Many thanks to Anne Wright for the invitation to facilitate and host the labyrinth portion of a cello concert and labyrinth walk she had envisioned with and for guest musician Jami Sieber.
Both Anne and Jami were new to the labyrinth and both were keen to shape an experiential evening based on Jami’s electric cello music and improvisational vocals, with a few spoken poems added in to set the tone.
A keen audience of nearly 100 people gathered to fill the tiny church of St. Luke’s in Ottawa. One does wonder why people come out to these occasions and perhaps this evening it was the combination of a known musician, a connected community of spoken word poets and the opportunity for a new experience in the labyrinth.
It was something of a challenge to create space for each person to enter the labyrinth and establish themselves before encountering another walker but somehow – we all managed.
I observed new latitudes in patience, as many people waited a considerable time to enter the labyrinth, all the while charmed by Jami’s lyrical musical offering. It was a rich evening of metaphor and warm community gathering. It all felt very supportive and enriching.
Perhaps this is the grease this old world needs for us all to be able to live on the planet together. It certainly can’t hurt!
Setting up the candlelight labyrinth is not novel to me, but there is always some new and this year was no exception. This was the eighth annual McKellar Park Labyrinth. As I looked at the kids who were helping me I noted that some were the younger siblings of my usual helpers. The first few years I hosted the labyrinth I found I was explaining it to many visitors but now, eight years on, there is a certain knowledge and comfort level in the community. One older woman came out to help because she had received an email from a friend and just wanted to see what it was all about.
This year I had intended to participate in Ottawa’s first Nuit Blanche on September 22nd but the weather forecast for that day was for certain rain and thunderstorms. So we cancelled and we were so incredibly disappointed, especially when the evening turned out to be perfect after all! Since we were all geared up to put on a labyrinth we decided to go ahead with our usual location in McKellar Park the following week.
One never knows who will show up to help set things up but they always do. The core of my team are my kids, my nieces and nephews and their friends. We had a sunny warm afternoon to work and it was fun to catch up and connect while we filled 700 paper bags with sand and tea lights. As we waited for the sun to go down, we enjoyed an impromptu picnic in the park. I sat, taking in the scene, and wondered why we don’t picnic in our own park more often.
For the Nuit Blanche project I had collaborated with composer and musician, Bruce Nicol. We have worked together on labyrinth projects for several years and Bruce had acted as curator for our Labyrinth as Sanctuary Series at the Cathedral. He had an idea to create a soundscape based on our previous recording of music at our labyrinth events and he acquired some new software to allow him to collage and interweave sounds. He was able to create a spontaneous mix from his collection of pre-recorded soundtracks. One of our guiding principals for labyrinth music is that it be responsive and sensitive to the mood of the participants. Bruce was on site and mixed a customized surround-sound.
My friend and vocalist Antonia Pigot dropped by with to add another layer to the sound collage. At some points she found herself singing along with a recording of herself. I suppose singers do that all the time but she was a bit surprised.
I doubt if any of us would have spent the evening outside, had we not been at the labyrinth. It was a mild night with a few clouds making for a dramatic backdrop.The labyrinth was set up on a baseball diamond and as the full moon rose later in the evening it lined up and bisected our set up. Bruce and his electronic sounds were at home base, the center of the labyrinth was on the pitcher’s mound, and the entrance to the labyrinth with glowing electric blue lights and the full moon were all in a line.
In spite of no publicity or advertising the word got out and people came. It was a pleasure to greet old friends and to have shadowy conversations in the dark.
At the invitation of Pranashanti Yoga Centre, Canadian Labyrinth Ventures created a temporary labyrinth especially for the occasion of the winter solstice. It seemed a fitting combination to walk the labyrinth on the darkest day of the year in order to celebrate and prepare for the return of the sun.
The new room at the yoga centre that was chosen for the event was large enough to hold a labyrinth event but had a couple of pillars in the center of the space. Early on we had an idea for how to incorporate the pillars and transform them into an elements of the event. But as we got closer to the installation and began to consider the room size and the number of people expected, we had second thoughts on exactly what would work well in the space. As we considered the options Vanessa suggested a hexagon labyrinth. While I knew there was an octagonal historic precedent in the St. Quentin Cathedral Labyrinth in France, we had always worked with circular labyrinths because they support the sense of community we seek to engender through our work. As we puzzled out what to do, I remembered the geometry of a snowflake is the same as the geometric basis of a hexagon. So this was the perfect justification. And because we had never made a hexagon labyrinth before, this was an opportunity to learn.
Historic labyrinths may have been laid out using a system of relational geometry rather than by measuring. I had wanted to create an oversized compass and draw arches in order to divide the space but in the end we measured, based on the sketch that Vanessa had drawn. It’s always fascinating to see how things work out in a partnership especially when there is a time line. We each have our gifts and moments of clarity come as we work through the process. Vanessa has great patience for detail. On the other hand I can move through the process without getting bogged down in the detail. Somehow we manage to accomplish together what would have been more challenging for us to do alone.
After decorating the labyrinth with tea lights and creating a kind of receiving bowl in the altar space we greeted Kathy Armstrong and her husband and performance partner Rory Magill. I gave a brief introduction and then the ting-shaw bells created the opening of sacred time and space. As I greeted the participants and created a sense of pacing I offered each person a small pebble suggesting it could represent anything they where releasing or letting go of this evening. Participants were invited to deposit their pebble into an earthen bowl filled with water. This created a ritualized way of making intentional a desire to consciously turn toward the light.
As I stepped back to make room for someone entering the labyrinth I bumped into a person. I turned around and realized the line-up of people waiting had encircled the labyrinth. This was the spirituality of waiting in action! I checked in with a few people and they seemed to be doing fine and after about 20 minutes the anxiety in the room settled. It is quite something to be the keeper of a labyrinth as you hold open the invitation never really knowing what it will be for those who participate. Kathy and Rory’s delicate rhythms held the space and helped to ground the experience for all.
It was a beautiful evening and a wonderful observance of the solstice. What a great way to blend ancient practices with contemporary life. It seems people are seeking opportunities to ritualize secular living. I am pleased to be exploring ways of observing and marking our days and making our living intentional.
In all it was a tremendous evening with approximately 80 people attending and $1500.00 raised for the Ottawa Food Bank. Thanks everyone!