Berkshire labyrinths offer a quiet journey into a new future

A curve drawn in one movement becomes a pathway on a hillside. Walk slowly on a spring morning. The cherry trees are blooming. A woodpecker drums in the wood over the hill. The path turns with each step, toward the lake in the valley, toward the wooded slope above it. Gradually, with each step, it turns inward toward the center.
For 4,000 years, people have made labyrinths. They have come to quiet places to take time. Labyrinths are places for meditation, for dance or ritual, and sometimes for a few quiet moments.
On May 4, people around the globe will walk them together, on World Labyrinth Day,
“walking as one at 1 in the afternoon,” according to the U.S. nonprofit Labyrinth society.
In the Berkshires, we have some of our own looking up to the hills.
The First Congregational Church of Sheffield (Old Parish Church) has set out their own labyrinth in the community peace garden by the church, and in the Northern Berkshires, Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams opens their Al and Frances Small Memorial Labyrinth to all in daylight hours every day.
They designed and created the path last fall and laid it in stone, says Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. As she was preparing for Pesach with her family on a spring morning, she recalled a blog post she wrote in the days of awe, when the labyrinth was newly built. In it she tells the story of the day her son first explored it; he was eight then. She asked him what made a labyrinth different from a maze.
“He thought about it for a moment,” she said, “and then he said, ‘You can’t get lost in it.’”
A labyrinth is a single pathway spiraling gently from an outside edge to a central point, and out again. She compares the form to a tree of life and the folds of the human brain.
The path at CBI has seven circuits, a traditional shape in Jewish labyrinths, as in many others. Seven is a significant number in Judaism, Barenblat says, beginning with the seven days of creation. In a Jewish wedding, the partners travel around each other in seven circles.
Lars Howlett, a professional labyrinth designer, created the pathway at CBI. He walked the grounds and chose the site and the form. Labyrinths as a design seem to have come from many parts of the world, as he and the Labyrinth society note on their websites — the Chakravyuha (with a spiral center) reaches back to the Sanskrit epic of the Mahabharata, and different but related labyrinth shapes appear on a 1200 BCE tablet from Pylos, Greece, and Minoan coins from 400 BCE, on Sweden on the coast of the Baltic Sea and on baskets in the American Southwest.
Set into the earth, they have become pilgrimages and places of peace.
Today, many are secular, or made in places rooted in more than one tradition. On the edge of October Mountain State Forest, visitors will find a wildflower meditation labyrinth at Dream Away Lodge in Becket, along with public gardens, a forest Ballroom, an outdoor stone fire pit and amphitheater, and miles of trails and ponds.
Starseed Sanctuary in Savoy has its own seven-circuit labyrinth created by Beatrice Barnett, where guests come for workshops, prayers and ceremonies, including Prayers for the Earth and the People of the Earth.
And the seven-path classical design at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge began over a lunch table. One afternoon in 2001, Kripalu Schools faculty member Sudha Carolyn Lundeen sat down with Grounds Supervisor Kevin “Moose” Foran and asked him if they could build a labyrinth here.
She drew one for him one out on a paper napkin, he said, and explained its healing properties. And he felt the intention and love behind it.
“I knew exactly where it would fit into the landscape,” he said, “a favorite piece of land I had been keeping available.”
Sudha and a cancer survivor support group came out to the site and laid out the pattern of circuitry in yarn strung between sticks. The grounds crew made the earthen walking path and planted pine trees along it, and meadow flowers — lupines, oxeye daises and rudbeckia daisies, coreopsis and Sweet William.
Foran estimates 10,000 people visit the labyrinth each year, in all seasons, said
Rebecca Churt, Vice President of Marketing and Sales. It’s open to guests and visitors with day passes, she said, and Kripalu offers half-price day passes to Berkshire residents on Wednesdays. Guests come by themselves to walk quietly, and many leave gifts in the center — a sea shell, a poem, beads, pebbles, carved figures. Meditation classes form programs around the looping pathway.
“Many guests come to Kripalu seeking clarity and connection to their deepest self,” Sudha said, “wanting to feel renewed and strengthened when they head back out into the world. The labyrinth stands ready and welcoming to all, a living reminder that when we’re weary and feeling lost, all that is required of us is that we put one foot in front of the other and carry on.”
It is set gently away from the main buildings, on a hill looking down into Stockbridge Bowl, with a full view in all directions, and Churt has seen people come for a quiet walk even in the snow. She herself comes here. Last year, after the death of a parent, it became her place of solace and peace.
Last year, on a May morning, she saw a mother and daughter walking up to the entrance. They walked hand in hand, she said, and with a purpose and strength on a spring day that has stayed with her since as an image of joy.

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