At the annual labyrinth walk, find your own path, your own pace.
They’ll be moving the pews from the center of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Thursday. Lighting the candles and setting up the burn bowl. The musicians will set up; the lights will come down.
And then from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., people will arrive in everything from New Year’s Eve formal wear to sweatpants and sneakers, all with the same intention: peace.
For 15 years, people have come from all over to participate in the Labyrinth Walk at St. Mark’s in Seattle, where a 40-foot painted canvas will be laid out in the center of the nave.
The walking meditation of following a single path toward a center, then out, dates back to ancient Greece; and the labyrinth at St. Mark’s is fashioned after the one built at France’s Chartes cathedral in 1201.
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I can’t imagine a better way to end this year, in this town: walking at your own pace, surrounded by solitude, while right outside, the city is booming, changing and zooming along. The only thing that isn’t moving at light speed here is Bertha the boring machine.
There are no formal studies linking labyrinths to mental health, but devotees believe more people are drawn to them as technology advances. It makes sense; The faster we communicate, process and post in our lives, the more harried our minds become.
“We’re in informational overload,” said Dan Niven, who has put down two labyrinths, in gaffer tape, on the floor of St. Mark’s, and will set up another with electric candles. “It’s no surprise that we use this to decompress and figure out our priorities.
“It’s a tool for mindfulness. It surpasses any doctrine.”
Those who have walked labyrinths have used them to solve problems, lose worries and find clarity. If you’ve experienced loss, heartbreak or a series of unfortunate events, it can soothe your heart and calm your mind. Hospitals keep them outside surgical areas for those waiting on patients.
At St. Mark’s, the six-hour Labyrinth Walk is accompanied by chamber music, lit by candlelight, and features a burn bowl where people can write down their troubles, light them on fire, toss them in and forget. At midnight, there’s a Eucharist to mark the start of the new year.
“I think people find it a wonderful alternative to the usual raucous celebrations,” said Walter Stuteville, a retired judge and a warden of the St. Mark’s vestry, or board of directors. “It’s a reflective process, a way of moving on if you’ve had stuff that’s bothered you throughout the year.”
Stuteville will be there to roll out the canvas labyrinth and stay to watch. Some people move slowly, others more joyous to the point of dancing.
“It’s different for different people,” he said. “If you look at the pattern, even when there’s a crowd of people, at one point you’re in a crowd and at another point, you’re by yourself.
“It’s a metaphor for life.”
The church has started a capital campaign to build a permanent labyrinth.
Niven remembered attending a workshop where someone referred to labyrinths as simply “lines on the ground.”
“At first, I was a little offended,” Niven said, “because I spend some time with those lines. But then I realized, it’s what we do to them, it’s what we bring to them. It’s what we get out of them to make some discoveries about ourselves.”
Niven has never had a “mystical” experience walking a labyrinth, but when he was still courting his now-wife, he brought her to St. Mark’s on their way out one New Year’s Eve. She found herself behind someone walking “heel-to-toe slow,” he said. It was excruciating until she reached the center, stopped, and heard a word in her head: patience.
“That was the lesson,” Niven said. “It was like a download from the Holy Spirit. She was visibly transformed.”
Another time, he watched a young woman take an hour to walk a 16- by 16-foot design, stopping to meditate at each cardinal point.
“It blew me away,” Niven said. “Whatever work she did internally, well, it humbled me. People go to a place that they might not know is there for them.”