labyrinth dalton

By Melinda Welsh

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This essay was published on 09.25.03.

The labyrinth 

 Upon entering the Great Hall, you notice a problem. It’s too hot, too bright. Sun streams in from enormous skylights overhead. The light and heat makes this place too bothered, too functional, too contrary to the finding of inner peace.

Then, you remember: Favorable conditions are never guaranteed. You are here to walk the labyrinth, so you must, though you are well aware that there are no words to describe spiritual experiences. Sun Tzu: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name.”

So, stop judging everything and start over. Walk once more into Trinity Cathedral’s Great Hall and realize this time that it is actually a beautiful community space with good works intended and positive vibes emanating. A painted canvas is laid out on the floor—a labyrinth. Flat like a rug and large as a living room, the canvas is held in place with Velcro. An ancient purple pathway is painted on it.

Supposedly, if you follow the path, you get to peace.

A female volunteer lights candles and turns on New Age music. The silence gets loud. People start arriving. Most of them sit first to meditate or pray. They are trying to slow down their minds from whatever their minds have been doing all day, all week, all their lives. They take off their shoes. When the people feel ready, they approach the starting place, the opening, and begin to walk the labyrinth.

At first, you thought the labyrinth was basically a maze, but it’s not. (Hint: Do not use the word maze around the labyrinth people.) See, a maze has tricks and false starts and games. A labyrinth has none of these—just one clear and ever-winding path to the center. Though some of the people are first-timers, you notice that many of them seem familiar, as if they’ve been searching here many times before.

Now, it is your turn.

Shoes off, though the voices in your mind are still speeding, not nearly soothed. Yes, it’s hard to quiet the mind, but you approach the entrance to the labyrinth anyway, and you begin to walk. There is crisscrossing, corner turning, about-facing and winding toward the middle. It feels good to go slow with your bare feet on the canvas. All this is about a steady motion toward the center.

So, what is it you start to feel? You now fill up the space and time granted with too much thinking about what is wrong, too much talking about what is wrong, too much writing about what is wrong. You know what you need is less of this, and in the labyrinth, you start to understand. You are just here walking, absolute, solving, present.

Soon, you arrive in the center. On the canvas, the shape is a six-petaled rosette, the core, a symbol of enlightenment. You stand inside it, a newcomer, and look out across the canvas with its purple path and consider how strangely calm this walking has made you.

It’s been a long time since you began.

You’ve forgotten about the blazing sun and the New Age music. You’re barely aware of all the others winding their way through the labyrinth, slowly, politely, seeking something of their own. In the center, all that matters is you in the center and the world in its way and the wonder of having been born and the path and the journey and the center itself.

You will have to walk back out of this soon, but not yet. No, not yet.


Every third Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the church’s Great Hall, 
2620 Capitol Avenue, (916) 446-2513, Another labyrinth (pictured), which may be visited at any time, is etched in the courtyard outside Pioneer Congregational Church at 2700 L Street. See