Crystal Lake Labyrinth Dedication Talk

These were my written notes for the dedication talk that I gave in Urbana, IL, on May 21, 2004. The actual comments varied somewhat. The Crystal Lake Labyrinth story is one of tenacity and stamina by a group of dedicated people who would not stop until they accomplished their mission of getting a public labyrinth. A group called the Baker Board took on the project. Kathe Brinkmann, Rebecca Bahnke and Dee Breeding were the folks I interacted with, but there were more. They held public events, took information to the popular farmer's market, and continued to keep the effort fresh and moving forward. They involved the Urbana Park District, which is quite progressive (as shown by the gorgeous parks in Urbana). Ultimately, some large donors came into the picture. About a third of the cost was covered by Carle Hospital. I include this labyrinth on my hospital list because of their participation and because it is located right beside the hospital and is used by its staff and patients. The labyrinth was built by paver artist Marty Kermeen, of hand-cut concrete pavers. An award-winning landscape architect from a local college involved his classes, and did a great job on the surrounding environment. The extent of the community participation and the tremendous job of the organizers to enroll support became clear at the dedication, when many people spoke or were recognized for the part they played. Ultimately, it was virtually a labyrinth happening. Here are my comments.

Moderator: "It is my pleasure to present Robert Ferre, from Labyrinth Enterprises."

Thank you for inviting me to your labyrinth dedication. I had the opportunity to be one of three guests on a local radio program last week, on WILL. Now I have the pleasure of seeing your beautiful labyrinth in person. There are thousands of labyrinths now, in the United States, but only a small number that are in public parks and open to the community 24 hours a day. PUBLIC COMMUNITY LABYRINTH. This is the phrase that I find most relevant for our consideration this afternoon. Public community labyrinth. Let's dwell a few moments on each word, in reverse order, starting with labyrinth.


The labyrinth has a single path with no intersections or dead ends. In that regard it differs from a puzzle or a game. It isn't a contest or a competition. Dating back thousands of years, the labyrinth has reappeared periodically in different cultures around the world. I think this universal appeal and cultural diversity reflect a unique aspect of walking a labyrinth: Each person experiences it differently. The labyrinth is an archetypal pattern that relates to each one of us, whatever our level of personal or spiritual growth, whatever level of health or wisdom or intellect or feeling or creativity.

Walking the labyrinth is a gift that we give to ourselves. It is time out from our busy lives and hectic schedules. Having lived for two years outside of the U.S., I found that when I returned to this country, it seemed like one big theme park, an around-the-clock non-stop Disneyland. Other countries are amazed that we work so much and take off so little time to enjoy our meals or go on vacation or spend time with the family. Sure, there are financial rewards, but at an enormous social cost.

And in this rush, we take very little time out for ourselves. We are over-scheduled and under-nourished. Undernourished physically, spiritually, emotionally. Addressing this need, one group I know called their labyrinth walk "Take a stroll with your soul." Take a walk with yourself. A public labyrinth at Hudson Hospital in Wisconsin is named the Linger Longer Labyrinth. Linger a while. Slow down. My wife was touched by a story of a man in Africa, part of a nomadic tribe, who explained that sometimes you just have to stop and let your soul catch up to you. That's good advice for us.

Get to know yourself. It's a worthy endeavor. Your new labyrinth offers a beautiful setting and opportunity to do just that. Take yourself for a walk, without your cell phone or your Daytimer. Well, that's not always the case. We have a photo of someone walking one of our special event labyrinths while talking on his cell phone. Fortunately, that's an exception.

Your time in the labyrinth can be relaxed and quiet and attentive. The labyrinth is well-suited for contemplation and meditation. But there is no requirement that you be serious. In that regard, we can learn from children, who tend to run the labyrinth, exuberantly. I find, however, that they eventually slow down, and walk the labyrinth attentively.

(Note: At this point, the audience was clearly responding to something going on behind me, on the labyrinth. I turned and saw that a young girl, perhaps eight years old, was running the labyrinth. As I spoke, she slowed down and began walking, just as I had mentioned, without my knowing she was there.)

I recently attended a labyrinth walk in which each participant was given a colorful scarf and told to dance their way to the center. The entire labyrinth was a riot of color and movement. It was quite a joyful spectacle.

I was co-editor of the world's greatest labyrinth compendium, Through the Labyrinth by Hermann Kern. The introduction starts with a quatrain that expresses this thought, making reference to the Minotaur, a terrible beast in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur:
In the labyrinth we don't lose ourselves.
In the labyrinth we find ourselves.
In the labyrinth we don't encounter the Minotaur.
In the labyrinth, we encounter ourselves.

Walk or drive over here frequently and do yourself the favor of using this remarkable labyrinth. There's no special way to do it, and nothing that needs to happen. Time spent with yourself is its own reward.

Public COMMUNITY labyrinth.


Public community labyrinth. "Our middle name is Community." That's a way of saying, "Our emphasis is on community." As powerful as the labyrinth can be for individuals, so too does it offer much to an ensemble. Often at labyrinth walks people initially say to me that they prefer to walk alone, that other people distract them and get in their way. They prefer to have the labyrinth to themselves. That's not surprising in a country of individualists. However, after walking with a group these same people often share afterwards that the group energy enhanced their experience. A group creates a safe and supportive space.

Walking with others soon brings to mind the realization that we're all on the same path. It might seem like chaos to someone driving by, seeing people walking every which way. But when you are in the midst of a group walk, you realize that despite the apparent differences of direction and looks and personal style, everyone is on the same path, together, headed for the same goal. In this way, we find that the labyrinth builds community. We're all in the same boat, fully engaged in the human experience. It's so much easier if we work together rather than be in opposition, to choose collaboration and cooperation rather than competition. The labyrinth builds community because it embraces our differences, whatever our culture, beliefs, lifestyle, race, gender, or age.

I can safely predict that your labyrinth will be used in many ways: weddings, celebrations, rituals and ceremonies of all kinds from full moon and solstice walks to prayer vigils, from twelve step programs to cancer support groups. Community can mean the entire population, but also smaller groups. Certainly the hospital community can take great advantage of the labyrinth, for patients, staff, and visitors. Current catch words in the healthcare field include "patient-centered care," "holistic healing," and "self-care." The labyrinth relates to all of these. Hospitals can be stressful places for all involved. Labyrinths reduce stress and return us to a sense of balance and equilibrium. Scientific medicine can work wonders on the physical body, and the labyrinth can work wonders on the spiritual and emotional body. Together, these two approaches offer inner and outer healing. They complement each other. How fortunate are the members of your community, and the sub-communities within your community, to have a labyrinth available.

PUBLIC community labyrinth. Our final word is public.


Bill Moyers has taken a look at capitalism in this country and sounded the alarm that the gulf between rich and poor is growing. If nothing is done to change this, he predicts, we will become like a Latin American country with a wealthy elite and a mass of poor. Similarly, the high tech revolution has created a divide between those who utilize the Internet and all that it offers, and those who do not. My health insurance costs a thousand dollars a month. There are millions of people without care, who can't afford it. Even basic food and shelter are denied some. On the labyrinth, however, we are all equal. There is no cost, and no privilege. It requires no membership, no degrees, no consent to a certain dogma or belief system. It is available to all.

If you look back at the history of labyrinths, you will find that this is no small point. We have almost a complete absence of any contemporary accounts of the use of labyrinths in ancient times. The same is true with regards to sacred geometry, a subject which I will address at tomorrow's day-long conference. There is a reason for that. Such knowledge was cloaked in secrecy. In Egypt, for example, it was highly controlled by the temple. For Pythagoras, Plato, and others, such knowledge was only for the few, the initiated. Labyrinth expertise died out the same way that it lived for thousands of years – in secrecy.

There are those who have tried to resurrect this lost arcane knowledge. Guardianship in the Middle Ages passed from religious institutions to secret fraternal orders, such as masons and builders. The invention of the printing press and an increase in literacy began to loose the bonds of secrecy. The 17th century saw a flourish of books which purported to allude to ancient secrets, but the messages were still deeply buried in allegory. They were imitating the ancients by continuing to guard the information. With regards to labyrinths, the record is silent. We can only speculate.

And so today, while we call this a labyrinth re-vival, it is actually just a "vival," with regards to such commoners as you and me. There are no extant ancient walkable labyrinths because they were probably put out for a specific ceremony, and then removed. They were certainly not put in a public park for "just anyone" to use, at will. Now, the labyrinth has been democratized. To have a public labyrinth open for use by anyone, at any time, night or day, is a luxury not afforded our forebears. Perhaps it is no surprise that the modern labyrinth movement stems largely from activities in England and the United States, countries with strong traditions of democracy and individual freedom.

PUBLIC COMMUNITY LABYRINTH. Right here in Urbana, Illinois, as the result of creative and generous people and organizations, working together in the spirit of the labyrinth. Where will it lead? I can't predict. But I can assure you of one thing. After a decade as a labyrinth maker, traveling widely to both make labyrinths and talk about them, having attended nine annual national labyrinth conferences, I have never heard a single instance in which someone walked a labyrinth and it ruined their life. None. But I know of thousands, tens of thousands, who have walked labyrinths and benefited. This labyrinth is a great addition to your community. You have done a good thing. Congratulations.