| Centennial Park Labyrinth|
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Little Miracles on the Path
The story of the Centennial Park labyrinth in Sydney began with a passing comment in a transit lounge in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2009. My friend Lindley was on her way to meet me in San Francisco, to do a workshop with Jean Houston on the Odyssey, when she bumped into Mary Ellen Johnson, a friend of hers from Wisdom University who said, ‘if you’re going to San Francisco make sure you walk the labyrinth at the Grace Cathedral’. And so we did and I fell in love with it. I felt reeled in by its mystery and held by the structure of its winding path. I’d been in an emotional cocoon after a series of losses and leavings, and somehow walking the labyrinth lifted the grief off my shoulders and gave me back a spiritual pulse. When I got back home, I went looking for a labyrinth to walk here in Sydney and realized that there weren’t any.
Centennial Park is a beloved sanctuary of 500 acres in the middle of Sydney. It is the home of Australian Federation and is heritage listed and managed by a Board of Trustees on behalf of the State Government. There had been no major construction in the park for 25 years. To cut a very long story short, I submitted a proposal to the Parklands Board of Trustees to build a sandstone Chartres labyrinth in the park, which they eventually accepted and so the fundraising began.
Most people in Sydney had no idea what a labyrinth was, let alone why they should donate money to build one. So I needed to do some awareness raising. I went to Chartres to do the Veriditas facilitator training and bought a canvas labyrinth from Robert Ferre’s workshop and started holding public events at an art gallery – which was the only space I could find that was big enough to hold a 36 ft labyrinth yet, atmospheric enough to still feel intimate. The walks were usually accompanied by peaceful recorded music, but we also used crystal bowls, and even held a ‘poetry in motion’ event with actors reciting the sacred poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and Kabir accompanied by a tabla drum, inspiring people as they walked the labyrinth.
A few months later, I was granted permission to paint a labyrinth on the field in the park where the sandstone one would eventually be built. We held many events there, the most memorable being an interfaith walk, just before Christmas, with representatives of all the major religious traditions walking their sacred path together. It was very well received and made the front page of the newspaper.
Its always inspiring when a community gathers around an idea, and that’s exactly what happened with this project. So many people were a part of this journey - from philanthropists, able to give substantial amounts to the group of refugees who, after walking the canvas labyrinth together, insisted on contributing a handful of coins. People offered support and encouragement in terms of prayers & blessings, and time & effort in helping organize the various fundraising events. The architect, William Zuccon donated hundreds of hours of his time to ensure with painstaking precision the exact sacred geometry.
It took just over a year to raise the $500,000 required to build it. The sandstone is heritage grade and usually reserved for government. It represented 65% of the cost (including the stonemason’s labour), the reinforced concrete slab was 15%, with a 10% maintenance fund and 10% tax. Donations came from individuals, not corporations. There were many miracles along the way - people stepping up to help or introduce me to someone who could. I was grateful to have guidance from the ‘elders’ of the labyrinth community; Lauren Artress, Jeff Saward, John James and Robert Ferre on several important issues including the orientation and various construction details.
The Centennial Park labyrinth was officially opened by the Governor, Dame Marie Bashir on 15th September in front of hundreds of inspired donors and supporters. We were honoured to have wisdom keepers from 11 different faith traditions present to bless the labyrinth on behalf of their communities. They walked in silence, accompanied by music composed specially for the opening ceremony by Australian composer Corrina Bonshek. You can download this beautiful piece at http://bonmusic.com.au/lab/.
The great Persian poet Rumi, who happened to live at the same time that the Chartres labyrinth was built said this; “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there lies a field. I will meet you there.” The labyrinth is just such a field. It is a powerful tool for reconciling differences, reminding us that ultimately, we all walk the same path. It is a rare and precious thing to find a symbol, which is truly universal - which is able to hold and welcome people of all faiths. At a time when our communities are so divided and politicians are beating the drums of war, it was deeply moving for all present to witness the wisdom keepers walking the labyrinth together in peace. As Aunty Ali, the Aboriginal Elder who was the first to set foot on the path that day said, “The labyrinth invites and welcomes people to walk the path together - it calls them to the land in oneness”
The journey to build the labyrinth required all of me. It stretched my capacities and forced me to dig deep and discover new ones. I was inspired by the labyrinth but also felt compelled by something far greater working through me. There were many obstacles along the way, requiring insight, guidance and integration. Once I accepted myself as a ‘vessel’ and got out of my own way, things flowed. The psycho-spiritual journey was at least as challenging as the actual journey of fundraising and construction. In many ways the labyrinth was birthing me as well.
The final blessing was that Mary Ellen, whose suggestion started this whole chain of events back in that transit lounge in Albuquerque, flew all the way from Seattle to be at the opening ceremony and complete the lovely circle she began. Our words are so powerful - you simply never know which ones might change someone’s life…
So, the next time you find yourself in a transit lounge somewhere and someone says they’re going to Sydney, tell them to visit the labyrinth in Centennial Park.
Walking home to country is a connection our people have always had with Mother Earth. Our culture is defined by the closeness of family circles and staying connected to the people within it. The labyrinth invites and welcomes people to walk the path together - it calls them to the land in oneness.
(Aunty Ali Golding,
Aboriginal Elder, Biripi Nation)
As the wind calls the trees to dance, may this walking reflection invite us to rediscover the genuine rhythm of our human journey. The pilgrim deep within each of us is aware of an unseen world that shapes us. It calls us to a different tempo that can renew our life. The ancient gospel is a story of such a journey that reveals a new kingdom of love. May this prayer of the labyrinth lead us gently into a new dance with our one precious life.
(Monsignor Tony Doherty)
The labyrinth represents the spiritual journey, inward to our inner selves and the Sacred within, outward to the world held in God’s love and yearning for peace and justice.
(Rev Dr Margaret Mayman)
Meditative prayer connects us with the eternal, singular, conscious being known as ‘God’. Prayer invites God's presence to permeate our presence. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, but it can water an arid soul and mend a broken heart. Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything
depends on you.
(Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins)
A pilgrimage is a moment when people come from every corner of the world to share
(Imam Amin Hady)
Look at your feet. There is your mind. See where your feet are. You are there.
(Venerable Boan Sunim)
Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet. When we are walking with mindfulness, then the walker and that which is walked upon become one, the division between self /other dissolves into the sacredness of walking with a peaceful heart.
(Zen Roshi – Subhana Barzaghi)
In the journey of faith through life, we are given paths which help us to live more fully within that one journey. In the Christian liturgical tradition, every year is a pilgrimage celebrating the two primary cycles of Advent-Christmas and of Lent-Easter. Among the ways of reflecting and meditating on our journey of faith and our relationship with God and others, are such treasures as the Labyrinth.
(Father Martin Davies,
St James Church)
Nothing can bar or mar the paths of those who truly believe in the name. They depart from here with honour. They do not lose the proper path. The spirit of those imbued with faith is wedded to the realization of truth.
(Sardar Jaspal Singh,
One of the first things we find God doing in the Bible is walking in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen 3.8).
God promises the people: 'I walk among you and be your God' (Lev 26.12).
The Bible can pay no greater compliment than to say of some people that they 'walked with God' (Gen 5.4).
The apostle Paul describes the Christian life as walking by 'faith' not sight (2 Cor 5.7).
(Rev Dr Geoff Broughton,
Paddington Anglican Church)
For me, prayer is walking. Every step is a prayer. The way unfolds, and all it asks is trust and humility. The road always leads home. Step by step.
(Ailsa Piper, Writer and Pilgrim, representing those with no religious affiliation)
Did you find the labyrinth or did it find you?
I have always felt an innate hunger, maybe subconsciously, for all things circular and spiral.
How did you connect with Veriditas?
I met Lauren Artress that day at Grace and was taken with her passion and humor. After reading her books, “Walking a Sacred Path,” and “The Sacred Path Companion,” I knew I had to take the next step. In 2007 on an unanticipated group trip to France, I broke away to train down to Chartres from Paris and had the miracle of being there on a Friday when the labyrinth was open for walking. I never thought I would ever walk “the mother labyrinth!” I was already facilitating workshops related to movement and the labyrinth throughout the east coast and walking in Chartres was a dream come true. In 2009, I returned to Chartres for the Facilitator Training with Lauren and a remarkably revealing Dream Workshop with Jeremy Taylor.
Please tell us about your Shoe Labyrinth creations.
In 2013, I was asked to join a new month-long Peace Coalition initiative here in Rockford. I thought a shoe labyrinth would be appropriate on several levels and was given a huge lawn and some student volunteers to create a 50-ft. diameter Chartres design at Rockford University. Within a few weeks, citywide groups collected 600 pairs of new athletic shoes to spread along the labyrinth lines and later distributed the shoes to designated school children, a beautiful and emotional effort. We could have used twice as many pairs.
This year we benefitted from last year’s experience. We wanted to broaden our exposure of the labyrinth as a vehicle for peace. The collaborative experiences of installing, walking, collecting and gifting the shoes were equal components. The “walking in the shoes of others” became the primary focus. I partnered with the first “Rockford Ethnic Festival” downtown, a much larger, more receptive and diverse audience. With the help of the Park District, I installed a large 7-circuit classic labyrinth in a parking lot shared by the school district and a bank. Hundreds of festival celebrants enjoyed the shoe-lined labyrinth walk (sometimes as a “run”!).
A few weeks later, a public school offered their outdoor lawns as labyrinth classrooms for 5th and 6th graders. After an introduction to the labyrinth and practicing the 7-circuit seed pattern, students measured and painted the lines and then added birdseed to one labyrinth and shoes to the other.
For both projects this year, we collected 1200 pairs of new athletic shoes, all of which went to public school children. Keeping everyone busy offered an opportunity to pepper the school entry sidewalks with chalk labyrinths and spirals. It was a joyous sight.
What was memorable about your water-themed class in Michigan in July?
I was invited to facilitate a 5-day (10 hour) class for the annual Great Lakes Retreat, “Finding Your Center.” The class was designed around a 5-day pilgrimage, with experiences of graduated steps of preparation and setting intention; anticipation and arriving; centering, then focusing on a social cause at the turning points; and, finally, reflecting, reuniting, and going forth. Using several labyrinth designs, participants journeyed through a powerful week of movement, singing, visualizations, sharing, silence, verbalizing a social cause, and poetry. Because Michigan is surrounded by water, I established a river theme to interweave the connection of the pilgrimage layers with emerging bubbling springs to the gradually faster flowing water through the symbolic challenges of eddies and rocks, and eventually into the larger body of water.
The profound takeaway for me was the enriching disciplined process of preparing for this class: the re-reading and remembering of influential teaching, finding meaningful quotes and poetry, composing chants and simple dances, and scripting each day as an important contained journey within the longer pilgrimage. The process set a standard for me for future work.
What was your most compelling experience on the labyrinth?
To honor the Summer Solstice in 2011, I organized a workshop inspired by the book, “The Red Tent: A Novel,” by Anita Diamant, Forty women attended the all-night event at Womanspace in Rockford that included honoring our ancestral maternal lineage back as far as we knew, i.e., “I am Barrie, daughter of Bess, daughter of Blanche, etc, back to Miriam.” We wrote the names on ribbons and tied them onto sticks from the woods. We walked and chanted with harp and flute musicians up to the rocky hill and encircled the labyrinth with our ancestor sticks. We honored the elements Air, Fire, Water and Earth, read poetry, and chanted as we walked out while lightning began to appear. In the nearby pavilion, we continued our celebration with a chalk 7-circuit labyrinth, lighted with luminaries emblazoned with messages, and told stories through the night. This taught me enormous lessons about safe property, safe vocabulary, and the vast effort required to plan and prepare for such an extensive event. It remains strongly imprinted within me.
Has the labyrinth had an effect on you and your life?
What nuggets of wisdom do you have for facilitators?
What is in your vision of your future labyrinth work?One of my visions is to become better equipped with technology and marketing in order to promote the labyrinth as a vehicle for contemplative movement prayer and to experience the necessary unveiling of “bodyspirit” (a Nancy Roth word) to provide a more intentional journey and deeper connectedness.
With my future involvement with the Peace Coalition, I envision the labyrinth being physically surrounded with large local artists’ expressions of acts of non-violence, perhaps hanging from trees or fences to emphasize the labyrinth as a collaborative and tangible symbol for walking in peace together.
I also want to explore ways for people to be more responsible in walking a labyrinth. Perhaps instead of placing shoes on the labyrinth lines in advance, each participant would walk and hold a pair of shoes in honor of the student recipient, and to meaningfully place the shoes on the lines.
At TLS, I learned about the “Honor Walk” for returning combat soldiers and would enjoy pursuing an appropriate path for that event to happen in Rockford.
I am constantly looking for ways to incorporate symbols and the human body for a total sensory and internal experience of the labyrinth. I want to be gutsier in my work, always deepening the depth of the well and staying authentic in my focus.
I am grateful for this chance for reflection. Labyrinth work is more relevant than ever, and shared dialogue about our experiences is most enriching!
Rita: When did you first encounter the labyrinth?
In early February 2000, a small seven circuit labyrinth was introduced to the Youth Group at our church. I walked it with my children, and then didn’t think about it again until June, 2000, when Alex, my youngest child, and I traveled to France to meet some of our friends from London. We arrived a few days early so that we could visit Versailles and Chartres. It was a bright, sunny day when we arrived in Chartres. We were oohing and aahing over the outside of the Cathedral and then we walked inside. Then, as today, when you walk into the Cathedral it is dark, almost black, and it takes a minute or two for your eyes to adjust. The natural light from the 12th century stained glass windows seeps through the colored glass lighting the space inside. Imagine walking into the cathedral, stopping for a few moments for your eyes to adjust and then discovering the 12th century labyrinth inlaid in the floor, right before you, offering itself to you to walk, to discover, to become a modern day pilgrim. It was inviting us in. Alex and I went to the labyrinth and he took off, literally running it. I was hoping for a deep, spiritual, contemplative walk, but that did not happen. Watching my son zoom around the labyrinth, I did not experience it in quite the quiet, prayerful, contemplative way that I had hoped to. Yet something happened. . . Although my son and I found the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth, I contend that it really found me. What is the probability that we would be in Chartres on a beautiful, sunny June day when the chairs were removed allowing us to walk it? We could have come the day before when it would have been closed, but we didn’t. Why did we wait and come on Friday?
I returned to Chartres five times between 2000 and 2009, each time longing to walk the labyrinth again, only to find it covered with chairs. Walking the labyrinth allows me to access the sacred within myself and to connect with God in ways that I am unable to do anywhere else. Perhaps this ancient, archetypal, spiritual tool, works for me because the spiraling curves “invites our intuition, pattern-seeking, symbolic mind to come forth.” Or maybe it works because it utilizes my mind, my body and my soul. It is nearly impossible for me to achieve the same level of focus, and prayerfulness that I can attain when
Rita: How did you get involved with Veriditas and Lauren Artress?
My mother passed away in 2008 and I was able to build a labyrinth at our mountain cabin with the money I received from her estate. I knew that the labyrinth was important to my spiritual life, but I really didn’t understand it, or why it was so important to me, so I decided that I should attend training and learn more. I started googling labyrinth training and found Veriditas and immediately enrolled in Facilitator Training. I traveled to Chartres for Facilitator Training in May, 2009 where I met Lauren and Dawn for the first time.
Rita: What work have you been doing with the labyrinth and how have you shared it with others?
I have been and continue to be actively involved with the labyrinth through my church and community. I offer or have offered facilitated walks in the following settings: Church (Holy Week Stations of the Cross walks, Adult Sunday School classes, Young Adult groups etc.); a retirement community; women’s workshops; Spiritual retreats for small groups; a University class on meditation and different ways to meditate (I facilitated a labyrinth walk for one of their classes); Veriditas Workshop/Training (here in North Carolina in April 2012); monthly facilitated walks with formerly homeless residents; Soul Collage workshop; Board Retreat for Women of Vision (part of World Vision).
Additionally I worked with a boy scout to help him design/ build a labyrinth at a local area church, and more recently I helped another church plan/lay out their labyrinth.
Rita: Why do you donate to Veriditas?
I donate to Veriditas because I know first-hand how transformational the labyrinth is (or can be) and I truly believe that the “gift of the labyrinth” needs to be shared with others. Veriditas has taken on the responsibility of training facilitators so that they are equipped to take the labyrinth out into the world and offer it to others. This training allows the message being spread to be consistent and worldwide. Informed facilitators are able to accurately answer questions about the labyrinth and calm those that are “fearful” of it because they may have been misinformed.
I donate to Veriditas because I believe in Lauren Artress and her work in the world and want to support/help her however I can.
I donate to Veriditas because I truly believe that the labyrinth is part of the “spiritual awakening” that is happening on our planet right now. And Veriditas is there to support and encourage this movement.
I donate because “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)
The Global Healing Response, founded in 2005 by Council member Ellen Bintz Meuch, offers an annual theme and quarterly ideas and information to enrich labyrinth walks. The GHR theme for 2014 is Unity:
So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. —Baha’u’llah
and the focus for this quarter is inclusion. Inclusion Quote: “Peace requires everyone to be in the circle – wholeness, inclusion.” — Isabel Allende Color: Red Prayer/Meditation: St. Francis prayer seems to work perfectly this quarter… Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is...
The fourth quarter is posted on the website, www.globalhealingresponse.com. We encourage you to visit the site soon and often.
Each month, Linda Mikell, secretary to the Veriditas Council and New England Regional Representative, emails a Little Miracles on the Path story to 439 facilitators who have signed up for them. Facilitators from all over the world send her stories about interesting, touching events that happen at their labyrinth walks. If you would like to receive these stories, please contact Linda (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please don’t forget to send your story when you have one. Little Miracles are archived on the Facilitators Portal of the Veriditas Website.