Growing in Spirit
I walked my first labyrinth with a girlfriend about five years ago. That particular labyrinth was created on a private lot in a quiet neighborhood in Carbondale. Access to it is word-of-mouth; if you need to know, it will find you, welcoming all spirits that feel its pull.
Labyrinths have been around over 5,000 years, through many cultures. Designed in universal form—some say sacred geometry—they are made of stone, mown grass or even hedges. Their circuitous paths slow us down to invite reflection, guiding us towards our interiority, our divinity.
Dr. Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest and international authority on labyrinths (Veriditas.org) explains labyrinths as a “spiritual tool…a path of prayer, a walking meditation, a crucible of change, a watering hole for the spirit, and a mirror of the soul.”
The labyrinth tends to call in times of transition or reflection.
Five years ago, on that outing with my girlfriend, I was with my then-one-year-old daughter, a fresh being who had opened my eyes anew to life, and her father, one-half of a complex relationship burdened by shadow. Each of us clearly walked diverging paths. My entire being crawled with the complexity and inevitability of our separate futures. I entered the mouth of the labyrinth with a seeking heart.
Walkers of the labyrinth often have a question, seek guidance or come simply to “shift.”
My own slow, contemplative footsteps brought me to the center of the labyrinth. There, beaming at me with pure love, was my child. She had been drawn to its flagstone center. Her hand was raised, her finger pointing at the bosom of sky above. The possibilities of spaciousness infused the moment. On my journey out of the labyrinth, I let the answers fill me.
Minister Barbara Palmer of No Name, Colorado, within Glenwood Canyon, welcomes all to walk her labyrinth. “I had been acquainted with labyrinths when I was in seminary, but I had never really let them take hold of me until I went to Chartres, the mother labyrinth in Europe,” she said. What began as a pilgrimage “took off from there,” she admits, eyes closed, smiling.
As Reverend Palmer came to learn, the Chartres cathedral is actually called the Cathedral of Mary of Chartres. “The whole theme is birth, a monument to Mary, Mother of Jesus, as a symbol of peace.” Palmer explains that everything is birth: The cathedral is a cruciform and just below, where the arms of the cathedral extend out, is the nave. It’s where the uterus might be; the womb. Giver of life. There lies the labyrinth. The opening is at the bottom, like a birth canal.
As Palmer relays her experiences and observations of the Chartres labyrinth, her voice grows softer, filling with reverence and joy. Every aspect of Chartes’ design is drenched in history, pattern and archetype, from the six petals in the heart—the six days of Genesis—to the 11 cycles of its path, bringing one the distance through time to their own divinity.
One mystery though, and a miracle of the Chartres labyrinth, concerns the stone from which it was built: Stone deteriorates over time. In 811 years, despite millions of pilgrim footsteps, Chartres stone has endured, growing ever more solid with time.
“I was just blown away in Chartres,” admits Palmer.
And into the labyrinth she dove. Two years ago, after another pilgrimage to Chartres, Palmer and her engineer husband built a 24-foot diameter, five-cycle labyrinth on their property’s west side. “It’s sort of taken on a life of its own. I have retreats here.” Palmer feels that her venerable canyon reflects the sacredness of our own interior and that of the world. Many come to walk the labyrinth.
Labyrinths are often built on private land but are open to the public. Like Palmer, many owners feel compelled to share their gifts. Another such labyrinth can be found at True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale. A member of its design team, Laura Kirk, principal of DHM, a local landscape architecture and planning firm, has a long-standing relationship with True Nature and an affinity for labyrinths.
“I was grateful that we were able to include that [labyrinth] in the design for the peace gardens at True Nature,” says Kirk. Many seekers walk labyrinths in times of grief or loss, times when the heart needs a salve. “They are nice in that they offer another healing modality for people, one of many ways to find connection to self, to other, to spirit. I also find that, as a form of walking meditation, they can be accessible to some who find other forms of meditation challenging for whatever reason.”
In modern times, labyrinths come loaded in esoteric myth and misinformation. At first glance, the multitude of lines, twists and turns may seem confusing.
“The most important thing for people to know about labyrinths,” Kirk explains, “is they are not a maze—they are not meant to confuse, but rather to settle the mind with a single path in and out. Nothing to think about, except putting one foot in front of the other. A maze has multiple paths, and ends up being more of a search for the right path without dead ends and miscues.”
The labyrinth at True Nature nestles in lush, lovingly-tended gardens. Its snap-cut flagstone path welcomes bare feet, a grounded connection to source. Its width allows for balanced ease in navigation. A river boulder seat at its heart offers a place and time for contemplation. As a shorter path located in Carbondale’s downtown heart, it beckons during stolen moments.
Searching for Reverend Barbara Palmer’s place, I had gotten lost, accidently taking out a mailbox, trashing my paint job and showing up late. During our conversation, between Barbara’s story and the white noise of I-70 merging with the surging, spring swell of the Colorado River, I slowly unwound. When she invited me to view and walk her labyrinth, I was ready. She anointed me in frankincense, a historically sacred oil believed to open a gateway to the spiritual world. Its aroma was heavenly—truly! Barbara then placed a stone in my hand, symbolic of gift and intention. Heart and mind open, I took my first step, feet bare on the crushed stone, seeking.
With soft eyes to the ground, the lines of the labyrinth became three dimensional, planing out and shifting with each turn, reminding me of the ever-changing spaciousness within. I worried not where I was going; the path was the way.
I had arrived at Barbara’s place a laughable wreck. In addition to the mailbox and my paint job, news from a friend had turned the very stability of my home and family upside down.
With each step, my mind stilled the hurt and fear. I heard a whisper in the oak leaves around me: What is most important in life can never be taken away…just take the next right step…and the next…and the next.
My second dive into labyrinthian spirit brought me to its heart—and so, to my own. Thank you, Barbara. I’ll be visiting again soon.