Throughout this odyssey I have been aware not only of the blockbuster superstars such as the labyrinths in Chartres and Grace cathedrals but also the local heroes that are just quietly going about their work. Two such labyrinths I met in Victoria at the end of January: one in the grounds of St Mel’s school in Shepparton and the other at the secondary college in Euroa.
St Mel’s is a little Catholic primary school. Under the steerage of a visionary principal it has in the playground a corrugated iron cubby and water tank that look like they belong on a colonial homestead. It has sensory walls covered in metal plates, hub caps and kitchen utensils that the kids can beat the shit out of when they feel so inclined (who doesn’t need one of those). Their area for play and exploration also includes trees that they’re allowed to climb, a hill to roll down, an outdoor pizza oven, a chook shed, a veggie garden and a labyrinth. I left wishing I’d been to a school like that.
Visual arts teacher, Suzie Bates, introduced Lisa Shortridge and I to the labyrinth that she and the pupils and other teachers of Euroa Secondary College have created. Its magical path consists of bricks and tiles they all had a part in decorating. Pleasingly, very few of them have words, just symbols or pictures that meant something to the creator.
Suzie has engaged the pupils in different processes on the labyrinth. In one they walk in as Year Six students and out as Year Seven. In another they walk around the perimeter of the labyrinth and when it’s their turn to enter the path she hands them an icy pole. With any of the processes, she gives them a piece of paper with the classical seven circuit labyrinth printed on it and they write their reflections within the path. There are other processes where they choose a sound to make and then make the same sound the whole time they are walking. In another they walk with a friend: dancing and weaving throughout the path together.
I was staying with Lisa at her home where she has three labyrinths: a nine circuit Chartres, a seven circuit classic and a triple spiral all built on sand out of beautifully varied rocks from Strathbogie. She told tales of how they have been inundated by flood waters and resurrected. In the cool of early morning or late evening (daytime temperatures were 40 degrees centigrade) I allowed her dog Yoda to indicate which labyrinth I should walk. He had the understated presence of a good canine guide and sometimes a stubborn refusal to allow right of way to anyone attempting to walk his labyrinth.
One evening at sunset we visited and walked the labyrinth at the University of Melbourne School of Rural and Remote medicine. After the walk we lay on the uncommonly green and lush grass (the rest of the town was very crispy) and looked up at dark gathering clouds. The cool was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering daytime heat.
Having fielded innumerable questions about what I’m going to do when this pilgrimage is over and having no clear answers this poem sang inside me when I heard it. It felt as though it had been written for me. Hopefully it will resonate with some of you as well.
“For a New Beginning” by John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety,
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight when your courage kindled,
And you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you
Though your destination is not yet clear,
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk,
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.