Chico woman walks, talks labyrinth

Marilynn Jennings works for a public spiritual space

ENTER THE LOTUS <br> Marilynn Jennings’ back yard is a place of peace and clarity for those who visit and walk her labyrinth—housed at the White Lotus Center.

Marilynn Jennings’ back yard is a place of peace and clarity for those who visit and walk her labyrinth—housed at the White Lotus Center.

Photo By Katie booth

World Labyrinth Day
For info about the Chico event Saturday, contact Marilynn Jennings at 345-6087.

Marilynn Jennings stood at the center of a giant circle with patterned walkways filled with tiny black pebbles, the perimeter dotted with elegant statues, brightly colored rocks and polished stones, with words like “balance” and “serenity” written on them. Her red curls blowing in the breeze and the sun glancing off brilliant blue eyes, Jennings walked in her creation, a place that gives her peace.

Visitors to her home won’t find a barbecue or a swimming pool; they might find their own spiritual epicenter, though, since the back yard of her Chico home is better known as the White Lotus Center, the location of the intricate circle—a labyrinth.

Not to be confused with a maze—a network of pathways with dead ends—or a David Bowie movie, a labyrinth is an ancient geometric pattern that has a “single circuitious path leading to the center and out again,” offering a place for people to walk, contemplate or simply reflect—laying down their worries with each step.

“That’s where you can make good decisions,” Jennings said of the inner peace one feels from walking a labyrinth. “That’s where clarity resides.”

Once celebrated by Mayan, Celtic and Greek cultures, this 3,500-year-old universal symbol for wholeness and unity may very shortly be finding a public home in Chico.

Jennings, 60, creator of the Chico Community Labyrinth Project, went before the city Park Commission more than a year ago with plans of building a labyrinth in the Children’s Playground off the Esplanade. Approval was 6-1 by the commission. A public awareness/fundraising campaign has just started, in conjunction with World Labyrinth Day (May 2), and the goal is to raise $75,000.

“Our hope is to be able to build the labyrinth a year from now on World Labyrinth Day in May of 2010,” Jennings said.

Jennings first fell in love with the labyrinth 12 years ago, after visiting one in Nevada City. She was in a “transitional place” in her life, and she received a lot of clarity by walking it. Afterward, the marriage and family counselor began researching the labyrinth intently, eventually going to France to be trained as a labyrinth facilitator.

Now she’s brought that knowledge home.

“Part of the vision is not only to build a place of peace and beauty and renewal but to educate the community and inform them of the many benefits of a labyrinth,” she said. Jennings noted, for instance, that Harvard Medical School has done research showing that walking a labyrinth “can reduce stress, insomnia and lower blood pressure,” among other things. In children, the labyrinth promotes cooperation, develops eye-foot coordination, and stimulates creativity and reduces stress.

Because the labyrinth is used for healing, Jennings envisions an alliance between her project and Enloe Medical Center. The site can be a place of support for the sick, providing alternative care and giving families a place for grieving, she said.

Jennings called labyrinths a place for “guidance and visualizing outcomes,” explaining how they are helpful to cancer patients and others on the eve of a surgery. “Labyrinths are appearing in communities in memorial parks, medical facilities, retreats, schools and gardens,” she said.

In communities around the country, labyrinths are used as focal points of celebrations, such as Earth Day, or as tributes. In the memorial garden at Boston University, for example, a labyrinth was dedicated to the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. In the Audubon Park in New Orleans, Jennings said, the town came together to dedicate a labyrinth after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

For Jennings, the local project goes beyond healing, celebrations and the quest for peace. She sees the site as a “gateway to Chico,” similar to the forthcoming Gateway Museum and historic Bidwell Mansion. She visualizes the labyrinth as a potential landmark and wants Chicoans to have a sense of ownership for it.

The creation would also be put on the world wide labyrinth locator, which Jennings said would attract tourists.

“I want for people to come here in the midst of their daily, busy life, and find a calm, peaceful center,” she said. “We are missing that in our world.”

Jennings is now gearing up for her campaign. This weekend, the Chico Community Labyrinth Project will set up at City Plaza during the annual artisans’ faire to discuss the project, along with displaying some interactive models. CCLP will also have a regular booth at Saturday farmers market at Second and Wall streets.

Plus, this Saturday (May 2), in celebration of World Labyrinth Day, Jennings and CCLP are hosting a labyrinth walk at the White Lotus Center. The event coincides with similar walks around the world, during which communities will walk their own labyrinths at 1 p.m. in their time zones to “create a rolling wave of labyrinth walking as the world turns.” Jennings said it will create a “global wave,” adding: “My hope is that it connects us all in promoting world peace.”