In this episode, I’m honored to be interviewing Lauren Artress. She is an author, Canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, founder of Veriditas, and a spiritual pioneer and a leading force in popularizing the Labyrinth in the US and around the world. I have been fascinated with Labyrinths for years, and this last December became a trained Labyrinth facilitator. I’m excited to have Lauren joining me to talk about her experience with the Labyrinth, The Labyrinth Movement, and how it offers parallels and insights into our lives. I am excited to share this episode about discovering the sacred path of the labyrinth with guest Lauren Artress.
When I was leading retreats at San Damiano many years ago, I was introduced to the Labyrinth there and quickly became enthralled. Around that time, I also read Lauren’s book: Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, and it immediately resonated with me. I found a profound peace in walking a labyrinth. I found that I could get quiet, let my mind be still, and just BE. While I have tried my hand at meditation, there is something different about a walking meditation. Being in the labyrinth with a path, and a direction offers a structure that helps me get quiet – instead of contending with the many thoughts in my mind that get loud and want to be heard in a sitting meditation.
One of the gifts of the pandemic was that we all had more time at home, and so many things were virtual. I was beyond delighted to discover that Veriditas was offering their labyrinth facilitator training via Zoom and signed up. And, I won’t lie: I was over the moon that it was being taught by Lauren herself. We used “hand labyrinths” to do our training since shelter in place was in full effect. And, it was just what I needed. A new tool, a new way of understanding the labyrinth, and a new structure for meditation.
I want to thank Lauren for being on the show, and sharing her journey with the labyrinth with all of us.
In the Messy Middle
Lauren Artress played a fundamental role in bringing The Labyrinth Movement about. During the 1980s, she was at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and saw first hand what the AIDS epidemic did to the community there. People were scared, grieving, and overwhelmed and had no way to process their grief. She went to Chartres, France and found a centuries old labyrinth in the floor in the cathedral. She and her team pushed the chairs that sat on the labyrinth away and began to walk the ancient path, and that is when everything clicked for her.
In many ways, the labyrinth offers us a way to process whatever is going on in our lives. It is sacred geometry that connects us to something bigger, older, and more constant than our daily lives. It invites us to go inward, literally, but the circuits of the labyrinth itself (and as a parallel to our own inward reflection). And, it offers structure for us when we are faced with whatever is messy in the middle of our lives. You can follow a path in, sit with whatever is troubling you, and then walk a structured path out to your life where you can process that same thing.
In this episode, Lauren Artress and I talk about:
– the sacred path of the labyrinth and what it is
– her journey in finding the labyrinth in Cathedral de Chartres, France
– the role of the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – both now, and during the AIDS epidemic
– the Holy Fool and how it relates to the Labyrinth
– Hand labyrinths: how they work and how they came about
– The parallels and metaphors of our lives and the walk of the labyrinth
Paula: Welcome to Jump Start Your Joy, Lauren Artress.
Lauren: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Paula: I am so excited to have you on. You have worked with the labyrinth for years and written many great books, including this latest one, The Path of the Holy Fool. It’s such a treat to have you come on and talk about the labyrinth, your work, and how you found your way to it.
Lauren: I’m happy to do that. It’s been quite a journey, for sure.
Paula: We’ll unpack some of the parallels there of the journey of a labyrinth and the journey of our lives. Before we get there, though, would you please tell us what did you love most as a child or in school, what were your earliest sparks of joy?
Lauren: Yes. Definitely nature. We lived way out, at that time, in rural Ohio. Meaning everything was a Post Office Box, there were no sidewalks, and you had your own wells for water. We were about 35 miles outside of Cleveland. Luckily, it was just a beautiful area. We lived right on the Chagrin River, which was earlier on Indigenous Blackfoot Tribe lived there. We would find flints and grinding stones in the garden. We had a Victory Garden.
I remember one specific moment of just pure joy was in the Fall digging up potatoes out of the ground. A garden fork, not a sharp pitchfork, and using this garden fork and just unearthing, putting all of your weight on the handle down and up comes the earth, and here’s this cluster of wonderful russet potatoes. It was just a moment of joy. There were many like that.
Nature was definitely, and still is, a place where I can be nurtured.
Paula: That’s amazing. That took me back. We both live in the San Francisco Bay area now. My childhood, at least five years of it, was in and around Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had a memory of going into the forest and finding, I don’t know if it was honeysuckle or something, but you could break it off and take a sip of the nectar from it. That was fun. It engaged all of the senses, kind of like the potatoes probably, there was a lot of sensory interaction there.
Lauren: That’s right, yes. Revelation, it’s like, wow, this is right here for us and embracing us. It’s so important. This is part of what we need to do is help everybody get back to an understanding of how nature nurtures and supports us, rather than mistreating it or not understanding it.
Paula: I love that. The discovery, I can see there’s going to be some really fun parallels here about the discovery and the unfolding of things in our lives. Also, the metaphor of the labyrinth involved with all of that.
Your journey is so interesting to me, about how you reconnected with, I don’t think the labyrinth ever left the human collective intelligence or mindset in the years that it kind of disappeared from being used. Could you explain how you found your way to a labyrinth and what that journey was like for you?
Lauren: Sure. Let me first for our listeners describe a labyrinth.
Paula: Please, yes. That would be a great place to start. Thank you.
Lauren: That’s important. A lot of times people confuse a labyrinth with a maze and don’t know that they’re really diametrically opposite. A maze is a cognitive puzzle. A labyrinth usually is a large circle, if we’re talking about pavement or church labyrinths, on the ground, flat across, and it has one path that leads in, in a very circuitous way into the center. The labyrinth that I’m thinking of, I actually can show a design if that would be helpful.
Paula: Yes. Let’s see it. I can even grab one of mine.
Lauren: I’m doing a facilitator training this week, so I have it right here handy. You can see the one path moving in. To me, it looks like a right-handed path. It’s a left-handed path, it comes through that way. You can see what I mean by very circuitous way that leads to the center.
That’s what makes it a meditation tool, because you just put one foot in front of the other and trust the path, which is such a great metaphor, especially right now in these uncertain times.
Paula: Yes. I love that you’ve just shown a hand labyrinth. Maybe we can talk about how to incorporate that into our everyday, after we get past how you found your way to the labyrinth. I’ve loved the interaction that I’ve had with a handheld labyrinth, and that surprised me completely. How did you find your way to that labyrinth in France and what was that journey like?
Lauren: The whole thing feels very fortuitous, or it feels guided, to me. I happened to be teaching a general theological seminary with Alan Jones, who was appointed dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, so I never even applied for the job. Being Canon Pastor of Grace Cathedral was a plum job in the episcopal church. At that time, I was doing psychotherapeutic practice, pastoral counseling psychotherapeutic. I had hints, though, that my life was going to change. I had that, partly because of my vision quest to Uluru in Australia, which is in The Path of the Holy Fool, that experience.
It just kept opening up. I had this invitation to live in San Francisco and be at Grace Cathedral. Soon after I arrived there, I received a very large grant from Laurence S. Rockefeller. That gave me the funds to be able to help Grace Cathedral develop a center for spirituality, and it was called Quest Grace Cathedral Center for Spiritual Wholeness. There were programming paths for them, and they all led me to the labyrinth. Creativity as a spiritual path, that’s one of them, the finding and seeking the feminine and the divine, rediscovering the mystical traditions, and the marriage of eastern and western traditions. All of those just kind of led me to the labyrinth.
As you know, it was not an easy path. I knew I was searching for something, because we were in the beginning and the middle, certainly not the end, of the AIDS epidemic. In 1987 we had our first person in the congregation die of some kind of strange illness. Early on that was called GRID, gay related immune deficiency. Just like now, we’re feeling our way, more research is helping us understand. At that time, like now, people were frightened. My job was to start all the programs I could for the worried well, for the dear parents coming to San Francisco to be with their dying son or daughter.
So, it was a really challenging time and we needed something. We needed something because people couldn’t talk about what they were going through. It was too deep, it was too frightening, it was too painful. It certainly parallels to our time right now.
I was ready to leave the Cathedral, that was not my work. One way to find your work is to know what’s not your work.
Lauren: I’m not a chaplain. In 1989, along with the earthquake, we had 92 people die in the congregation. Now, understand that Grace Cathedral is a big civic cathedral, so if you’re in trouble, people would come whether they’re part of the congregation or not, but the larger San Francisco area, 92 funerals in one year for that one illness.
So, I took a sabbatical thinking, “What’s my next step?” It’s a great question, it’s a great labyrinth question, too.
Paula: It is.
Lauren: It really is. Then I went back to work with Jean Houston. Jean is the author of many books, 40 books or so, a psychologist, a philosopher. I worked with her in ’85 for a whole year, so this is kind of coming home, “I’ll just dip back in and see.” Jean is always generous and said, “Sure, come on.” That’s when they introduced the labyrinth. Probably not their first time. I’m not sure, I need to ask Jean that.
They just taped a big old 11-circuit medieval labyrinth on the floor. That was my first introduction. It was a terrifying experience, it was a great experience, all of that. I think it was an anxious experience for me, because in all fairness to myself, I think there was definitely a part of me that knew I was stepping into a huge change in my life, huge. I had a dream that night, even. After walking it, and I walked it about three times later in the evening, maybe 1:00 AM, and went back to my cabin and had this amazing dream, which was really helpful, that signaled change.
Then it sent me over to Chartres, we did research there. A lot of times people think that the Chartres Labyrinth has been open to the public and if they walk over or go over right now that they’ll find it open. No. It’s been closed probably since the French Revolution, 1792/1793. There are occasions. BBC recorded a special on the Cathedral and they didn’t have chairs on it then, but ordinarily and usually they have chairs on it. In tourist season, now they’re opening it on Fridays.
So, it’s been a long 20 – 25 year relationship of introducing the labyrinth through Grace Cathedral. First, in 1997, we had the Rector come to Grace Cathedral and it was his first time to the United States, and showed him the work we were doing with the labyrinth. Live music in the evenings on the third Wednesday and silence on the first Sunday of the month. They’re beginning to open their labyrinths.
Again, it just felt like I was going down a highway and every light was just turning green. I came back to Grace Cathedral and we were down on our hands and knees. By the way, just by synchronicity, six people from the congregation of Grace Cathedral congregation happened to be in France at the same time.
Paula: As when you were walking the Chartres Labyrinth?
Lauren: I said, “Come on.” This was August 1991, not that I remember the date or anything. The six of us went in, we knew it was under chairs, we knew we didn’t have permission, but they didn’t respond to correspondence because François Legault, the dean, was not in his office yet, he wasn’t in that position. We moved the chairs, 276 of them, and walked the labyrinth.
That was really a signal for me, it was an amazing experience. That was like, yeah, we need to have a labyrinth in Grace Cathedral. Everything just kept opening up. Because why? Because the labyrinth wants to come back into our awareness.
Paula: Right. I love that you spoke of some of the liminal space that it seemed was popping up for you even in the times right before you were walking the labyrinth or after you first walked it. It’s super interesting.
I actually had a very similar experience. I think I first found one, I was on a retreat at San Damiano and they have an outdoor labyrinth for people there in Stanfield, California. I walked it I think two or three times the first evening, it was at twilight. I also had this feeling like, “I have to get back down there, I don’t know what I just experienced, but I have to do that again.” There all by myself in the dark of night, walking the labyrinth and going, “What is this?” Then proceeded to have other experiences there near the labyrinth that very much were directing me in ways that I can’t even really verbalize because it’s in a different zone probably for me. But it’s so interesting what happens.
Would you talk about that a little bit? Because I know some of what you talk about in The Path of the Holy Fool is about that divine imagination. I feel like that’s what is coming into play here maybe. What happens when we say yes to those things that we allow ourselves to imagine or believe, and how can that help with our path?
Lauren: Right. That is what’s happening, I think. I think that the labyrinth is coming forth to help people not only during these really chaotic times, to offer a sure path, something that you can trust, something you can do that’s meditative that brings you into your presence and often into, you could say, Presence. There’s a sense of guidance that comes from walking the labyrinth.
Now, we’re talking about archetypal labyrinths. At least in my mind, I am. There are a lot of contemporary labyrinths that are coming in, which is wonderful. The one that I know and is my heart song is the labyrinth from Chartres Cathedral, as I mentioned already, the 11-circuit medieval labyrinth.
It does, it provides guidance. It’s so important to realize that walking for many of us is a huge help to quiet the mind. I always describe myself as a failed meditator. I couldn’t. I actually could do sitting meditation as long as my stress level didn’t go up. Great, it’s fine. Then in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, the beginning, when fear was rampant and everything was going on, and I was responsible for putting in some programs and doing a lot of hospital and chaplaincy work, wow, it just was the way I needed to go.
Walking meditation, because you’re using your body and discharging all of that energy that you’re trying to sit on, literally – at least for me when my stress was high. It does allow us to go into that in-between world. It allows us to move beyond thought and have our thoughts support our process of guidance, of opening, of quieting.
In The Path of the Holy Fool, I’m using the Grail legend as a metaphor for the whole thing. The metaphor in that legend is the Grail Castle, it’s the invisible visible world coming together. Of course, Perceval happens upon the Grail Castle, it appears out of nowhere. That’s that feeling in the labyrinth, like whoa, deep insights, thoughts that clarify. Often, people hear guidance. Have you ever had that experience?
Paula: Yes. Usually, just a word or two, or a sense of the universe almost chuckling at me, like, “Oh, I see what you think. Let’s try and rework that.” I definitely have heard things. It’s amazing.
For the audience, I’ve attended your facilitator training, which is outstanding and amazing. Until you had said that, I had just thought that was just me imagining, but to hear that other people have that experience was very interesting to me.
Lauren: Yes. There’s actually a name for it, auditory. In the Christian tradition, it’s called audition. An actor goes for an audition. It’s long lost because people are frightened of these kinds of things. Maybe less so now as we search more and as we try to deepen our awareness of living with the mystery of being an Earthling on Planet Earth, it’s really beginning to touch peoples’ lives.
A lot of people hear guidance, and it often is just one word, or it might be a sentence, or it might be a stanza from a hymn or a quote from a psalm, or something. It’s fascinating. Yes, people can find guidance. Why? Because they can finally quiet their minds enough to listen deeply.
Paula: Yes. I think it’s so true. I love a good centering prayer meditation, and I can link up to one if people are curious about this, but because you are acknowledging your thoughts and actively watching yourself push them aside, or at least that’s how I do it. Even that, especially now in the middle of the pandemic here in 2021, lots of times that’s not even a thing for me where seriously, if I just go on a walk, not on a labyrinth, I find myself being able to let go of some of the noise. I think it’s really interesting.
I’m grateful that you’ve brought up that maybe a sitting meditation isn’t something that works for everybody and that this is another way to experience that ability to go into the internal landscape in a way that maybe you couldn’t if it’s just too much to try to sit and still your mind.
Lauren: Yes. Not that I’m against sitting meditation by any means. It’s just something that I couldn’t do when my stress level is up. Also, a lot of westerners have trouble, we don’t even know what a quiet mind is anymore.
Paula: This is true.
Lauren: To really be able to bring that back into our lives through walking. Of course, the Buddhists have walking meditation. They walk usually in a straight line and do a discipline of one step with one breath. Whereas, the labyrinth, I think the most important thing is to find your natural pace and move into your own flow, which is very refreshing as well.
Paula: Yes. Even just the permission and invitation to find your own cadence. There are so many things about living in our society and our world right now, we get a lot of messaging of all the ‘shoulds,’ of it should look like this, it should feel like this. To find your way back into your physical sematic center is so helpful.
Lauren: We need to know our cores, the core of our beings. That’s where we get our own sense of who we are and be able to follow that with integrity. That’s a really big issue right now.
One point I want to make, I’m glad you brought up centering prayer because one of the things that I love about the labyrinth is any meditation method you use, like in centering prayer you use a repeated phrase, called a sacred phrase, and you repeat it until your mind quiets slowly, and then you sort of let go of the phrase. That fits into labyrinths beautifully. You can do that in the inner path that we call the three Rs, the releasing path as you’re moving in, and then in the center just to let go of it. As the teaching goes, then you’re usually in a profound sense of silence. But a repeated phrase or breath methods, all of those ways you can apply in the labyrinth.
Paula: Yes. For sure, when I’m doing a physical walk of a labyrinth, I find it so helpful to kind of mark the beginning, meaning make myself so present and aware that I’m about to enter into this space. If I have a word or something that I want to take with me, I choose it then or acknowledge it then. As you were saying, sometimes just let it go, I repeat it as I’m walking.
Do you want to talk a little bit about what are some of the things that people do in the center of a labyrinth? If they’re out on a walk, what are some of the things that happen there? I’ve been on ones where you can literally sit in the middle, or standing, I’ve also seen someone take off and run straight out.
Lauren: That’s right. That actually comes from folklore, but it’s an active understanding up in the Scandinavian countries where you have a classical labyrinth, a different style, the 7-circuit classical. The fisherman, before they’d go out in the day for their catch, they’d walk the labyrinth and then run out of the center of the labyrinth, hop on their boats and go, with the understanding that they’re leaving all the bad luck or whatever in the labyrinth, leaving it behind.
Paula: Isn’t that interesting? I had a participant at one of my walks do that and I didn’t realize that it was a thing. I don’t think she had any knowledge of it. That opens up huge doors for me. Is that a past life? What just happened? That’s amazing. So, then they could go out and leave either bad luck or whatever they were carrying with them into their day there and then go on with the task at hand. Interesting.
Lauren: That’s the understanding. As I understand it from some friends that live in the UK and do a lot of research on labyrinths, that’s still very actively done in the Scandinavian countries.
As far as the center, you’re walking to center in a very prescribed path. A lot of times, “I don’t know about that,” but it’s such a complicated circuitous path, it creates the feeling of being lost. As many world traditions and scriptures say, you have to lose your way to find your way. I think the labyrinth really captures that.
We talk about the three Rs, as you know, releasing, receiving, returning. The receiving part happens in the center, but you can receive anywhere in the labyrinth, you can release anywhere in the labyrinth. Those are just kind of instructions to help people understand, just to have a little bit of a thumbnail sketch of the labyrinth before first time walkers go in. Otherwise, some people are walking in, “What am I doing?” The three Rs, releasing, receiving, and returning.
Returning has a lot of names; returning, recollection, resolve, reclaim, reflect, and rebirth.
Paula: Reentry is another one.
Lauren: Reentry, yes.
Paula: It is really powerful. I think it’s also really lovely, along the lines of you saying in training and in your books, that allowing people to experience their experience of the labyrinth allows people to just experience whatever it is that they experience and that we don’t have to judge these things. I think that’s another thing that comes up, maybe even more so now in media, than ever before, that somehow even our thoughts are wrong or that we can’t trust ourselves. Learning to experience things for ourselves is really a rich way of tapping back into that self.
Lauren: To experience your experience is another way, I think, of describing mindfulness. That you’re in the present moment and to experience your experience. It’s easy, we’re taught not to experience our experience, which is exactly what you’re saying, “Don’t trust yourself. Look out. You’re thinking wrong. What’s wrong with you,” and all the judgments that can come in because we’re supposed to be something different than we are, whether it’s advertising telling us that we’re not using the right toothpaste or that we’re driving the wrong car, so we don’t look really snazzy and jazzy and all sorts of things, socially acceptable basically.
Really being able to trust what comes in and just being able to listen to it. We’re taught, just like you’re saying, oh I just thought that I get a one-word guidance and think to heck with that.
Paula: Like that’s not real.
Lauren: Is it real? It is real. Trust it. That doesn’t mean you act on it, but it might, but you evaluate it, you reflect on it, you think about it, maybe journal about it. Usually, if there is a nudge, something nudging us on the path, it appears again and again until we finally pay attention to it.
Paula: Yes. I had a very self-reflective moment there when you were talking about advertising, because on my own path I started with religious studies and seminary, and then found my way to advertising. I was a project manager in advertising for many years. I’ve since come back out of that place. It is true. That was my existential question of, “What am I doing?” Maybe it came out of the labyrinth. Who knows?
“What am I doing all week that I’m telling people that they shouldn’t trust themselves in making purchasing decisions or that they need something else in their lives, and then on the weekends I’m leading retreats where I’m trying to deprogram people from that very same messaging?” It was very existential.
I think the labyrinth also represents that for so many of us. It’s a way to inward to figure out what’s important and then figure out, as you were saying, how can I bring that word or something I’ve learned or what I desire to have more of into my life.
Lauren: Yes. I think one of the powerful things is that the insights we get in the labyrinth are grounded in the body.
Lauren: It’s not necessarily something you have to remember, “Oh, what was that?” That might be true, and that’s why sometimes it’s helpful to journal your labyrinth experiences. But a deep insight that comes through, comes through the body as well, and it’s yours. Then it helps move you along toward the direction that we need to go.
Paula: I’m kind of having an existential moment right here just thinking about all of those times and how the labyrinth was involved. You cannot really question that. It’s just coming to me in a new way. That’s really interesting.
Lauren: Well, great. I like your example about how you’re working in advertising all week, “You need this. You really need this to be a full person,” and then in your retreats you’re saying, “Trust yourself. Let’s look within.” That’s great. Talk about polarities.
Paula: Yes. It’s truly weird. Buy this car wax. No, don’t. It was very interesting and then led to its own place of self-discovery, with some other steps along the way, of course. Now I’m really honored that I get to do some of the work.
It’s funny because once I’ve said yes to the labyrinth and the facilitator training, I’ve led one online, and then I started asking questions. The answers when I’d ask, “Would you like someone to help you do this,” or, “Have you thought about having a labyrinth at the Summer camp,” the answer is, “Oh my gosh, yes.” It’s like okay, now I’m going to keep taking these steps.
Lauren: That’s all you need to do, keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow the energy. Follow the excitement, follow the energy, because the labyrinth wants to come in. That’s what I meant by I felt I was guided to Grace Cathedral, I was guided through Grace Cathedral, I was guided to the labyrinth. It wants to come in.
I never imagined when we first started this work that we would have two labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, one indoors and one out. Right now, the indoor one is closed because of COVID, but the outdoor one is not.
There’s many. On our Labyrinth Locator – we should probably mention that; there is a labyrinth locator. Just Google labyrinth locator, or I would hope have you go to the Veriditas website and go to the Labyrinth Locator through that, because there is so much on that website about labyrinths. There are about 6,000 labyrinths listed on that and we’re in 88 countries now, 88 countries have labyrinths.
Paula: I will link up to the World Labyrinth Locator. That would be something that if somebody is listening and thinking, “I have to check this out. I thought labyrinths were a maze. Now I really want to go walk one,” go check that out and maybe look ahead to make sure that they’re still open, because of course there are social distancing concerns. But yes, I think the best way to try it is to just go walk one without any expectations of what it might mean and just feel it for yourself. It’s funny that I said feel it, but experience it for yourself.
Lauren: That’s the hard part, not having any expectations. That’s why on the Veriditas website there is a lot of information, including basic instructions. It doesn’t take a lot; you just follow the path. A lot of outdoor labyrinths are not crowded with people, so you can turn up there and check it out in light of social distancing. It’s really physical distancing, in light of allowing enough space so we’re not passing something contagious.
Paula: I really do love what you just said about follow the energy. I feel like that’s a thing that we’ve been taught over our programming as humans to ignore. But just in life in general, even not specific to the labyrinth, of following the energy and seeing where it leads you, what’s exciting you, and what’s bringing you joy. This is such a delight to talk about all of this with you.
Lauren: I think that is the essence of true joy, that you are on a path and you’re following it, and you’re listening to nudges, listening deeply, and then you realize that things start responding. I cannot tell you how many people wrote to me in the beginning when Walking the Sacred Path came out that the book literally fell out, either hit them on the head or fell at their feet. Those were the days when people didn’t know what a Labyrinth was necessarily. Now a fair amount do, but it’s a big world. It’s a very big world, for sure.
Paula: Isn’t that funny? I think I read that book two or three times after I bought it because I just could not stop.
One of the things that I’ve been asking guests about in season six, my theme is finding joy in the messy middle, which has some interesting things going on there with labyrinths, how have you found joy in the messy middle?
Lauren: I think we are in the messy middle, so to speak, not necessarily of the labyrinth, but of life right now, COVID and all the racial tensions and all that is going on politically, good heavens. Go toward what feeds you. Go toward what nourishes you.
I think that’s a really important piece. Sometimes, because we’re taught to ignore our experience and figure out what we’re supposed to buy instead of experience, to go toward what nurtures you. It may be nature. Really important. If you’re really distressed, find a place, a grassy place somewhere, and lay your belly on the ground. Just lay down on the ground and breathe it in. Really important.
Great music. Good books. Anything that feeds you and nurtures you is really important right now, more so than any other time probably. Partly because of the distressing news. Who would have thunk it? That kind of feeling. Look where the United States is. Oh my God. Threats in the House and people are scared that they’re going to kill each other or be killed, more likely. My God. It’s really way off the charts.
Keep finding your core and keep feeding it.
I think the people that I feel the most concerned about are the people who are scared to be alone. With this forced, people have been using the word lockdown, but to me that means you have an ankle bracelet on and you’re not allowed to go out of the house, but sheltering in place, I think that it’s been toughest on them, disconnected from their friends. The really extroverted person, people who are out there and are nourished by meeting people and being with people.
There’s a lot of wonderful more extroverted meditation methods, soul collage for instance, where you’re using collage, you’re working with images. That’s one. Zentangle is coming in, learning to draw just any design and repeat it and repeat it. Also, adult coloring books. Anything that’s easy and accessible, if you’re frightened of being alone and it’s uncomfortable to be alone, those methods may be very helpful.
Paula: I appreciate that. Yes. I’m kind of an outgoing introvert, so I do miss my time with people, but it has also been such an interesting experience. Probably for a lot of empaths and people who are highly intuitive, there’s also a layer of this that there’s a little too much to feel every day if you’re really entuned. I really feel for people who are highly extroverted, that this is just a lot to try to be in a space that’s not so comfortable.
Lauren: It certainly is. I think it’s important, too, to mention that the labyrinth really balances people. It’s not always deep and insightful. It’s peace-giving.
In the Chartres Labyrinth, you’re turning left, you’re turning right, you’re turning left, 28 times going into the center, 28 times coming back out the same path, and it has this kind of balancing that I’m sure it does with the brain. Just left, right, it’s almost like being rocked in a cradle.
Paula: That’s so nice. We’re both kind of waving back and forth, too, as you say that. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rocked to sleep?
Before we get to the final questions, I think we should also talk a little bit about, and I’ll hold up my own, hand labyrinths. I recently experienced these for the first time with your training, and I know that Veriditas is offering a free, moderated, kind of led, hand labyrinth walk each Friday, at least for right now. Would you share a little bit about that, how is it different and how is it the same? I know some people may not be able to find a labyrinth near them to physically walk with their feet. What’s the history behind a hand labyrinth?
Lauren: Early on when I first started the work at Grace Cathedral, that would be ’91, we opened the Candace on New Year’s Eve 24-hour event, Singing for Your Life, and we had that with Bobby McFerrin those 10 years we did this. It was partly because Bobby was there, but also we announced the labyrinth opening, and people were just so hungry for it.
Then later, we began to open it at Grace Cathedral, as I mentioned, the first Sunday in silence, the third Wednesday evening with music. Then people who were visually challenged started turning up and wanting to walk the labyrinth. Which I naively then thought, “that’s fine with me,” and offered my elbow and led them through the labyrinth, but it was a total disorientation. It really was not helpful for me to do. So, I began to experiment with smaller handheld labyrinths.
What I used to do is I would get half-inch moulding and I had a friend put these together on a board, so 18×18 inches, and used CelluClay. CelluClay is an art product, it’s like cake mix, you just add water. I’d spread it in there. Then I’d teach myself how to draw it. Not that I could draw a Chartres Labyrinth, even now. In the CelluClay, I’d stake it out with toothpicks, the directions, and draw this in. The 18 inches fits the width of a finger, it’s grooved, just like this one.
Then someone actually suggested we call them finger meditation tools at that point. We always, as you know, with facilitators who we train, we always encourage them to have at least one available in some form during an event, an in-person event. Then with COVID, one of our wonderful board members, Stephanie Reib, suggested that we just do an online handheld labyrinth meditation every week. We’ve been doing it since COVID, and I think we’ll probably continue because the beauty of it is online people can join from anywhere in the world.
On our website we alternate, one time it’s at 4:00, the other time it’s at 12:00 Noon. Partly because of the UK and Europe joining us, and then the other earlier time the Pacific Rim joining us, so we’re doing every other week that way. It’s a free event, you just sign up on the Veriditas website.
What we’re finding is it’s really very meaningful. Not only in light of community being online together, but it’s certainly a way of teaching people to find the Grail Castle, to be in that liminal realm. There’s an art to that, too. There’s an art to dismissing your everyday thoughts of, “I have to get cat food for my cat. I have to do this and do that,” and those kinds of thoughts, into allowing yourself to really connect with your breath. We encourage anybody like that. Someone who is familiar with the breath meditation might do that in order to do the handheld labyrinth walk.
We play music, as you know. Then there’s a time for sharing. Usually, there’s a theme, the facilitator introduces a theme. It has actually worked out very well and in a lovely way. For me, that’s kind of a new discovery, because I always had a labyrinth to walk, so I didn’t use handheld labyrinths much at all.
Paula: Isn’t that interesting?
Paula: I have to say, I hadn’t used one until facilitator training. Then I actually found that I really love the classical for the handheld. This is more of a variation on the Chartres.
Lauren: It is, it’s a modified Chartres.
Paula: I wish I had a classical just to show folks. I can link up to one in the show notes. That to me was easier for me to do as a handheld meditation, which was surprising to me. I love it. I was totally surprised and delighted to see that it was something that was so meaningful when I couldn’t physically walk a space.
Would you share where people can find the signups if they want to do either the handheld walks each Friday, or if they want to find out more about you, where can they get in touch?
Lauren: Sure. The website is Veriditas.org. That has lots of labyrinth information on it and also our events. We are planning, hopefully, and I think it will happen, to go be back in Chartres in September. We’ve gone to these pilgrimages, we always have groups come over and join us in Chartres Cathedral. We hope to be able to begin that again. All of that information is there. We are doing a lot of workshops online, too. We just did one about the seasons of the pandemic.
I also have my own private online website at LaurenArtress.com and there’s more information there. It’s connected to the Veriditas, but there’s also information about the Holy Fool and things like that.
Paula: Yes. I’ll link up to all of that and the Holy Fool book. Such good stuff. I got goosebumps when you said you’re going back in September. That would be so amazing. I’m ready to go see other things besides this lovely home of mine.
Lauren: Yes. A lot of people are. Think about I’d love to travel, or I’d love to go see my family, or I’d love all of that. Yes. There will be a time when that’s coming back in. Meanwhile, handheld labyrinths are one way through. When you can go outside, I would say look up a labyrinth on the Labyrinth Locator, because there’s not a ton of people walking them. If one person is walking them, you can wait until that person is done. Really, to reach out and explore.
A lot of people say, “There’s none in our area.”
Paula: That might not be true.
Lauren: That’s right. Check it out. I had a friend who moved up to Van, Oregon, and they said, “There wouldn’t be one up there.” I knew there was one in Van, so I said, “Check it out.” They found a very interesting one that actually supports social distancing or physical distancing. So, yes, check it out, because people are often very frequently surprised.
Paula: They’re often in places that feel like maybe they’re a little trip somewhere. They’re in beautiful places to be able to experience that for yourself, when maybe right now you’re not having experiences besides your neighborhood. I think that’s a really nice thing.
Lauren: Or your grocery store.
Paula: Or Target. Wherever.
Lauren: That’s one of the things that’s really interesting, too. People are building them, but each labyrinth is different. Each labyrinth, because of the setting, it’s unique, and then the vegetation or the stones, or however they do that, they are very unique in their own way even if it’s the same design.
Paula: That’s so true. Even the way that shade or sun falls on them, I find that to be super interesting, or the view that you get from some of them is so different. Yes. That just kind of takes you to a different place each time you’re able to walk them.
Lauren: There’s also a couple books out from people. Twylla Alexander has a book out called Labyrinth Journeys: 50 States, 51 Stories. Her task that she assigned herself was to go to each state and interview women who had made a labyrinth, so she’s been to all 50 states and then she has added her story. There are books out there that might be fun for people to explore as well, if they’re in their armchair sitting there waiting for the Winter to pass or whatever.
Paula: That is wonderful. I will find those and link up to them as well in the show notes.
The thing that I ask everyone before we close out is what are three ways that you can think of to jump start joy in your life, in the world, or in other people’s lives?
Lauren: It’s a lovely question. I love your phrase, jump start. Great metaphor.
Paula: Thank you.
Lauren: Like you jump start a car or something. I think that the main way is go toward what feeds you. I think that’s one thing. Reach out. Even if you can’t be physically with somebody, reach out and call someone, especially if you’re feeling lonely or just your energy is really low. I’d certainly say find a labyrinth if you can and when you can. Or enjoying the online, that’s free, it’s a free event, there’s hundreds of people and it’s fabulous, it’s guided, it’s led, and that’s another option.
Also, to see joy as a byproduct. It’s not something you necessarily have to go directly toward. Our packs, our animals, that’s one joyous thing about this pandemic is that our adoption agencies and all of the SPCAs are empty, they don’t have any animals, they’re low on animals. Isn’t that great?
Paula: It’s amazing.
Lauren: All these animals have found a home. Maybe that’s another way to jump start joy is find something you love, or you don’t have that with you, maybe consider a pet. It’s a great time to break in a pet at home, for sure.
Paula: It is. I know ours is immensely spoiled because now he will never want us to leave the house.
Lauren: Right. That’s another negotiation.
Paula: We’ll get there. I’ll be joyful to get there when we’re all talking about that. Lauren, this has been such a true treat and a joy to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Lauren: You are very welcome. Thank you for having me. Take care.
Paula: Lauren, thank you so much for being on the show. It was an absolute honor to have you join me and to be here for World Labyrinth Week. I don’t know if it’s actually a week, but we’ll say it is. I just really want to thank you for bringing the labyrinth to the world in a new way. This is a really powerful tool, and I am grateful for it having a presence in my own life.