Kathleen Bodden-Harris describes it as a calling.
While looking out the balcony of her home in Cayman Brac, she was inspired to create a labyrinth in her spacious yard. She had no idea how to do it; she just knew it had to be done.
“A friend had given me a finger labyrinth and I just drew the concentric circles. And I knew this one called for a fire pit in the centre,” she recalls.
She designed and built the labyrinth using rocks and native materials on island, with the circular path dotted with “philosophy stones” – rocks featuring inspirational sayings and ideas that serve as guides for thought and concentration.
Nestled next to the island’s striking limestone bluff, with the sea just across the road, the meditative path captures the essence of Cayman Brac.
“Against the bluff is a lovely natural grotto where native indigenous flora and fauna thrive outside the natural cave,” says Bodden-Harris.
It is home to several rock iguanas, which sometimes enjoy sunning themselves in its path. Large brown booby birds can be seen standing guard over it from the bluff’s heights, and native Cayman Brac parrots can be heard from above.
“All types of songbirds play and nest in the grotto adjacent to the labyrinth,” says Bodden-Harris. “Many do fly-overs during walks. Even the elusive mangrove cuckoo has been heard above and in the midst of the grotto. It seems to draw life forces to it.”
She was introduced to labyrinths through Dianne Siebens, the benefactor of the new labyrinth in the gardens of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
“My first walk was in Grand Cayman at the Siebens’s home. She had a lovely get-together and introduced me to labyrinths in the form of a canvas drawing with a fire pit in the middle. It created a mild stir inside me. That was the planting of the seed that grew to a passion and my career as a facilitator.”
A meditative tool used to calm and focus the mind, a labyrinth is often referred to as a maze, but the two are not alike. A maze is meant as a puzzle to be solved, with blind alleys and multiple paths organised in complicated patterns. A labyrinth is also organised in intricate patterns but is a single path that leads to the centre and out again. Unlike a maze, there are no wrongs turns and no fear of getting lost.
Since a labyrinth has only one path, it’s the right one. In that sense, a labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey of life, and the path that we are all on.
A universal symbol found across many cultures and religions, labyrinths date back as far back as 1250 BC. Historically, people have walked labyrinths as a form of pilgrimage.
Today, people walk the labyrinth for a variety of reasons: to relax, as a walking meditation, to heighten creativity, to mark significant religious dates, for weddings and special occasions – and sometimes just for fun.
These healing paths have been enjoying a renaissance of late, with the modern labyrinth revival staring in the 1970s. Labyrinths are now springing up all over the globe in schools, public parks, private gardens, churches, hospitals, corporate headquarters and retreats. They can be made out of a seemingly endless variety of materials – from stones, sand and canvas to paint, chalk and leaves. There are also smaller labyrinths that you can trace with your fingertip.
Many find it offers healing and therapeutic benefits – a mind-body exercise that helps to reflect and reconnect.
Bodden-Harris built her labyrinth six years ago on her property located on the island’s south side, which is open to the public. Its inaugural walk was used as a welcoming ceremony for the local committee of the National Trust’s membership drive. After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she facilitated a labyrinth walk as a fundraiser to assist victims of the quake.
It is also used annually to celebrate World Labyrinth Day. An initiative of The Labyrinth Society, every year on the first Saturday in May, people from all over the world are encouraged to join together to walk a labyrinth at 1pm in every time zone. The idea behind the global walk is not only to raise awareness of labyrinths, but to promote healing and a feeling of unity.
“Five of us joined the walk in Cayman Brac this past May,” says Bodden-Harris, who is a member of the society. “The symbolism is a wave of healing energy directed from the labyrinths out, around and towards physical, spiritual, and mental health throughout the planet. This is for peoples of the world, as well as the geological world itself.”
She has a standing invitation for anyone interested in taking part in her monthly full-moon labyrinth walks. “Day-time and night-time walks are completely different experiences,” she notes. The fire pit is lit during the walk, burning “intentions” that people have left there. Intentions are concerns or thoughts written down on paper.
“They remain there untampered until the sacred fire is lit on the full moon. At such time, they become an “offering in sacrifice” to your higher conscience or God, where you leave your cares and gratitude behind in the Brac,” she says. “It’s ritual symbolism, and not a specific religion, and can be used as a mental health exercise.”
She says walking a labyrinth brings many benefits, which are personal to each individual. It meant a great deal of personal growth for her.
“The labyrinth has broadened my spiritual being and connected me to people and knowledge never accessible before,” she says. “It has allowed my spirituality to grow, evolve and broaden my vistas of the world.”
She says it can be a life-altering experience for some – a tool for change and transformation.
“Entering its path releases a power of focus and concentration. The person walking the labyrinth becomes a receptacle through which flows the energy and power for change or exchange. Whether entering with a spiritual intent, or an exercise of brain waves, the labyrinth works as the conduit for the power of change and focus.”
The labyrinth is mentioned in Bodden-Harris’s book, Quest on the Marl Road, a fictional tale of conservation told through the eyes of creatures that inhabit the island.
She says her labyrinth is a place to celebrate and honour the natural world, but notes that navigating the path is not exactly a walk in the park.
“It is not easy to walk. The walker must remain in the moment, always watchful for the sharp rocks along the narrow path. People have called this to my attention, like it could be a flaw that needs rectifying. I don’t see it that way. Our path in life is fraught with obstacles that get in our way, directing us on a specific course, and we need to remain vigilant.”