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Walking the Walk

Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths offer meditative walkers the chance to empty the mind, breathe deep and unwind.

By Donna Clayton Lawder

 

The air is cold, the sky still dark and full of stars. There is no sound, save the slight crunch of the frozen ground underfoot. It is just 5 a.m., the morning of New Year's Eve.

A walker tries one of the Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths.

On this cold, quiet morning, friends and strangers have traveled to gather on a starlit mesa in Glenwood. As if trying to preserve the silence around them, they greet each other with smiles and soft hellos, breath frozen in the air. New Year's revelry far from their minds, they have come to meditate, to pray for peace. And they have come here, specifically, to walk the labyrinths.

Cordelia Rose, who has built these specialized stone pathways on her property atop Whitewater Mesa north of Glenwood, is reflecting on the recent World Healing Day, an annual event celebrated simultaneously in spots around the world. A non-denominational, non-political event that grew out of the efforts of the Quartus Foundation, the observance draws people together for prayer circles, meditation and other forms of spiritual union and peaceful communion. Participants gather in church halls, community centers and basements of private homes.

Many people gather to walk labyrinths, like Rose's. Though there are a number of labyrinths in New Mexico, Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths is the only place in the Land of Enchantment listed as a place of participation on the World Healing Day Web site.

"People start arriving around 4:45 for the 5 a.m. walk," Rose says in her soft English accent, "and they keep arriving throughout the day." Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths is open all day for the annual event, receiving all pilgrims who want to participate in the global observance, which is coordinated with spots around the earth to begin at 12 noon Greenwich Mean Time, which is 5 a.m. in Glenwood, New Mexico.

On the morning of Dec. 31, 2005, walkers came from all over New Mexico and Arizona and places beyond. "I stopped counting at 60 people," Rose says. The 2006 New Year's Eve marked the 20th World Healing Day celebration.

White stones softly glow in the starlight, aided by "fairy lights" that Rose has placed in the winding stone paths "so that the early risers can see the path and each other's feet," she says. The previous year, participants kept arriving, as individuals or in small groups, all through the day until sunset.

 

Though the World Healing Day does draw particular attention–and dozens of participants–to the site, Rose says that people come year-round to walk the labyrinths. An annual Labyrinth Workshop is held in September on the property, in which participants learn the history and uses of labyrinths and how to build one of their own.

And people come for no occasion at all, as well. Just to walk. To thoughtfully walk.

"People know about it (labyrinth walking) in theory, and just come," Rose says. "It's unbelievably beautiful out here on this mesa, and just wonderful at dawn and at sunset."

General admission is "a beautiful rock too big to hold in one hand, but not so big that you hurt your back when you pick it up" or a small donation to help maintain the property and labyrinths.

The exercise of traversing a labyrinth is a meditative walk, she explains. The process is one of walking purposefully from the beginning point–an opening at the outer edge–through the winding paths, into the "goal," or centermost point in the labyrinth. Then the walker turns and retraces his or her steps back out.

The walking is done at one's own pace, alone or with others, and takes "as long as it takes," Rose says. "It depends on who they are and their purpose."

When there is more than one person walking, there comes a point when they must pass each other on the way back out of the labyrinth. "And when they begin to pass each other, they always smile," Rose says. "That's a wonderful thing to see. It's very rewarding to me to see them having that experience."

Visitors to her property often make an afternoon or day of it, she says, also taking in the famous Catwalk nearby, having lunch or spending time in the little town of Glenwood.

The reasons for visiting labyrinths are many, and Rose has heard all of them from her visitors. "Some are just intrigued by the idea of a labyrinth. Some come out to grieve. Some come just to do something special with their partner. Children come to run and jump," she adds with a laugh.

Rose recalls one woman with terminal cancer who came to the property with her horse. "First she walked the labyrinth alone, then she took her horse and walked it slowly through 'Syzygy'"–a special labyrinth Rose built in which horses can be ridden. "She said to me that the whole time she was in the labyrinth, it took her mind off her illness. She said it inspired her to do as many different new things as she could in her remaining time."

Another visitor profoundly touched by the labyrinth experience was an old friend of Rose's, a man she'd not seen in years, since their high-school days. "He didn't know what to think," she says. "I just put him in there and said, 'Here. Do this, and when you're done, come in for breakfast.'

"Well!" she goes on, after a dramatic pause. "He came in saying things like, 'It's like life. It's like breathing.' He came in a changed person."

 

There are several types of labyrinths, and Rose currently has three different ones on her 20-acre property. "It's interesting to see which one people like," she says.

She built the labyrinth she calls "Syzygy" first, in 2002. It is an 11-ring quadrant, 60 feet in diameter and oriented on–that is, its layout has a specific relationship to–the sun and water. It was designed by her brother-in-law, Ben Nicholson, a conceptual architect "who is into the geometry of labyrinths," Rose says.

In addition to teaching yoga classes, Rose wrangles horses, and she wanted a labyrinth in which she could ride her horse. During the September workshops, she gives an equine demonstration in the Syzygy labyrinth.

"It's good to keep my horse alert," she says. In the labyrinth, the horse must be aware of sharp turns and watch for rocks. During one equestrian demonstration, Rose rode her own horse through the labyrinth, showing the animal's dexterity and sharp powers of perception. She then rode an inexperienced horse through. The "green" horse was awkward at first, not knowing what was expected of it. But by the end of the ride, it had calmed down and become sure of foot.

"It had such an effect on him," Rose recalls. "Just that one time through, his first time ever."

The second labyrinth built on the property, "Pima," Rose describes as a "classic" style labyrinth, owing its design to the ancients. The seven-ring structure is 39 feet in diameter and is oriented on the North Star.

Seven-circuit labyrinths have been discovered within the ruins of cities of ancient Turkey dating to 5,000 BCE. The classic seven-circuit labyrinth is round. Square versions are either Celtic or Roman. Other styles have been found in ancient Greece, New Zealand, North America and Southeast Asia. The earliest versions are found in pictographs, drawings upon stones.

The third labyrinth at Whitewater Mesa is "Two Stones Kneeling," a 10-ring double spiral. Currently 40 feet in diameter, Two Stones is still growing, as Rose adds to it annually. The design is similar to patterns found on ancient Mimbres pottery.

Rose points out the distinction between labyrinths and mazes: "They aren't the same thing at all, but people inexperienced with labyrinths often think of them as the same thing. Mazes are puzzles," she explains, and visitors can experience the difference by walking her Equinox Maze, another creation on Whitewater Mesa.

People interested in learning to build their own labyrinth can consider taking the Labyrinth Workshop at Rose's property on Sept. 15. This will be the fifth annual workshop event, led by Rose and co-sponsored by the Glenwood Ranger Station.

An illustrated talk on the history and uses of labyrinths will be given, and participants will learn to create a labyrinth and walk the ones on the property. Rose expects to be joined by brother-in-law Ben Nicholson, as well as by Beth O'Donnell, an information officer at the Glenwood Ranger Station.

"One really interesting and enjoyable thing we do is to create a Shuffle Labyrinth," Rose says. "If you have a labyrinth design in your head, you can just walk along that image in your mind, and people just follow along with you, all shuffling their feet. When you get to the middle, you look up and see that you have made a labyrinth! It always amazes people.

"The workshop itself is very much 'how-to,'" Rose adds. But then there are more ceremonial elements outside the workshop itself, incorporated into the day. After the workshop, at sunset around 7:15 p.m., Rose and whatever participants wish to stay lay a special rock in the "calendar" in the Equinox Maze. That's followed by drumming and circle ceremonies.

Rose then invites participants to enjoy supper in Glenwood while she lights one labyrinth's pathway and builds a campfire in the center of another. Participants are invited to return after their dinner and walk the labyrinths at their own pace, under the stars. Drumming goes on well into the evening from that point, Rose says.

"Last year, I went to bed around 11:30," she says, "and somebody was still out there, walking." With a playful laugh, she adds, "They may still be out there for all I know!"

 

For more information on Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths, the Labyrinth workshop, or to make arrangements to visit, call Cordelia Rose at 539-2868 or email cordelia@starband.net. For information about World Healing Day, see www.quartus.org/WorldHealingDay.html.

 

Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.

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