Unification News for September 2003

A Sacred Walk - The Labyrinth at UTS

Gillian Corcoran
September, 2003

Most of my life Iíve been a morning person, especially loving to greet the day with an early morning walk. My favorite place to walk in these awakening, dewy moments is the labyrinth at UTS. It is an intimate place and time where I can meet and communicate with God. Iíve come to value the quieting of my mind and the opening of my heart which enables me to not only talk to, but really listen to God.

In this sacred and special place, together with God, Iíve shared the hopes and wonders of new beginnings with the rising sun, been enveloped in the soft embrace of morning mists, laughed and cried in cleansing rains, and danced with the wind. Weíve shared the mysteries of the moon rising through the trees, and even crunched our way through the snow with freezing toes and glowing hearts. In the labyrinth I experience Godís love and I am free to be me. The labyrinth is a place of authenticity.

What makes this place so sacred and special? How is it so conducive to meeting and being with God? What is a labyrinth anyway?

A labyrinth walk is a spiritual tool, a meditation walk or body prayer. Labyrinths are patterns on the ground; they can be made on grass marked with stones or brick, or dug in sand or snow or even painted on canvas or on tarmac, and people walk their clearly marked paths. Their circular shape symbolizes unity and wholeness. The meandering path within the circle is a metaphor for the journey of life or our spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path that leads to a central point and back out again. Walking a labyrinth can aid healing, relieve stress, help in releasing grief, aid in decision making, guide us through troubled times, illuminate our purpose in life, and be a tool of celebration and thanks.

The circular mandala designs of labyrinths are found in cultures throughout the world. They decorate prehistoric pottery and can be seen in African, Australian and Indian artifacts, some varying examples being: The Hopi Indian medicine wheel, the Jewish Cabala and Cretan labyrinths. The oldest labyrinth pattern was discovered on stone tablets in Greece, dating back to 2000 BC. Early Christian labyrinths date back to the 4th Century. Perhaps the most famous labyrinth, dating back to the thirteenth century, is found built into the stone floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. This is an eleven circuit labyrinth, which is the design we followed in building the labyrinth at UTS.

Guidelines for Walking

Ideally, we approach our walk without expectations. The labyrinth is many things for many people, and each walk is usually a completely different experience. It can be a place of reflection, recognition, tears and laughter. You may experience immediate clarity and insight or your experience may not be apparent for some time. Labyrinths can be walked individually, with a friend, as a couple, with your family or in a group. It takes about half an hour to walk the labyrinth, depending upon how long you spend in the center.

Three stages can be recognized when walking a labyrinth: journeying inward, time in the center and the outward journey. Prior to entering or at the entrance itself, pause to reflect and make a prayer or intention for the walk, quieting your mind and opening your heart.

Step by step, you walk to the center following the path. This is often a time for "letting go", breathing deeply, being present in the moment. There are no "wrong turns", the path leads to the center so you can relax into the walk. The four major directions, North, South, East and West are marked on the outer circle providing good places to pause and reflect.

Arriving at the center can be a time of receiving Godís love and guidance. The rosette pattern in the center represents God, and is composed of petals symbolizing the six realms of creation: mineral, plant, animal, human, spiritual and the divine. Standing in each petal helps us connect to healing energies from each realm. Four tree stumps have also been placed in the center of the UTS labyrinth. Here you can sit and reflect upon the realm of heartistic relationships each one represents; the heart of God, Father, Mother, and Child.

When ready, the walk from the center back out returns us to our lives, and we bring with us what we have gained from the walk, empowered to take action.

Each walk is a unique experience. It is a good idea to walk labyrinths as part of your ongoing spiritual practice, as they have a cumulative effect.

It was a labor of love to build the labyrinth, which took my husband Chris and I almost a year to complete. We began by marking the pattern on the ground with lime, and gradually gathered bricks (2,500 in total) and laid them upon the pattern. We are grateful to the many people who helped, from our neighbors lending us their truck for our brick-gathering excursions, to the many brothers and sisters who lugged and laid bricks. We made the path wide enough so the lawn mower could fit through, and now some of our youth walk the labyrinth whilst cutting the grass.

We now have a calendar of labyrinth events, which include monthly candlelight, full moon walks; walks to mark the changing seasons on the Spring and Autumn Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice. We held a Circle of Peace candlelight vigil in commemoration of loved ones lost in the 9/11 tragedy; we will have a walk of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day and walks to prepare for the New Year on Dec 31st , and to begin the New Year on the right foot on Jan 1st, 2004. We are also holding a Labyrinth Retreat on Saturday October 11th from 10 am to 4 pm.

Weíve met wonderful new people each time we held an event. Walking together with others creates an immediate bond that is deep and heartistic even when we havenít met before. One lady shared that she just didnít want to leave as she hadnít felt such peace in a long time. Another said she had found her spiritual family. One person went home after walking, picked up the phone and recontacted someone for the first time in 30 years. To really understand how wonderful labyrinths can be, walk a labyrinth yourself. Come to ours at UTS or go to www.labyrinthsociety.org the labyrinth locator and find one near your home.

You will find the UTS labyrinth in a sheltered and serene meadow, surrounded by trees, about 100 yards behind the school. You can take either the path that leads to Fatherís trail or the one that goes to the potato barn as the labyrinth is nestled in the meadow between the two paths. A bench dedicated to Andrew Byrne is situated in a meditation garden next to the labyrinth.

For more information contact: Gillian Corcoran: (845) 758-3909; email: walk4peace@earthlink.net

Labyrinth Retreat "Tending Your Spirit"
A Sacred Walk - The Labyrinth At UTS
30 Seminary Drive, Barrytown, NY 12507
Saturday October 11th
10 am -- 4 pm
Cost: $21 including Lunch
Hosted by Gillian Corcoran
Guest Presenters: Lydia Riedell, Chi Kung relaxation exercises;
Regina Sophia Guided Meditation and Drumming;
PLUS: Time for Reflection and Journaling, Sharing and Walking the Labyrinth
Optional Extra: Full Moon Labyrinth Walk Friday evening October 10th

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