THE SECRET LABYRINTH

In August, 1999, I spent a week in California, drawing a labyrinth for Peace Lutheran Church in Danville as well as visiting Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and Mendocino County. The following account regards a "secret labyrinth" located near a state park wilderness area on the edge of Santa Rosa. Please don't contact me for specific directions, as I am unfamiliar with the area. There is a jogging trail through the park, on one side of which is a steep hill and on the other a low, grassy plateau. The labyrinth is on the latter. Anyone diligently searching for it is likely to find it.

Waiting patiently until the pre-dawn light is bright enough to see, I wonder if my second visit to the secret labyrinth will be as powerful as my first, two days ago. Finally, I carefully climb over the barbed wire and pick my way towards the top of the hill, alert for rocks, holes, and rattlesnakes.

A quarter of a mile away, suburban Santa Rosa stirs to life, retrieving the morning paper from the driveway, grinding fresh coffee, turning on the sprinkler system. My friend Lea had previously guided me to this labyrinth. She, in turn, had learned about it from a man at Kinko's who had seen that she was making copies of labyrinth materials. He had drawn a crude map, indicating that no one seemed to know the age of the labyrinth or who had built it.

Everywhere I go, people show me local labyrinths, in their yards, at churches and retreat centers. I am pleased to see so many, and to walk them. This one was different. It stood out, not just because of its secrecy, but because it had such an unusually strong effect on me. I was touched by the sweetness of the labyrinth. Amongst the jagged gray and brown stones that formed its classical pattern, previous visitors had left mementos and offerings — feathers, miniature vases with dried flowers, a soft drink can with a peacock feather, small rocks placed on top of larger ones. Tears came as I walked the twisting paths of beaten grass. The love and respect for this labyrinth were palpable.

Yet nothing had prepared me for the assortment of objects accumulated in the center. In mottled light of sun and shade I had knelt to observe the carved wooden box with a talisman inside, the many shells and stones, the silver heart pendant with a jagged line through the center (a broken heart), the woven basket, a clay bowl, beads, coins, burnt candles, a bill of foreign currency (India), a bone, a cameo, a picture of the Virgin Mary, a wooden disk, a mirror, an angel, and more. Here, people had prayed, shared of themselves, expressed their hope, pain and joy — and I felt it fully. I rearranged my schedule so that I could return.

Getting to the secret labyrinth is neither long nor difficult. My thin denim jacket is insufficient to ward off the retreating night's chill as I approach the site. Several live oaks stand guard around the labyrinth, their hanging moss swaying in the light breeze. The tall grass, dry and brown from months without rain, crunches under my feet. Once more, I sit on the large rock beside the labyrinth. A hundred yards away and just out of sight, people are jogging and walking their dogs, unaware that the labyrinth is here. As before, I take no photos. What strikes me now is the deep serenity of this place. I can hear the sounds of traffic, of tires and internal combustion engines, but that only emphasizes the calm presence of the labyrinth, a refuge, a place set apart. In my pocket is a small rock that I will leave in the center. I found it yesterday in Mendocino County while visiting earthworks creator Alex Champion, carrying it in my hand while I walked five of his mounded installations. Gray with several white streaks (resembling ley lines), this rock will establish a rapport between Alex's labyrinths and this one.

There is a reason why labyrinths have been passed down through the ages, used all over the world in myriad cultural contexts. They are truly archetypes, based on the earth and the movement of the planets and the solar system. So are we, but we have forgotten that. Labyrinths awaken in us ancient memories, joining together that which is scattered (re-membering), restoring our balance, organizing our chaos. They embrace our ceremonies and rituals, speaking to us through intuition and creative inspiration. Labyrinths reduce our stress, reorder our priorities, and lead us to ourselves. We are Divine beings. The closer we get to our Self, the closer we get to God. Pierre Teillard de Chardin wrote of the "omega point," that point that we discover by going within, at which All That Is becomes revealed to us. Hence, walking a labyrinth is a sacred act.

Before entering the labyrinth, I want to make my contribution to this wonderful place. The outer ring of stones is hidden by the long grass, so I have brought some hedge-trimming shears. Slowly, with attention and awareness, I clear around the labyrinth, making it more visible and allowing people to walk the perimeter. My task takes about 45 minutes. I leave the shears for future use, propping it on a branch of the oak nearest the entrance. I notice that in the holes of the knots and irregularities of the oak, unknown hands have deposited quartz crystals.

I walk the labyrinth slowly, stepping around the occasional stones that jut up in the pathway. At the center I place my stone and pray. I see that someone has left messages from fortune cookies. One says "Happy events will take place soon," and another, "You will travel far and wide, business and pleasure." They could be meant for me. And then I walk back out.

In front of the stone where I had been sitting is a depression in the earth. Although San Francisco beckons, I delay my departure a bit longer to lie down in this hollowed-out area, discovering that it nicely fits my back. I rest my head on the grass and cross my legs as if in meditation. Sleep wraps me in its gentle arms, filling me with dreams of nature spirits and nymphs dwelling in the labyrinth, eager to welcome and guide all who enter. I awake refreshed and grateful.

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