Reprinted with permission from Carolina Gardener magazine.
Labyrinths have always held a fascination for me–whether stones lain on grass in a simple spiral formation, a seven-circuit pattern, or even a more elaborate Chartres design–a labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is also the way out. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again. Simply put, a labyrinth garden has pattern with a purpose. It is a metaphor for life’s journey.
Unlike mazes which are more like a puzzle meant to challenge you, a labyrinth lends itself to a form of meditation to reduce stress and alleviate pain. This type of meditation has only recently (in the last 30 years) become mainstream in conventional health care. From Hospice to hospitals, labyrinths are now being found in small quiet areas of large institutions.
Churches and childcare facilities are also providing a place to gather, either alone or with a group, to meditate along the labyrinth path. There is also a trend to add a labyrinth to one’s own private garden. Labyrinths are becoming more and more popular as a place to visit and release stress.
There is no right way to walk a labyrinth–just begin at the beginning, go to the center, and return again. Even the reason to enter can vary from one day to the next. You may be seeking comfort from sorrow or rejoicing as you embrace the day. You could journey alone or with a friend or a group. But in all cases, pay attention to your experience.
It might be helpful to think about your labyrinth as having thee parts: releasing, receiving, and returning.
Releasing begins at the entrance as you walk towards the center shedding or letting go thoughts and emotions to empty and quiet the mind.
Receiving is when you reach the center. The center is the place to receive what is there for you. Here, you are in a meditative state.
Returning is the walk out empowering you to take what you have received and journey back into the world, energized.
For me, even the sight of labyrinth brings calmness. My mind often goes to some medieval place and yet, I find it refreshing to know labyrinths are becoming increasing in popularity in today’s society. Whenever and wherever I find a labyrinth, I always begin the journey with one step forward.
DESIGNING A LABYRINTH AT HOME
Labyrinths come in many designs with lots of variations but three main styles are common: The Chartes named after the designed found a the medieval French Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartes; the seven-circuit pattern which is detailed here; and a simple spiral in the grass with alternating paths of mown and un-mown grass or even simply laying rocks in a spiral pattern.
How-to make 20- by 20-foot, simple spiral labyrinth in a 25-foot area.
Step 1: On existing turf or gravel, measure equal distances at four corners to make a square and mark with stakes. Then tie two strings diagonally to find the center point, and hammer in a stake.
Step 2: Create paths from the center point by first tying a knot with a length of garden twine around a 5-gallon plastic nursery pot. Then wrap an additional 100 feet of twine around the pot. At the loose end of the twine, attach a pointed stake to act as a stylus. Holding the twine taunt, begin walking around in a perfect circle, unwrapping as you go. Once the area is marked, spray with landscaper paint to highlight the spiral outline.
Step 3: Then cover the markings with objects of your desire–stone, pebbles, mondo grass, shells, or whatever you fancy.
The amount of actual space required depends upon how wide you want the paths to be. Eighteen- to thirty-inch paths work well. An area of ground that measures about 45 feet by 45 feet is needed for paths that are 30-inches wide.
When selecting the entrance to your labyrinth, some believe the path’s beginning should face east. This is based on the idea that churches built their altars facing east. However, consider, too, the view. Having the entrance facing towards a calming vista or land feature will make the start of the inward journey more pleasing, thus, enhancing the walker’s experience.
Top photo credit: Brookgreen Gardens
To experience a medieval seven-circuit Chartres-style Labyrinth, be sure to visit Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, SC. Made from shell and natural grass located next a large tidal creek. The Brookgreen Gardens Labyrinth is a worthy destination.