The labyrinth at St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy of St. Hugh’s

By Mary Knab

Idyllwild, the place we all call home is a literal idyllic place where folks find peace, centering and healing.
Surrounded by nature we find these things in the beauty and majesty in which we are immersed daily.
But did you know that here in our little town is a labyrinth, an ancient practice for prayer, spirituality, peace and healing.
That labyrinth is in the outdoor courtyard at St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church right here in Idyllwild. Established and constructed in 2008 by the people of St. Hugh’s, it is free and always open to the public.
Labyrinths became a very popular form of Christian devotion in the Middle Ages and were found all over Europe, both inside buildings (usually churches) and outside. The labyrinth at St. Hugh’s is modeled on the one embedded in the floor of the nave of the Cathedral Chartres in France. For centuries it was covered with a large carpet; only in recent years was it “rediscovered” and returned to its intended use.
The Chartres Labyrinth is an 11-circuit labyrinth. This means that the walker will complete 11 circuits before reaching the center, and another 11 before returning to the entrance/exit.
Labyrinths are intricate patterns of symbols, usually circular. They are designed as a purposeful path to the center and back out again. There are no obstacles, no puzzles to figure out, nor dead ends to avoid. The destination is assured.
The labyrinth walker is engaged in a deeply meditative discipline, simply putting one foot in front of another, honoring the journey itself and what it has to divulge or teach. There is no set time for how long it takes to walk a labyrinth since each one is unique. Some may take only five minutes, while others may be significantly longer.
Patterns range from simple to complex, and sizes of labyrinths vary. Walking a labyrinth requires you to merely follow the pattern, with no puzzle to figure out. This lets your mind focus on your meditation or prayer.
There is no “right” way to walk a labyrinth. You will have a unique experience. Moreover, you will have a different experience each time you walk.
You will notice that you approach the center several times, each time turning away. This mimics our experience in life — our journey to the fulfillment of our goals is rarely a straight path. In time, with dedication to following the path, you will suddenly find yourself at the center.
In the center you will notice six “petals.” You may occupy one of these petals as your space for as long as you wish. In the very center of the center you will notice two symbols: the letters alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet recalling from the New Testament the words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).
The alpha and omega in the middle of St. Hugh’s labyrinth was placed to remind people that God, however one envisages God, is the beginning and the end of life’s journey.
Before leaving the center, ask yourself if there is anything you wish to leave there as you prepare to reenter the world. Examples might be, “I leave my anger about _ and move through release into forgiveness,” or “I let go of the life I had planned in order to accept the one that is waiting for me.”
When ready to begin the journey out of the labyrinth, one will repeat the same pattern as they approached the center. This, too, mimics life. On the walk out, one can allow their imagination to activate ways in which they can integrate their experience with the world to which they are returning.
As one finishes, turn toward the center and acknowledge the sacredness of the space and the presence of all creation that surrounds and upholds you.
A resurgence of interest in labyrinths, coinciding with an increased focus on personal self-awareness and spiritual growth, has recently occurred.
Parks, schools, hospitals and churches have incorporated labyrinth patterns into decor, landscaping and recreation areas. They are used to relieve stress and aid rehabilitation, for exercise and to stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving.
Labyrinths also are incorporated into meditation and reflection practices. Recent studies have shown that walking a labyrinth design engages both the left and right brain activity to create a holistic, simultaneous processing experience.
Labyrinth walking is a form of active meditation that can help people break free of thoughts or behaviors, allowing them to focus their intentions or clear their mind as they let their body move through the pre-determined pathway.
Learning more about how to walk a labyrinth and what to expect can help make the most of the experience.
The labyrinth at St. Hugh’s was created to be a place of centering for all who wish to partake. It is located at St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church, 25525 Tahquitz Road.