by Chris Farrow-Noble, Council Member
For our first featured facilitator of 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michel Le Gribble-Dates, whom I had met last April in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The Council had come to Onmisara Labyrinth and Gardens (see eNews, October 2014) to experience the Second Legacy Labyrinth and to meet the Omnisara team and other facilitators from the region.
Did you find the labyrinth or did it find you?
I feel I found the labyrinth. In 2012 I heard the word for the first time from pastors who had just received a grant to do labyrinth work with young girls. I had no idea what a labyrinth was. A couple of weeks later, my husband CJ and I were at Camp Montgomery, a Presbyterian retreat center, for a youth workers retreat and heard about their labyrinth. We went out into the woods to walk it but had no idea what we were looking for. We saw some bricks laid in the ground and pine straw but no signage. CJ was pretty certain it was the labyrinth, so we began to follow the path. I was filled with questions: Was I supposed to be quieting my mind in order to listen, or thinking about something specific, or praying? Was I doing it right? Going too fast or too slow? Was it okay for us to talk, or not?
But by the time I got to the center, all my anxiety was gone. I felt like I had come home. I knew this tool would be with me for the rest of my life. I was so grateful to have done it for the first time with my husband, but we were sorry we hadn’t known about it earlier and that we had to work so hard to find it. However, my experience has helped me introduce the labyrinth to people who are new to the labyrinth.
How did you discover your personal passion in working with the labyrinth?
My husband and I were volunteering with the youth in a Presbyterian church, and I was employed as a classroom teacher. After a year, I realized that the classroom setting was not the best way for me to serve the youth. I was pulled to teach them what they weren’t getting, such as being able to be still and silent. I started a kid’s yoga program that evolved into a program with people from 2-80 years of age. I brought the labyrinth into my yoga practice and experienced its power to go within, to reconnect to silence and stillness, and to connect to God. I couldn’t help but share it with other people.
I started the organization “Ombrella” with the following statement: “The mission of ombrella is to help you, regardless of age, reconnect to your center through spiritual practices.” I bring the combination of yoga and the labyrinth, meditation, mindfulness, and Reiki to churches, yoga studios, retreats, and schools. I work particularly in schools for kids with special needs. At one time I had a dozen kids with special needs at two schools working weekly with the labyrinth for nearly a year! Another extraordinary experience was offering a weeklong camp for kids, integrating the labyrinth and liturgical yoga. Here’s a brief explanation: “Liturgical yoga is a yoga class which uses a Lectio Divina inspired format to explore the Lectionary text for each week.”
What is your history with Veriditas?
After walking my first labyrinth, I researched “labyrinth” online and immediately found the websites for Veriditas and The Labyrinth Society (TLS). I was drawn to the layers of involvement described in Veriditas. I learned about facilitator training and thought, “At some point, I’ll do this,” but it appeared that most of the trainings and events were on the west coast. In 2013 I walked my second labyrinth in Scotland and continued to be comfortable learning on my own.
Then I saw a notice about an upcoming facilitator training and possible scholarship in Naples, Florida in January 2015. Leah H. Hudson at Omnisara offered to write me a recommendation for the scholarship, and I was awarded one! I remain so grateful for without it, I wouldn’t have been able to take the very instructive, inspiring, and liberating training offered by Kay Mutert. Never before had I imagined being able to just wander onto the labyrinth. I had always felt very restricted and restrained in following the paths and staying within the lines. I can now understand that I was a little nervous and confused about the labyrinth until I did the training. It gave me confidence to begin working more intensely and personally with the labyrinth. On Mother’s Day 2015, we built a labyrinth in our yard (see photo) that I walked every day for about five months. I definitely felt the transformative power of making that commitment. I know I will do it again.
What is your involvement with Omnisara?
I was always telling people about the labyrinth, so in response to my enthusiasm, a friend forwarded to me an invitation to the opening weekend at Omnisara. I had no idea they were doing labyrinth work. While there, I explained to two Omnisara team members that I had been looking for a place to teach yoga, and Leah confirmed that they had been talking about including yoga in their programs. I offered it last spring and summer but have had to let it go for now, due to family priorities. Last September, I facilitated a walk for Peace Day at Omnisara, entitled “Celebrating Peace through Stories and Song on the Labyrinth.”
How do you maintain a balance in your life with two young children and your strong commitment to your work?
I have established clear spiritual practices. I begin every day at 5:00 AM by walking our labyrinth, followed by a silent seated meditation for 20 minutes. If the temperature is nice and the mosquitoes aren’t biting, I do my meditation in the center of the labyrinth. I have learned it is vital for me to set aside that time to come into silence and stillness. I treasure this early morning opening before the rest of the family stirs, although Joy, our 16-month old daughter, is still waking up in the night. I am home schooling our seven-year-old son Jayden, which helps with flexibility.
Part of our family history involves our buying the house a year before we adopted Jayden. Our personal agreement or deal with buying the house was that we would become foster parents and host a monthly potluck. We didn’t want to be two people sharing one bedroom in a three-bedroom house. We were leaning toward not having kids. We began fostering Jayden and adopted him a few months before Joy was born. So, the reality is that we have been parents for only 24 months. Life is, indeed, an adventure!
Have you begun your certification process yet?
Yes, I am pursuing certification. I followed up my September walk at Omnisara with a number of walks over the course of one day in October at the University of North Florida, in partnership with the UNF Interfaith Center. My “Introduction to the Labyrinth” walk at Omnisara on January 30th will be my third required walk. I’ll then submit the necessary paperwork.
After my training, I set out a personal intention to spend at least one year learning about the labyrinth and feeling more comfortable with it. I needed to ingrain what I had been offered at the training. One year has now passed, and I look forward to completing my certification and branching out.
What do you consider your biggest challenge in working with the labyrinth in Jacksonville?
My biggest challenge doesn’t relate to being in Jacksonville; it is more directly connected to this time in my life, the nature of home schooling, and having a toddler. I realize that I did my training at both the best and worst time. I know that, for most of my life, I will not have two children at home who are dependent upon me. So, right now, while my children are young, my emphasis is on being present with them. When they are older and more independent, I will spend more time helping people use the labyrinth. For now, my goal is to facilitate one walk every three months. I also can brainstorm, dream, and plan about how to share the labyrinth with people on a larger scale when Jayden and Joy are a bit older.
Do you feel support from the labyrinth community in the Jacksonville area?
h, yes! The Jacksonville community is so phenomenal with Kathy McLean, Leah H. Hudson and others at Omnisara, and the emerging interest group at Fleet Landing Retirement Community. I sense that I am getting better at opening up and asking people for support. I would like an apprenticeship with some of these more experienced labyrinth people. Perhaps during this time of focusing on my family, I can work more closely with others without having direct responsibility for ongoing programming. I will look forward to working with any population who needs to heal and wants to focus, such as the homeless and expectant mothers.
by Rita Canning, Development Coordinator
Labyrinth at Marble Collegiate Church
As we begin a wonderful New Year at Veriditas I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean Ando for this month’s column. Jean is a Veriditas Certified facilitator with advanced training and a major Sustaining Donor. She is the “Labyrinth Person” at her church, Marble Church in New York, and an ordained interfaith Minister.
When did you first encounter the labyrinth?
It was in 1999 when I had gone to visit a friend. She had Walking a Sacred Path on her coffee table with the picture of the labyrinth on the cover. I was fascinated by the design and found it was really beautiful. We started talking about a labyrinth project she was working on with her church and that gave me my introduction to the idea of the labyrinth. I started doing more study and research and realized this was something entirely different. It just really spoke to me as a spiritual tool, something that I could use very effectively since I have a hard time sitting still and meditating. I’ve found that when I’m moving I feel so much more connected to spirit, to God. So that was the beginning of my interest in the labyrinth. One of the things Lauren said in her book is that you should walk a labyrinth at the turn of the millennium. Going into the year 2000 we went out to California at New Years to see my daughter who was living in the Bay area at the time. My dream was to go into Grace Cathedral and walk the labyrinth there. That didn’t quite materialize but I did manage to find a labyrinth in Palo Alto where I was staying. There was an Episcopal church there that had a labyrinth walk on New Year’s Eve so I managed to slip away and that was my first labyrinth walk.
When did you first get involved with Lauren or Veriditas?
I did get up to Grace Cathedral a few days later and walked that labyrinth. I don’t think I knew that much about Veriditas in the early stages. When I came back to my church I suggested that we get a labyrinth for the church, which we did. We bought a canvas labyrinth from Robert Ferre. Most of the events and training at the time were out in California, so I wasn’t able to go to too many things. There were a number of circumstances that kind of prevented me doing too much from 2000- 2003. We had the labyrinth at our church and I led a few walks. I don’t think I did it very expertly.
In 2004 I took the Facilitator Training with Lauren in Washington, D.C. At the time my daughter had moved to the DC area and I went down to visit her rather often after she gave birth to my first grandchild. I got a letter from Veriditas about a facilitator training being held with Lauren Artress at the National Cathedral the following week. I had been keeping an eye out for this because most of the events and trainings were on the west coast, which was a challenge for me to get to. So when I got that letter I immediately emailed everything out to Veriditas and I was accepted. I stayed with my daughter which was close to the Cathedral. It worked out very nicely as I could take a bus and get off right at the Cathedral. The workshop and training were one of the most moving and spectacular experiences I’ve ever had. One of the labyrinth walks we did was a harmony walk. There were 15 people there that evening and we had nine hand bells. We started out in the place we were meeting next door to the Cathedral and walked into the Cathedral Chapel in silence, ringing the bells. We started the walk and as we walked someone started to OM. As we were walking and OMing, walking and OMing, we were handing the bells back and forth to each other. It was one of the most uplifting walks I’ve ever had. I have never done any harmony walks since then that were as thrilling. It was indescribable. The sound was filling the chapel. It was reverberating. We felt very connected to spirit and to each other as well.
There was a woman there and we had had a little sharing earlier in the day and had connected on a very deep level. We just stood there and held each other for a long time on the labyrinth as the sound was flowing around us. And of course the bells are in harmony and it all just reverberated. I felt that my soul was just vibrating with this energy of the sound. At one point I was just finishing my walk and people who had finished were sitting around. I walked around the perimeter ringing two bells and calling on the spirt and asking to be connected. It was just mind- blowing. As the last person stepped off the labyrinth it went silent. The silence was louder than the sound. I’m crying just reliving it. It was astounding and moving. Lauren said that she had never experienced a walk where the bells were being rung so continuously. And the silence just blew everyone away, it blew me away. It was all completely spontaneous. It was really a harmony walk. Not only the bells but our spirits were in harmony with one another and we were on a wave length that we were communicating without words, just with the sound and our attunement with each other. Everyone was responding in kind. No fear, no inhibition. It just flowed and was fabulous.
Will you share a little of your experience as a facilitator?
I used to do day long workshops but haven’t had the opportunity to do that recently. We recently installed a permanent marble labyrinth in the lower level of the church under the sanctuary. I continue to facilitate open walks there. It’s not formal; there’s no particular theme or focus. People just come and experience the labyrinth. We do Intreats once a year where I facilitate a more formal labyrinth walk. An Intreat is a retreat where we use church staff and resources rather than bring in outside leaders or speakers as a way of saving money. The last few years I’ve been having some school classes come in to walk the labyrinth. I give some history and background on the labyrinth and guide the walk, doing an opening and a closing.
I also make labyrinths at the various dance camps I attend and show people how to do the Appleton Dance.
Why do you donate to Veriditas?
Veriditas was my first introduction to the labyrinth and I’ve benefitted so much from the labyrinth and from my training. I’ve gone to Chartres several times and gone to various Veriditas labyrinth gatherings. I just feel that it has given so much to my life and done so much for the world that I want to give back. I want to support any organization that does the kind of work that is really creating peace on a worldwide basis, and bringing spirit into practice. I feel that the labyrinth is such a wonderful spiritual tool. Veriditas is promoting the labyrinth in very positive, unique and unusual ways, getting the labyrinth out to people. I think it’s definitely a worthwhile organization. I like the idea of tithing, where you give 10 percent of your income to that which feds you spiritually. My donations to Veriditas are a part of my tithing.
"Little Miracles" is produced by Linda Mikell. Each month she shares an inspirational story from a labyrinth experience that is sent to her by a facilitator. She welcomes YOUR story. I'm sure you're got one, and we all benefit from this sharing. Thank you, Linda!Please send your story to Linda Mikell at firstname.lastname@example.org