No, it's not a maze. A labyrinth is an ancient meditation tool designed to help those who follow its meanderings achieve a state of quiet internal calm. There's one way in, you meander through the many turns of its coiled geometry, and there's one way out -- a perfect metaphor for life.
This past summer, I visited the labyrinth at the Chartres cathedral in France, a site of pilgrimage for early Christians that's said to gain more power with each meditation. The largest of its time, measuring nearly 13 meters in diameter, the labyrinth at Chartres is the only authentic medieval example surviving. Though the path cannot be walked except on special occasions, it is clearly a place of power.
Even when the path is closed, it is possible to walk up to the center of the labyrinth -- an amazing experience, like standing at the center of your own soul where there is calm and quiet, despite the incessant rush of the world all around.
Fortunately, we don't have to travel to France to experience the meditative benefits of a labyrinth walk. There are several right here in the Colorado Springs area.
Two indoor labyrinths, painted on canvas and usually unrolled inside local churches, are available in Colorado Springs proper.
One of these canvas labyrinths, based on the sacred geometry of Chartres', is located at the First Congregational Church downtown. Its members were moved to paint it after attending a workshop given at Colorado College by Dr. Lauren Artress, canon of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and author of Walking the Sacred Path, a book that has popularized labyrinth walking in America. Many of its walkers, however, are not church members, and of the hundreds that have come to walk, many have been visitors from other cities.
Sunrise United Methodist Church also houses a canvas labyrinth, but because it is unwieldy and difficult to lay out, it's only set up periodically. Potential walkers should call ahead.
When not covered by snow, two nearby outdoor labyrinths are also open to public walking. The Benet Hill Monastery's Pines Retreat in Black Forest has a hillside labyrinth, and The Being There Foundation in Woodland Park tends one as well. The Being There Foundation also helps organizations and individuals to build labyrinths; currently it's assisting Penrose Hospital with a labyrinth that will soon be available for public use.
Joanie Zochniak, caretaker of The Being There Foundation's labyrinth, comments that it has been great for her personally and that she's seen its positive effects on others. "I was never a good sit-still meditator. The act of putting one foot in front of the other seems to be enough to allow me to free my mind and reach that meditative state."
Walking this particular labyrinth is a threefold process. "As you walk in, it's a shedding of your baggage. In the center, it's a meditation, and [during the walk out] I'm able to rejoin society in a more balanced fashion," explains Zochniak. "It's a great problem solver."
It's the process of the walk that's important. As Dr. Artress writes: "We are not human beings on a spiritual path, but spiritual beings on a human path."
Call ahead to walk:
The Being There Foundation: Reverend Joanie Zochniak, 687-7397
The First Congregational Church: 574-8748 (available every Thursday from 4:30 to 7 p.m.)
Benet Pines Retreat: 495-2574
Sunrise United Methodist Church: Sherry Walker, 5987013