Labyrinths are found all over the world, and come in all shapes and sizes, but my favourite is the Chartres labyrinth, as seen on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. People have been walking them for thousands of years, as a way of meditation and personal reflection. Unlike a maze, you can't get lost in a labyrinth- there is one continuous path which guides you gently to the centre, and back out again.
I fell under their spell ten years ago, and travelled to San Francisco to train as a labyrinth facilitator with Dr Lauren Artress, creative director of Veriditas at Grace Cathedral, and author of 'Walking a Sacred Path'. Back home, I made my own portable version of the Chartres design, a 40ft wide canvas hand-painted with my good friend Briege McClean.
Since then the portable canvas has been walked many times, including a special day in the Guildhall in Derry (pic on the left). I have taken it to schools, community centres, district councils, conferences in Belfast and Dublin, and a special event for Cork European Capital of Culture. I have provided day-long workshops, making a temporary labyrinth with a group and walking it afterwards- a wonderful creative journey for all. This can be done very simply indoors with masking tape, or outdoors by marking grass, as I did in Belfast's Botanic Gardens for Mela International Festival, or even traced in sand on a Welsh beach. I've also made a grassy one in my back garden, with an ash tree in the middle.
light and warmth
I keep a Comments book for all the walks and workshops, and the feedback is inspiring. Many of the comments read like poetry:
'the centre gave birth to light and warmth, and the journey home was a dance of lightness and joy'
'an awakening, a realization that I do know my own pathway and will find my way home'
'i felt refreshed and light hearted'
'coming to the centre felt like coming to the end, then it turned into a beginning; pure happiness'
And my favourite one, from a five year old after the Mela day in Belfast:
'it made me think of god'.
The labyrinth welcomes people from all personal beliefs with equal openness. Children respond well to its simplicity, and will run around it, while concentrating intensely on keeping to the path. People may find it relaxing, comforting, challenging or deeply moving. Walking the path even in a group, is a very private experience, but there is also a natural communal dance taking place, as people ebb and flow from one another, all heading to the centre and back. You have to experience the labyrinth for yourself to feel its special comforts and delights.