Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Grace North Church Labyrinth

Photo courtesy of Grace Cathedral.

While reading Meditation: the complete guide, by Monaghan and Diereck, the chapter on labyrinth walking reminded me of a goal I made in college. When living in the dorms I experienced my first labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It was then that I made a goal of seeking out more. Casually, I’ve come across some in my area and while on vacation, but now I am actively (but not with urgency) discovering labyrinths.

Using the Labyrinth Locator, I checked out the San Francisco Bay Area for meditative paths. Most are based off of the 11 circuit labyrinth from Chartes Cathedral in France. From there the materials, location, and scale vary greatly. Many of the labyrinths are painted on canvas being less expensive and portable, one is permanently painted on the black top at a school and another was crafted from the bricks from a burnt down church. In particular three rock labyrinths caught my interest because they are outside, which is where I love being the most.

It is interesting that I have gravitated towards labyrinths, since how I would miss pronounce it every time I’d talk about them. Along with the word Ambulance, my college boyfriend would randomly quiz me on pronunciation. It seriously took months to get them both right.

photo courtesy of North Grace Church

The Labyrinth Locator introduced me to the North Grace Church Labyrinth in Berkeley. According to the labyrinth directory, public walks are available twice a month. I marked the times on my calendar and checked it out. I was surprised to find the sanctuary doors locked, figuring that’s where the path was located. After circling the building I saw someone and he pointed me in the right direction and he said I was welcome to walk until they closed down for the night. I strolled into the building adjacent to sanctuary, feeling a little uncomfortable not knowing exactly where to go or if I was allowed to be there. After passing several classrooms I found a gym with a maroon 7 circuit labyrinth painted on the floor. It wasn’t a particularly awe inspiring room, like being surrounded by stained glass windows and huge stone pillars. But the simple arts and crafts style of the 1913 church made for a simple canvas to focus on why I was there.

At first it was a tad distracting to walk the labyrinth, since how one side of me was a class that was ending and on the other side there were people in the kitchen. No one seemed to think it odd that I was there. I figure that’s because besides being respectful of the space, I acted like I belonged. Going into random churches feels normal since how that’s what I did growing up. At the age of learning to ride a bicycle, I lived in the British countryside. My parents made the most of it by taking frequent trips to castles and cathedrals. I remember begging my father to not drag my brother and me to another cathedral. Even though I loved exploring the vast buildings and pretending to be from a different era, I had seen so many that I wanted to do something else. But here I am, back to seeking out churches. Guess I didn’t get my fill.

At Grace North Church, after about 10 minutes of walking people cleared out of the classrooms and it became quite. That’s when I got creative. That was the first time I had the opportunity to walk with no one watching me. It’s like dancing at home. I hadn’t realized how self-conscious I was until left alone. Winding back and forth, I walked to the center and out again, playing around with my body in that space; searching for the rhythm that induced a relaxed state of mind. I played around with walking different speeds, even as slow as kinhin, Zen walking, where you make one step for every two breaths. Being in socks of course I had to try sliding my feet without picking them up. I twirled around the bends like a modern dancer. I moved my arms around in various martial arts positions and stretches. After about half an hour, I left happy and more relaxed.

In making art and in labyrinth walking, repetitive tasks are soothing and replenishing. I also enjoy their aesthetic being site specific art installations. I am cooking up a plan to organize a community project to build a labyrinth. This involves talking with city planners, grant writing and public speaking, none of which I have much or any experience. I am good at researching, designing, keeping details organized and follow through. Interacting with people of the community and the decision makers is something I want to be comfortable with doing. Making public labyrinths is the direction I want my art to take since how it’s collaborative, on a grandeur scale so that it impacts more people, and more complex project so to push me out of my comfort zone.

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