group walks Lauren suggests that rather than step aside to allow others to pass, people can hug or do whatever comes naturally because we are all partners in the Cosmic Dance. If anyone feels distracted, they are encouraged to practice soft-eyed meditation on the people they are meeting on the path,” explains Bonney.
Don Moore on Chatham labyrinth
Prior to relocating to New Jersey to begin publishing Natural Awakenings magazine locally, Moore owned a landscaping construction business on Cape Cod. “Initially I didn’t know anything about labyrinths when I first saw one on line. However, their design and spiritual aspect enthralled me and I immediately felt the need to explore them and look into building one. When I moved to New Jersey, Mick Seroka, owner of PAVERART, found me on Facebook. We hadn’t communicated for 30 years until he sent me a message inviting me to visit his shop and see what he was working on,” advises Moore.
The labyrinth laying on the shop floor led to a lot of in-depth conversation as well as an offer. “Because of my background in landscaping, and the fact that I was Mick’s early mentor, he wanted me to get involved on a national basis and represent his company,” recalls Moore, who later visited the Veriditas website. Within three weeks he was participating in a facilitator-training workshop offered by Artress in Philadelphia. “The synchronicity was flowing and it was the perfect opportunity to learn about labyrinths,” advises Moore, who was among clergy, church members and psychotherapists attending the training.
Moore felt energy flowing around him and had an emotional experience on one of his walks. “On another walk, I came to realize the true nature of people is more spiritually oriented than we are aware of. As a result of my training and landscape background, I now want to combine healing gardens with labyrinths because I feel they are the perfect combination,” says Moore.
At a recent meeting with Jeanette Glennon-Morrissey, a horticultural therapist at McGee Rehabilitation Hospital, Moore learned about the healing power of horticultural therapy and could clearly see how labyrinths and plants could work together. “Labyrinth walks can just be about getting in touch with the self, becoming more centered and releasing accumulated stress. As soon as I arrived at this conclusion an interesting book showed up in my life—Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces by Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi Sachs. The synchronicity continues,” advises Moore.
Grace Cathedral labyrinth
Moore’s overall labyrinth-walking experience led him to conclude that it helped him release blockages that kept him from being receptive. Nearing the center, bothersome thoughts from unresolved issues had been mulled over, released and some even were resolved. “In the center I become centered, receptive, and meditative. Returning from there, my intuitive insights were solidified and gratitude bubbled up. The most significant part was the sense that my heart opened up and I could access deeper wisdom. I left the workshop feeling energized and very grounded,” he says.
When Seroka, owner of PAVERART, first saw a picture of a labyrinth in a landscape trade publication he was intrigued. A lover of mathematics, his interest in labyrinths was later piqued when he read about sacred geometry, which master masons used to create 11-circuit labyrinths such as the one in Chartres Cathedral. Months later, his company was sought out to create a labyrinth that could endure throughout the centuries to come. Today, PAVERART uses a patented process to customize labyrinth designs with natural stone or pavers in various colors.
“I do the computer design work, which means that I had to do the mathematical calculations to arrive at the precise ratios used by the Chartres’ master freemason so that the pavers were the correct sizes for the 11 circuits and turns arranged in four quadrants as well as the 6-petal rosette in the center,” says Seroka. While he enjoyed that challenge Seroka is thrilled with the fact that his work has found a home in numerous medical settings. “Two examples are Planetree Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Madonna Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he says.
Prior to packing each labyrinth for shipping, Seroka lays the pavers in the pattern and walks into and out of the path leading to the center. “It brings the mind and the soul together, which is therapeutic on several levels,” advises Seroka, who notes that he’s created a new paver that glows in the dark. “Now labyrinth walkers can walk at night without being distracted by a candle flame dripping wax,” he enthuses.
PaverArt Edgar Cayce labyrinth
“In our drive to embrace the new religion of empirical science, the value of this ancient tool was dismissed, yet the tool not only remained intact through the centuries, it resurfaces for use in times of chaos, which is certainly what we are experiencing now throughout the world,” advises Artress. Is it possible that labyrinths can become a valuable tool that we can use to unite us on our quest for solutions to the problems of our times.