The Gustavus Labyrinth

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

In 2004, the school purchased a canvas labyrinth based on that of Chartres Cathedral.

In 2004, the school purchased a canvas labyrinth based on that of Chartres Cathedral.

By James Fleischmann ’10

Sliding off my shoes, I look up and see brightly shining three-dimensional stars. I absorb the feeling of faith which is so strong that it is nearly tangible. Feeling calmed by the dimly lit atmosphere, I look down to see a declaration of “Peace to all who enter.” I step onto the canvas and take a deep breath, clearing my mind and giving me a sense of peace. Slowly, I begin to follow a narrow path while my mind creates its own. I have just begun walking in circles, but this is no aimless walk; this is a purposeful voyage into the center of myself, and then back into the world. The unicursal tool that I am utilizing is ancient, but it has a very real effect right now. I am walking the labyrinth at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Walking the labyrinth can be a powerful, spiritual practice that helps us focus, can bring healing, and, over time, can transform our lives,” says Chaplain Rachel Larson, who has been at Gustavus Adolphus College for seven years and is now a certified labyrinth facilitator.

Chaplain Larson first walked a labyrinth in 2000. After walking it, she wanted others to experience it as well, and implemented the use of labyrinths at Gustavus five years ago. In 2004, the school purchased a canvas labyrinth based on that of Chartres Cathedral. It’s on display in Christ Chapel, and open to anyone who would like to use it, through the end of January. Starting in February, the labyrinth will be used during a program called “Sacred Space,” in Alumni Hall. This program will take place Feb. 17, March 9, April 13, and May 4 from 8 to 10 p.m.

“Sacred Space” is a time for anyone, regardless of religion, to reconnect with themselves. It allows people to walk the labyrinth, meditate, pray, write, or simply think. The labyrinth will be available, as well as cushions, yoga mats, Reiki practitioners, and a chaplain to talk or pray with. In addition to the walking labyrinth, personal finger labyrinths are available for those who would prefer not to walk while participating. In the future, Chaplain Larson, among others, hopes to have a permanent labyrinth built in the college’s arboretum.

Many people refer to labyrinths as a “path to inner peace.” They are generally a circle, spiral, or square which often mimics a figure of nature, such as a seashell. When one thinks of a labyrinth, a maze tends to come to mind. A labyrinth, however, is different from a maze in a significant way—in a labyrinth one makes no decisions about which path to choose, he or she simply follows. Because of this, the labyrinth exercises the right side of the brain, the creative side, instead of using critical thinking. This important difference is the reason that labyrinths are used; one’s mind can then focus on what he or she needs to think about, or simply wander, depending on the individual’s needs.

Labyrinths can be found in everything from cave drawings, to pottery, to cathedral floors, and date back as far as 5,000 years. Perhaps the best known labyrinth to date is that of Chartres Cathedral, located in France. Regardless of their original use, which differed between cultures, labyrinths are now being used all over the world to provide participants with a tool for discernment, meditation, prayer, stress reduction, finding balance, making decisions, providing insight, or simply relaxing and quieting one’s mind. They are used by many different religions and can be found in a multitude of places, including churches, parks, schools, prisons, and medical centers.

The walk generally involves the “Three R’s”: release, receive, and return. In other words, one lets go of feelings, sins, troubles, and stress while walking in, receives a sense of strength and direction while in the labyrinth, and returns to the world anew. There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth, but many people choose to reflect before entering, especially on what their intentions are for the walk. When walking, one must simply focus on whatever his or her intentions are, even if the person’s intention is to relax or daydream.

There are numerous benefits to walking the labyrinth. It reduces stress, relaxes and quiets the mind, gives one a means to solve problems, focuses, centers, and can even be spiritually uplifting. For these reasons, this experience can be especially helpful to young adults who are in the process of making life decisions. There are also significant physical benefits including reduced blood pressure and heart rate, as well as relaxation of muscles. Carl Rabbe, a junior at Gustavus and a chapel apprentice, first walked the labyrinth in the fall of 2007. Rabbe finds the labyrinth useful for prayer and meditation and says, “I always leave the labyrinth feeling very relaxed and at peace, yet simultaneously strengthened and energized.”

Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity; a few small steps on the path could mean strides in your life.


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