Set an intention. Make it a person or a group of people you think might need some good thoughts sent their way, or make it a concept or an entire philosophy you think might do yourself or the world some good.
Got it? Go ahead and stick it in your head.
Then stick one toe into the circle and start your journey.
It took a lot of intention focused on an entire philosophy to make that circle a reality. It sits in a flat area surrounded by the rolling hills of Carmel Valley, in the backyard of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church and its Montessori school, where children ages three months to first grade come for care and to learn about mutual respect – for each other and for the greater world – using a peace-based curriculum.
The circle is a labyrinth, an ancient mystical tool as described by Lauren Artress in her 1995 book Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. Artress, an ordained Episcopal priest, served in several pastoral roles from 1986 to 2004 at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and founded Veriditas, The World-Wide Labyrinth Project, to promote labyrinth experiences as a tool for spiritual growth and community building.
It took another Lauren to bring the project to St. Dunstan’s, though: Lauren Spindler Proulx, a Carmel Valley native and trained Montessori teacher spent a dozen years working at a chi-chi Montessori in New York City (“It was kind of known as a feeder school to other schools, from kindergarten to Yale,” she says, not joking).
Proulx had long envisioned St. Dunstan’s as the perfect place for a Montessori. She interviewed for the job with then-Rector Rob Fisher and mentioned a Montessori in Atascadero where the upper elementary school kids built a labyrinth on their own.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to do one collaboratively with the church,” Proulx says.
St. Dunstan’s priest Marcia Lockwood gave Artress’ book to Proulx; Proulx found it to be something of a revelation.
Among those revelations: That Artress, in wanting to develop a labyrinth for Grace Cathedral, went on a voyage of discovery that took her all the way to Chartres Cathedral in France, where she and others walked the famed labyrinth that was constructed sometime in the early 13th century and set into stones in the cathedral floor; that seeking big answers to big questions was in itself a journey on a sacred path; and that the labyrinth can become an important part of quieting one’s mind even as the body is moving, because movement takes away excess psychic energy that disturbs efforts to quiet the thought process, Artess writes.
“Wow, there’s more to this than just laying out stones.”
“Once I read it, it suddenly made the depth of the labyrinth and the spiritual practice more clear, and it was clear that if we were going to do it, we should do it right,” Proulx says. “We all felt, after reading the book, ‘wow, there’s more to this than just laying out some stones.’”
They turned to Lars Howlett, a Richmond-based teacher and labyrinth builder who works closely with Artress and is a faculty member at Veriditas. He came and viewed the space, and helped Proulx and Lockwood consider their options.
“We wanted it to be accessible to all people,” Proulx says. “We also wanted it to be something that wouldn’t take too long but give enough time to reach the grounded space you reach when you walk the labyrinth.”
Construction began in April. Older students from the Montessori school participated by raiding the church’s shredder and using shredded bulletins to first make paper, and then make hearts out of that paper. They wrote prayers for the labyrinth on the paper hearts – one reads, “I pray for the entire world to be happy,” and another reads, “I pray for kitties” – and on the day the stones were to be laid, the hearts went into the ground first. The older students also helped by carrying bricks from the parking lot to the construction sight. One brick at a time.
“It’s what happens when you work in community,” Proulx says. “Even the smallest hands had an impact in making the job go quickly.”
While the labyrinth was completed in May, a bit of work continues. The church is finalizing signage so visitors know where to find the labyrinth, and landscaping will add flowers and foliage to the area.
Proulx walks the labyrinth every day, as do many students and parents, and participants in a variety of groups that meet at St. Dunstan’s.
“It’s an ancient spiritual tool that may also be a great bridge for people who might not want to come into a church,” she says. “It helps people get back to their heart, which is basically what most religions are trying to help people do.”