Eugene, Oregon
An informal talk given on June 2, 2004
(Well, this is a bit expanded.
This is what I would have said, had I enough time.)

Good morning. I'm happy to be here, as arranged by Ann Gordon. I had a wonderful dinner at her house last evening, and a pleasant stay at the Phoenix Motel. I'm in Oregon to make some labyrinths. At the same time, I am visiting hospitals as part of my on-going survey regarding labyrinths, namely, how they got them and how they use them. I am building up quite an interesting body of information.

I understand that our attention is not your current labyrinth, but the one planned for your new eight hundred million dollar hospital to be built out by the river. My message to hospitals is simple: If you don't have a labyrinth, get one. If you have a labyrinth, use it. Unfortunately, the latter isn't always the case. I saw that your own concrete labyrinth is partly covered by construction materials, and is due for some sprucing up.

My list of hospitals with labyrinths is now up to 85. Oregon is one of the most active areas for hospital labyrinths. Mid-Columbia Medical Center in the Dalles led the way. They were also one of the first Planetree hospitals, following a paradigm of patient-centered care. The first Plantetree hospital, in San Francisco, is now called California Pacific Medical Center. They were the first large public hospital that I know of to get a labyrinth. That was, perhaps, eight years ago.

Labyrinths at hospitals range in importance from place to place, from being the primary focus to having minimal visibility. I will be building a labyrinth in Wheaton, Illinois, for Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. They are expanding by building a second large building with attached parking garage. It will be joined to the existing building by a single story which is located below grade, lining up with the basement level. To make this more interesting, they opened up a large circular atrium which floods light into the lower level. At ground level the atrium is in the center of the circular drive. Below grade, it will be the location of the labyrinth in an outdoor garden surrounded by glass windows. It ties the two buildings together in a spectacular way. In other places, such as Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, the labyrinth is in an obscure location and hardly even noticed. I, of course, think they should be given as much prominence as possible.

I just came from Grants Pass, where I interviewed people for a whole afternoon regarding their labyrinth. Martha Shonkwiler has developed a model program in how to involve the community in using the labyrinth. Each event is summarized in a written form. The file of forms is three inches thick. The events range from a hospice releasing butterflies to an awareness walk for battered women and more. Just as interesting to me as how hospitals use labyrinths is how they decided to get one. In Grants Pass, it was an executive decision from the top down. The chaplain said it was as if a flying saucer had just landed, which they had to figure out how to use.

The landscape architect, however, had no experience in sacred space and none with labyrinths. As a result, there are some circumstances which could have been better handled. It's too public, for example. People feel conspicuous when walking it. There is very little seating around the labyrinth, and nothing that even closely resembles sacred geometry or symbolism.

The design of hospitals is big business, with many large firms specializing in it. I attended a national conference sponsored by Healthcare Design Magazine. There were hundreds of architects bent on assuring that the buildings would be advantageous to healing. Incongruently, I felt, they also insist on a scientific paradigm. They insist that all innovations must be carefully tested and verified as to how they affect patient outcomes. As a result, only a few of them have discovered labyrinths.

In writing and speaking abut labyrinths in healthcare situations, I make the point that there are two kinds of healing. Medical science has some astounding technologies for mending the body. If I am ever seriously burned or in a bad car accident, rush me to a hospital for the latest technology. Science, however, has its limits, because it is external, impersonal, rational, empirical, objective and literal. Much of the healing experience is just the opposite of all of those qualities. While science specializes in outer healing, labyrinths are an effective way to access inner healing. In fact, not only do they help heal emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, labyrinths deal with the larger issue of how we are and how we live our lives. Critical medical emergencies often lead people to look at these larger questions. Technology isn't relevant. Through the use of labyrinths, people can actually use their illness as a means of personal transformation, even if the healing itself is not successful.

Three Rivers Hospital has just received a $25,000 grant from the Fetzer Foundation for being innovative in healthcare treatment. Ironically, I received a telephone call a few weeks ago from someone at Fetzer who is interested in a labyrinth on their campus. Three Rivers received the prize because they have developed a paradigm that they call Whole Person Caring. In that paradigm, they accept the assumption that we are by nature spiritual, and our treatment must be considered in that light. (Surprisingly, they are a non-sectarian institution.) Labyrinths fit right into their model.

Hospitals have been going through a paradigm change for several decades now. The former model used to be based on prisons. People were given numbers and told what to do and when. Now, patients are seen as consumers who have a choice. Similarly, retaining skilled staff members is becoming more and more important to the success of hospitals. For both patients and staff, attending to one's inner needs, reducing stress, centering, coming to terms with oneself can change the negative image hospitals so rightfully deserved. Mark Scott, former CEO of Mid-Columbia Medical Center, spoke at the design conference and said that spas and hotels are better models for refreshing environments than are hospitals. And so he looked to them for design principles and procedures that are relevant to hospitals.

The labyrinth has appeared periodically throughout history in many different cultures. It has a special ability to adapt to different uses. This is also true on an individual basis. So people can approach it from a somewhat mechanistic, practical point of view or a more undefined, spiritual outlook. Physcial benefits include exercise, physical therapy, developing coordination, and stress reduction. On the other hand, from a spiritual point of view, the labyrinth greets each of us wherever we are in our journey through life, and helps us on to the next step. Thus, it varies for each person. It is beautifully suited for prayer and meditation, for expressing intent, and for rituals or ceremonies.

Thus, the labyrinth straddles both worlds, the physical and the spiritual. That doesn't mean the division is 50-50. I think the physical is much less than the spiritual. Perhaps it coincides with the pattern itself. The lines are the physical part, which form a pattern that serves as a container for our experience. But we actually walk on the paths, not the lines. We walk in the space. And so our journey is one of pilgrimage and personal growth. These aren't areas that hospitals are accustomed to dealing with.

That's why they need labyrinths. It makes inner healing approachable and accessible. Further, it is cost effective. Labyrinths can cost from $30,000 to $100,000. That's hardly a blip on the budget. It's not more than a single piece of equipment. I guess in a way I am saying that if you build it, they will come. Still, there must be a program for assuring that it is promoted and used properly.

When Mid-Columbia Medical Center built their new Celilo Cancer Center, they incorporated a considerable amount of space for alternative treatments. They built a terrazzo labyrinth, which is in the top of the range, cost-wise. Mark Scott said that they didn't think that the center would be profitable for a number of years. But they were surprised. there is such a hunger for a holistic paradigm that they have people come from far outside their geographical area. From year one they operated in the black. When I mentioned to Joyce Powell-Morin, the labyrinth facilitator there, that the labyrinth gave them a good competitive advantage over hospitals without labyrinths, she discounted the idea. She said they weren't doing it to compete. They were simply building the best possible environment for healing.

I will spare you stories of bad examples, in which hospital labyrinths are neglected. Instead, I'll tell of another success story: West Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. They are a cancer clinic specializing in chemotherapy. Associated with the clinic is the Wings Cancer Foundation. Free of charge, they offer a wide range of holistic, complementary, and alternative treatments, including a beautiful labyrinth. Their program is a model for others to follow. You can find it on the Internet at Next to the labyrinth is a piece of sculpture that is a bell tower. After completing their final round of chemotherapy, patients are given a bouquet of yellow balloons. They then walk the labyrinth, and as a final gesture, ring the bell, indicating that they are moving forward with their lives.

West Clinic built a new building, planning to occupy part and rent part. Instead, they took the whole building, and have still outgrown it within a few years. Contrary to all of those Healthcare Design architects trying to build with the right color walls or the right view from the window, West Clinic is a common, off-the-shelf design for a commercial building. No fancy lobby. Long straight institutional hallways. The chemotherapy room is just a big room with lounge chairs side by side. From a design point of view, the building offers nothing extraordinary. but what they have is a culture of caring. I interviewed one patient in the presence of a staff member. She asked the staff member, "Where do you find such wonderful nurses? Is there something you put on the job application?" The staff person replied that no, they simply give the nurses a chance to do what every nurse wants, to really help people. They have established a culture of caring that pervades every level of their staff. It costs nothing extra, but it makes a huge difference.

So, in considering your new labyrinth, and the one here, thee are three areas that you should consider. First, the entire environment. The basic assumptions of who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Create a holistic culture of caring, in which people can receive both inner and outer healing.

Secondly, you must consider the design of the labyrinth itself. I don't like to see the labyrinth relegated to being a landscape feature, installed by the landscapers in some corner that doesn't relate to the larger purpose. Consider the design, the amenities, the setting. Of course that is the work that we do, so I hope you will keep us in mind when the time comes.

Thirdly is the use and support of the labyrinth. In most hospitals, the labyrinth was obtained through the urging of one or a few people, who are now in charge of its use and operation. Martha Shokwiler in Grants Pass, for example, has been a committee of one. She's done a spectacular job, but she's worn out. It is necessary to create an institutional structure which will perpetuate itself despite the coming and going of individuals. It can be by having a group of trained docents, or a committee, or by giving the responsibility to the chaplain's office. There must be a structure which passes on the information and knowledge of the labyrinth itself, and keeps current the use of the labyrinth by patients, staff, and community.

At California Pacific Medical Center the labyrinth is just outside the door to the main entrance and waiting room. Just inside, there are flyers and signs that explain how to walk a labyrinth, and why one might want to do it. Surgeons have been seen walking the labyrinth prior to surgery, to calm themselves. Patients walk the labyrinth, sometimes with a nurse helping push the IV stand. The board of directors have been known to walk the labyrinth before their meetings. My point is that the labyrinth should be incorporated into the mainstream, into the life of the hospital.

In Hudson, Wisconsin, the labyrinth is called the Linger Longer Labyrinth. It was, indeed, part of the landscape budget, but they did a very nice job. It was coordinated by Lisa Moriarty, a local labyrinth professional.

Here, you have the opportunity, with plenty of time to plan, to get all of the pieces together. You could become the standard for using a labyrinth in a hospital setting. To do this, it must be a part of the main design and budgeting process. If it is just a work of art or just a landscape decoration, then it will be competing for the funds. Do you want a labyrinth, or a bed of flowers? Instead, I think there should be a budget line for "Spiritual Support." It would include the all-faiths chapel, a healing garden, the labyrinth, finger labyrinths, meditation instructions, or whatever. Within this context, hire people who are skilled at sacred space and at labyrinth building, explain the plan, and allow them to be creative in their solutions.

I visited Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California. There, in the McDonald drug treatment center, they have a small labyrinth in a confined area between two buildings and the outer wall. They have developed a beautiful ensemble that includes a series of stops around the labyrinth to participate in each step of the 12-step program. The step is inscribed in stone. The entire space is not more than 50' by 50.' It was a matter of skilled design, beautiful art work, and the vision of the architect or designer.

In your labyrinth, since it rains here a lot, perhaps you could have a design in which the labyrinth is covered, making it available regardless of the weather. Perhaps then it isn't placed out on the grounds, but up close to the building, where it will be accessible. Once in place, you could include information about the labyrinth in all admission packets distributed to new patients. You can train the volunteers to know and appreciate the labyrinth so that they may in turn suggest it to others with whom they interact. If there are flyers or booklets on the hospital resources and facilities, be sure the labyrinth is included. Flyers in the lobby, signs out on the grounds and indoors, and even finger labyrinths with a note on how to find the walkable one. Finally, include the labyrinth in all new staff training. Encourage them to use it for their own benefit.

I wish you luck on your project. I am open to any questions you may have now..