For students about to enter the workforce, or for those looking for a change of direction, here’s a career you might not have considered before: labyrinth design.
Yup, some people actually spend their working days designing, building and painting labyrinths. And three of them, Marty and Debi Kermeen, owners of Labyrinths in Stone, and Chuck Hunner, owner of Golden Spirit Labyrinths, were in Grand Cayman last week constructing a labyrinth in the gardens of the National Gallery.
If you think a labyrinth is the same thing as a maze, you are not alone. You are, however, wrong.
A maze is a two- or three-dimensional pattern with multiple paths and dead ends, designed to confuse and perplex, the labyrinth experts say.
A labyrinth, on the other hand, has one way in and a single path leads from beginning to end. In a labyrinth you simply stay on the path, following all the twists and turns it takes, until you come to the end. As there is only one path, it is the right path – and that, dear Weekenderites, is a metaphor for life.
For the labyrinth designers, their creations have a spiritual purpose.
“In a maze you are lost, but in a labyrinth you are found,” Debi Kermeen says. Walking a labyrinth is strangely therapeutic, Debi says. It’s like a walking, seeing meditation.
The mind slows down and thoughts become clearer.
“Whenever I walk a labyrinth my thinking becomes calm,” Chuck says. “If I’m listening for a small, still voice within I can hear it better.”
The earliest historical evidence of labyrinths dates back to 1250BC, although their purpose is not clear. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and they began to appear in medieval churches and cathedrals across Europe. One of the most famous of these is the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France. It is thought these labyrinths may have symbolised the torturous journey of pilgrims.
The new labyrinth at the National Gallery replicates the design of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth – one of the most famous labyrinths in the world.
Both Marty and Debi and Chuck have been making labyrinths for more than 10 years and their work can be found in both private residences and public spaces across the United States. All of them also have their own labyrinths at home, although Chuck says his are of a more temporary nature – leaves raked into patterns, and so on. All three of them attest to having had “Eureka!” moments, or experiences of sudden clarity, when walking their labyrinths.
Marty and Debi started out doing regular paving and stonework but have now given up the standard stuff and instead travel around the country making labyrinths.
One of these is at the Walter Reed National Medical Center in the US. Among others, they hope it will help returning war veterans to overcome post traumatic stress disorder.
Another of the stone work labyrinths Marty and Debi have made is at an elementary school in Illinois. A teacher there compared test results of students sitting the test after walking the labyrinth, with test results of students who didn’t walk it. The labyrinth walkers scored 20 per cent higher.
“If you think about all the places where we build labyrinths – schools, hospitals, spas, parks, health clubs, universities – they’re all places where you are taking care of, and nurturing, yourself,” Marty points out.
So, novelists experiencing writers block, students overwhelmed with books and information, or professionals sinking under a huge workload – take a little time out to walk the new labyrinth at the National Gallery – it will take no more than 15 minutes and, until you try it, you don’t know what the benefits might be.