Sting’s Songs of the Labyrinth, a collection of songs for voice and lute by, and excerpts of letters from, the Elizabethan composer John Dowland, is one of my favorite recordings. I never tire of hearing “Come Again” and “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains.”
As I’ve listened to Sting strum his labyrinth-decorated lute and sing these refined selections, I’ve thought that I’d like to learn more about labyrinths. I finally had the opportunity to do that last evening, when I stopped by Chadwick Arboretum on the way home from work for its Winter Solstice Labyrinth Walk.
This special holiday event featured the chance to try chestnuts roasted on an open fire, sip hot chocolate, and walk the arboretum’s labyrinth by candlelight.
The arboretum’s Mary Maloney shared that labyrinths are different from mazes. While a maze is a complex puzzle where a walker must find her way, the labyrinth has a single route. It twists and turns, but is without branches, so it’s designed to not be as difficult to navigate.
Labyrinths are a metaphor for the journey of life. Although reaching the center of the labyrinth is the main goal, walking the labyrinth teaches a valuable lesson: With persistence, you will eventually reach your destination.
Labyrinths are circuits designed for contemplative walking. Walking a labyrinth offers a centering experience. The many left-to-right and right-to-left turns taken in a labyrinth are said to balance the brain’s logical and artistic activities. You’re intended to lose track not only of direction, but also of the outside world. As you walk, you become less distracted. You think in new ways, coming up with ideas and approaches to solving problems.
I also learned that labyrinths are symbolic forms of pilgrimage. Those who could not afford to travel to holy sites substituted walking the winding path of a labyrinth as a way toward salvation or to achieve enlightenment. Used for both prayer and meditation, they symbolize the journey that we take each day of our life.
There is much symbolism in what happens in a labyrinth, Mary said. This particular labyrinth is based on a 13-point star, divided into four parts, like the four seasons. The Druids described the approaching winter season as the lean season, or season of famine. People went into this season not knowing how they would emerge, she said. The same can be said for the experience of walking a labyrinth.
Chadwick Arboretum’s labyrinth is modeled after the famed 11-circuit Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth in France that was built almost 800 years ago. A walk on the Chadwick Arboretum labyrinth takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Located just yards from Lane Avenue, on the Ohio State University campus, Chadwick Arboretum and its labyrinth are valuable finds.
“We live in an urban culture,” Mary said. “Wherever we can find respite and places of spirituality, those are special places.”
To find additional labyrinths in central Ohio or anywhere else in the world, visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.