Labyrinth of the Week #1: Allamuchy Elementary School

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I enjoy walking labyrinths. If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they are a sort of curved path to follow, usually in concentric circles. At first, they look kind of like a maze, but if you look closer, you see that there are no intersections, no decisions to make. It’s a single path that weaves from the outside in, and then usually back out again on the same path. They have been used for centuries as a spiritual tool. Christians have often used them as a way to connect with the Holy Spirit in a unique way. There is something about walking this path that brings things into focus. There is something about this path that gives discernment and insight. For more information about labyrinths, you can check out The Labyrinth Society.

I have been walking them for years, and I thought that perhaps I would try to find a labyrinth once a week, at least for the remainder of my medical leave. I’m not sure I will continue at the same pace once I’m back to work, but hopefully I will be able to still go regularly.

When I walk a labyrinth, I like to enter it with a particular question or topic in mind. I walk hopeful that I will receive some insight into that question. The question I walked with today was, “What do I do with my past?” This was on my mind because so much of what I’ve been doing the past few weeks involves my past…revisiting old thoughts and feelings and wounds, reconnecting with old friends, delving into thousands of old emails. I wanted to explore what it is I can do with my past, what I should do with what I’m learning (or re-learning) right now.

Today’s labyrinth is located on the grounds of Allamuchy Elementary School in Allamuchy Township, New Jersey. It was created in memory of a young girl named Claudia.


One thing that struck me immediately about this labyrinth is that the walls were not clearly marked. The “walls” of the labyrinth are like the borders of the maze, so to speak. You always walk within the walls, and they help you know where you’re going. Outdoor labyrinths like this often have walls made of stones or bricks…they’re often just markers on the ground, not any sort of actual barrier. This labyrinth was planted…the walls are boxwood plants. These small shrubs do a good job of marking the circles in the labyrinth, but because they were “dots” rather than solid “lines,” I found it very unclear where the path actually turned.

Here’s how a 7-circuit classical labyrinth looks. You walk in the white path. The black is the walls.
Here’s that same labyrinth pattern with only “dots” for walls, instead of “lines.” (Or a really quick and shabby imitation of that, anyway.) You can still see the pattern, but it’s harder to see the details like where to turn.

I don’t know if they designed it to be different like this, or if it’s just turned into this in the years since it was planted. But either way, I found myself asking questions as I looked out over the labyrinth. Am I supposed to turn here between these two bushes, or continue straight? That kind of thing. I asked those kind of questions as I looked out at the labyrinth. So I used my experience of walking labyrinths as an asset. I figured, “I’ve walked these enough times, I’ll know where to turn.” Well, it turns out I didn’t. I got “lost” in the labyrinth. My past experience was not enough to set me straight on the path.

Now, here’s the thing…I was still walking it. I was walking it the way I always do, slowly and meditatively. And I was walking in the concentric circles like you do. I just wasn’t always heading where I thought I was. And I basically made it to the center not at the preordained time, but when I decided I’d walked enough, and just put myself there. My past experience partially prepared me for this journey, but it wasn’t enough. It was a different sort of journey. Whether by design or by accident, this labyrinth took me on a different journey. My past was a tool, an asset, but I could not expect the future to repeat the past. It was different, and I had to keep my eyes and my options open.

So this indeed gave me insights into my question: What do I do with my past? I honor it. I recognize it as a helpful and educational tool. Without it, I’m blind. But I also keep it in perspective. It is not the future. The future will bear some resemblance to the past, but some things will be different, and I can’t predict beforehand what those differences will be. But with a sense of humor and a sense of curiosity, my past and I can go exploring the future together…and make an even richer past for next time.

Or something like that.

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