Ever feel like your life is a maze, and you are the twitchy, confused rat who can’t seem to find the cheese? Has your boss got you all tied up in knots? Do you find it impossible to escape the pernicious snare of the World Wide Web?
Liberty Kovacs thinks you should take a walk.
Kovacs, “Libby” to her friends, is a therapist by profession, but for four years she has volunteered as the facilitator of the labyrinth at Trinity Cathedral Church in Sacramento. Unlike the other entanglements of modern life, the labyrinth is an ancient meditative tool, found in nearly all religious traditions, but lost to the Western world until recently.
Trinity Cathedral rolls its version every third Friday, this month on Jan. 19, and invites the public to come by for a stroll from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at 2620 Capitol Ave.
How does the labyrinth work?
It’s a large piece of canvas, about 30 by 30 feet, and we’ve painted all of the pathways onto the canvas. It is in three pieces which we put together with Velcro strips.
Usually we start just by being quiet and dropping whatever is in your mind—kind of slowing yourself down, or quietening yourself. Generally, people do their own type of meditation as they go along. Some people do little dance steps; it’s a very personal sort of experience of walking through the labyrinth. Sometimes people have questions that they ask or some problem that they want to solve and are working on that.
They hope something will gel. At the same time your are shedding all of the tensions and stressors. Some people go there just to relieve stress and be quiet for a period of time.
It takes maybe 20 or 30 minutes, and then when they are ready they start walking back out. Some people, when they reach the center, will assume a lotus position. One woman on New Year’s Eve just sort of lay down in the middle of the rosette.
What is it like?
It’s kind of hard to put into words. We don’t really have the words for what happens to us spiritually. A lot of people find that there’s a kind of quiet calmness that they don’t experience anywhere else in their lives. If they have problems or issues or pain that they want to deal with, sometimes they do experience a sense of healing. People also use it for sparking creative energies, or reducing stress.
The pathway only has room for one person, so if somebody comes through you may have to step aside. It’s interesting—you kind of get a sense of who you are and how you feel about other people getting in your way, or walking behind you or crowding you.
What did you find out about yourself?
I’m a very patient person. I usually step aside and let people pass. And that’s OK with me. I think I do that in real life. I just never noticed it before.
Can you tell me a little about its history?
This is a spiritual tool that has been used by all of the major religions in the world. For the Christians it was developed some time in the Middle Ages. But then it dropped from human awareness for about 350 years. That was the time of the [Protestant] Reformation. The labyrinths around Europe were either destroyed or hidden or covered up. The one at Chartres [France, on which Trinity’s labyrinth is modeled] was simply covered up with chairs and pews. You could see it but nobody walked it anymore. They hadn’t even thought about walking it until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It just sort of vanished from the Christian culture for 350 years. People don’t really know about it today. They don’t think of Christians as having something mystical like a labyrinth. We sort of associate that with the Eastern religions.
Do some people in the Church think it’s strange?
Oh yes. It’s too mystical for many people. Most of those who come to the labyrinth are not members of the church. I think they are uneasy. It’s different, maybe kind of weird for some people. But we get a lot of new members through the labyrinth. Some of the community colleges send their students to walk the labyrinth and then have them write a paper about the experience.
Is there a reason that it started to come back in the ‘80s and ‘90s?
I think people are really looking for something, the way the world is turning so rapidly these days. As a therapist, I see people just stressed out of their minds. People hardly have time to talk to one another, and they feel lost and empty and looking for something to fill them up. All this rushing around is not doing it for them. I think they want something more meaningful for them.
What does the labyrinth symbolize?
All of the books talk of it as a metaphor for a journey, as of one’s life. It is also a spiritual path. There is other symbolism as well. If you look at it from a distance you can see it makes a cross.
And the rosette in the center?
The rose is symbolic in the Christian religion of enlightenment. Its Eastern equivalent is the lotus, and the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment in the Eastern religion.
What’s the difference between a labyrinth and a maze?
It’s not a maze, you can see where you are going the whole time. It’s very clear. In the labyrinth there are absolutely no tricks or blind spots. A maze has blind spots. You are going down a path and all of the sudden you are up against a wall or something. Then you have to go back and try to find your way. I don’t know about the purpose of a maze, except they are used to study the behavior of rats.