In 1987 while visiting a friend at her new home she mentioned she had a labyrinth in her yard. I strolled outside this beautiful home on a mountaintop overlooking the Juan de Fuca Straits where all was peace and quiet. Curious, I walked these sunken circles leading me around, in and out. I felt enclosed by green arms and sensed a grassy door close as I left.
Interesting, I thought to myself.
It was five years before I walked another labyrinth; at a retreat, people all over, walking, talking, and the labyrinth a crude rendering painted on a twenty foot blue plastic liner. And yet here I was, somehow alone in the midst of all this activity, going in, coming out.
My curiosity was piqued. Within weeks a labyrinth workshop was advertised at an older United Church in Calgary's northwest. We began Friday evening. Large darkened room, candles surrounding a most beautiful forty-foot labyrinth painted on a canvas. I slowly walked and began to cry. Feeling alone yet immersed in something mysterious, my crying continued all evening as I alternately walked or watched from the sidelines, watched from an upstairs mezzanine floor: candles shimmering, soft music, shapes and shadows of women silently walking. I was inside myself with crying, crying with the beauty, with a feeling I had found something very precious and as yet indescribable.
Within months Rev Dr Lauren Artress was offering a labyrinth workshop in Calgary at Knox United church. What synchronicity! Perhaps she will explain my emotional response to the labyrinth. I walked and attempted to integrate my feelings with what I had been hearing, namely, the history of labyrinths, but with little or no success. I could not stay seated. A beautiful labyrinth was laid in the auditorium. Lauren is a skillful and caring presenter, long experienced in the vagaries of the labyrinth and I felt her watching me as I slipped from the back row and onto the labyrinth for yet another silent, singular walk. I felt on the inside/outside trying so hard to make this "workshop experience" valid for me. I felt I needed to come to grips with these emotions to explain it to myself before I could consider presenting this to others.
Lauren came again the following year. By now I had explored painting small twenty-three inch finger labyrinths and carefully presenting, as taught by Lauren, the history and legends of the labyrinth. I was able to stay detached from my emotions when presenting or talking labyrinths. But again, when I'd said my historical piece and finger labyrinths were painted, the sheer enormity, the beauty and the emotions the labyrinth held for me, took me to that same place of not knowing,
I met another novice labyrinth walker/builder and we partnered to create our first walking labyrinth, a seven-circuit Santa Rosa on a used parachute, a huge job. After seventy hours of labour, we delivered her as walkable and in that first year over five hundred pairs of feet walked this simple labyrinth. Then we painted a larger one on a twenty-six foot used parachute. Much, much more work, but again, many hundreds chose to walk our labyrinth.
And in all this time of walking, my internal labyrinth was waiting to be alone on a labyrinth and to come to some understanding of my emotional response.
We created a rope labyrinth on the lawn of my church, which eventually we converted two years later, to bricks at grass level. Hundreds of hours of work involved plus a dozen volunteer helpers, but eventually available for me to include as often as I chose on my daily walks in the neighborhood. I came to rely on this early morning labyrinth for times when I needed to be in consultation with God. "What am I going to do God?" was the foremost question. And in the oh so subtle way of God, the answers came, not with neat script, but in the course of a day or night, there was a solution for me drifting up from the labyrinthine reaches of my soul. Answers so sure I knew they came from my God source. And in the continued course of this daily walking, I felt the labyrinth settle inside me, comforting me as my personal emotional storms settled.
In the following ten years, we built and painted many other labyrinths and presented to dozens of diverse groups. People who came were curious, nervous, puzzled and a few embraced the labyrinth as I had and continue to walk them.
I feel that physically creating labyrinths has surely secured the pattern within me; my body knows this path that takes me to my centre, to my essence, the centre where God resides. Finding that place had not always been easy for me, but the labyrinth has been the path to that centre that gracefully leads me to this place, that "way", that path that allows me to embody prayers, sorrows, fears, and joy and, a reminder of the perfection and connection that we all are one and on a similar path.
Attending a turf labyrinth tour with Jeff and Kimberley Saward in England brought me even closer to the power of the labyrinth. Walking ten labyrinths in a week, I cried through many, but found comfort towards the end of simply appreciating the beauty and the deep connection to my English roots that became available to me as I stepped on to labyrinths that had been cut in the seventeenth century and possibly earlier.
I have not really cried on a labyrinth since; perhaps I have healed the generations of wounds in my family tree, but I remain available to whatever arises as I move into new labyrinth grounds.
Marney Armitage 2012
http://www.labyrinthos.net/ Web site for Jeff Saward's labyrinth tours & all things labyrinth. Walking a Sacred. Path Rev. Dr Lauren Artress