The 2017 October Labyrinth Society Annual Gathering at IslandWood Eco-Education Center on Bainbridge Island, WA, was a great success thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers coupled with a fabulous location and stellar weather. According to the Online Survey TLS provided after the Gathering, the top three reasons participants attended were: the location, the IslandWood venue, and the featured speakers, Jeffrey Bale and Denny Dyke. Jeffrey's and Denny's exquisite labyrinth creations and passionate life missions, so clearly embodying the Gathering theme, set the tone for the entire weekend and left an indelibly positive heartprint on all who listened and learned from them.
Location and Venue
Bainbridge Island, Washington is one of many islands in Puget Sound, a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle, but it feels a million miles away due to winding roads, abundant bays and inlets, and quiet, forested slopes producing a noticeable laid back vibe. Founded in 1999, IslandWood Environmental Learning Center's 250 acre campus sits southwest of the ferry dock on Blakely Avenue. Consciously laid out to offer a retreat setting as well as experiential educational classes, IslandWood's winding paths connect administration buildings, art workshops and classrooms, housing, trails, ponds, and a tree house in a fecund Pacific rainforest environment. As labyrinth luck would have it, the only precipitation we saw the entire weekend was early morning dew and some fog as we headed to breakfast. Three days after we left, the campus was blanketed in snow!
Arriving at the entrance kiosk, participants loaded their bags onto pull carts and took the first of many hikes to their rooms in one of four rustically designed, comfortably furnished buildings. Various stuffed wild critters along with local First Nation tribal totems and masks lent the common rooms an authentic Northwest Pacific air although most of us rarely had time to laze about on the comfy fireplace sofas. Adirondack chairs liberally scattered around the campus, in sunny locations, were used often throughout the weekend as participants connected, reconnected, and held space for the walkers on the temporary outdoor labyrinths.
Honoring the Labyrinth Environment: Co-Creating with Nature was the 2017 Gathering theme which both men succinctly expressed in their presentations. In their own way, they were so similar in their approach and delivery, every sentence projecting their goodwill and passionate love of their life's work that has them using natural materials that reconnect people to nature and, therefore, to Source. And yet, the outcome of their artistry is so uniquely their own.
Bale is a stone mason and storyteller who, in his mosaic masterpieces, interweaves the fleeting myths of human understanding with Nature's majestically slow creation stories, while Dyke, in his sandscape installations, works with those fleeting moments in time when Nature is at its most quixotic. In both walking experiences is the dance of yin and yang, Sat and Nam, permanence and impermanence, and so the walker returns filled up, surfeited, and balanced. Experiencing their artistry was intrinsic to this Gathering with weekend shuttle service to and from Bale's Bainbridge Island mosaic labyrinth and a post-Gathering early Monday morning sand labyrinth installation by Denny Dyke and his crew.
While often a source of contention among Gathering participants - too many workshops, too little time - the choice and variety of workshops this year included presentations by newcomers as well as by some of the earliest members of The Labyrinth Society. Gathering participants learned about Black Holes and White Holes with Susan Alexjander, Creating Labyrinth Settings with Richard Feather Anderson, the Legacy Labyrinth Healing Project with Christine Katzenmeyer, Strengthening Our Physical and Energy Bodies with Rūta Janulevičienė, and so much more.
Presenters like Emily Simpson from Sydney, Australia, shared their personal stories about the challenges they faced bringing their labyrinth dreams to fruition, or provided ways to balance the intuitive with the logical on the labyrinth like Judith Tripp with her Circle of Being meditation. Participants laughed, danced, walked, and got busy with pen, paper and other art materials throughout the three sessions on Saturday and the one on Sunday.
Pre-and-Post Gathering Workshops & Tours
All of these were well attended and many were sold out long before the Gathering commenced. Kathleen Verigin started off the pre-Gathering workshop sessions, Friday morning, with an often humorous and heartfelt exploration of the triple spiral labyrinth. Her canvas triple spiral labyrinth, made of two velcroed panels, was designed by Lisa Steckley to approximate the stone petroglyph at the entrance to the pre-Celtic, Irish monolithic site, Newgrange. Participants explored the meaning of the three-fold spiral path as a journey of self-discovery and coming home to ourselves. Kathleen's spritely demeanor and deep knowledge of Celtic spirituality made this workshop a hit with all participants.
Carol Maurer and Johanna Manasse shared the spotlight for Friday afternoon's Peaceful Stitching workshop. Sometimes you just have to hunker down, get centered, and put needle to cloth, allowing your inner landscape to be expressed outwardly with each lovingly intentional stitch. For novices and experts alike, and under Carol's and Johanna's expert guidance, this workshop allowed fabric artists an avenue to meld labyrinths with needle and beadwork, creating uniquely beautiful results. And, knowing Carol and Johanna, the laughter and camaraderie that ensued were equally important as the meditative process they imparted.
Kelley K. Quinn started off the post-Gathering workshop and tours offerings on Sunday afternoon with an arts workshop about creating personal 12" paper labyrinths using a meditative art process to calm the mind. She provided different labyrinth designs, handmade paper, and other natural materials for participants to create their own piece to take home and use. This was another way for fine artists to explore the use of labyrinths in their artwork and creative processes.
Stephen Shibley was the tour guide for the Sunday afternoon Bainbridge Island Tour and put together a lovely afternoon of labyrinth walking, historical home and gardens sightseeing, a museum tour, and a wine tasting that was very well received by the two mini-busloads of attendees. Thank you, Stephen, for a perfect Bainbridge Island ending!
Participants who signed up for Denny Dyke's Sunrise Sand Labyrinth Building workshop had to meet the bus at 6:30am so that the low tide, window-of-opportunity was utilized to the fullest. The weather, water, wind, and sand conditions cooperated and participants got a hands-on lesson in Zen sand raking and sand labyrinth building. Attendees experienced the essence of Denny's Gathering presentation and his joyful partnership with the energy of wind, sun, sand, and water.
Last but not least, the Monday afternoon tour of Seattle labyrinths lead by local area resident and new TLS Web Chair, Dan Niven, was a carefully curated selection of labyrinths of different designs and sizes. Again the weather cooperated and the large tour bus took off from the Seattle Ferry Terminal at 1:00pm. First stop, the rustic, seven circuit classical labyrinth at the Rudolf Steiner bookstore where attendees were treated to Halloween cupcakes and fresh cider after walking.
Then on to two outdoor church labyrinths, an indoor church labyrinth, the large, outdoor labyrinth opposite the Seattle Space Needle, and finally, a lovely indoor labyrinth at the Welcome Table Community Church on Beacon Hill. The afternoon sun shone gently through the high clerestory windows down onto the labyrinth as we walked with soft music playing in the background. The energy was lovely there and all enjoyed that stop immensely. Thank you, Dan, for your thoughtful compilation and contacts that allowed participants access to the indoor sites often not available to casual labyrinth sightseers.
Visit to Jeffrey Bale's Bainbridge Island Labyrinth Mosaic
The opportunity to visit the labyrinth made by Jeffrey Bale, just down the street from IslandWood, was a rare treat for Gathering goers and the shuttle sign-up sheet board in the Welcome Center was always packed with eager walkers ready to visit. Once at the site, people spread out, taking pictures, sitting on the large, flat rocks that ring the labyrinth, and walking the path to the large, hanging Dorje, spinning it for good luck and prosperity before walking the labyrinth. Many people came back after Jeffrey's presentation to examine more closely the design elements he'd discussed in detail, making the walk that much more meaningful.
It is rare to see or walk a mosaic labyrinth that tells a story in the way the stones and pieces are laid into the earth and mortar. This labyrinth is so full of myth, story and sacred energy, coupled with the setting on a hill, in the trees, overlooking a small bay, that it is almost impossible for all not to be moved to expectant silence - the prospect of communion with a force greater and more benevolent than oneself almost a given.
Six poster presentations took place on Saturday afternoon in the Learning Studio Hallway. While this location, in theory, was a great idea, the warm afternoon sun streaming through the bank of west facing windows created a steamy, white-out setting for the presenters. Katja Marquart, Tom Vetter, Traci Mc. Merritt, Diane Rudebock, Maia Scott, and Stephen Shibley were sanguine about the weather effect, generously sharing their knowledge and experiences with interested and curious attendees. Topics on labyrinth research, design, health benefits, stewardship, and labyrinths for the blind community were offered and enjoyed.
Learning Tree House Labyrinth
What's not to like about a tree house, overlooking a creek, in the midst of a rainforest, with a canvas labyrinth on the floor, and lit up with Christmas lights at night?! Cantilevered over an embankment, down the trail past the Ichthyology Inn (flashlights came in very handy finding it in the dark), it is the newest building on the IslandWood campus. Built as a student project during the two weeks prior to the TLS Gathering, and with the help of in-resident artists and labyrinth builders, Lisa Moriarty and Stephen Shibley, the rustic building meshes seamlessly with its surroundings and affords a quiet, covered, meditative space for IslandWood attendees.
Once completed, Lisa, Stephen, and students created a canvas, nature labyrinth, using stencils and colored paint for the lines, that fits perfectly inside the hexagonal structure.
Lovely to visit and walk during the day, it became a magical, fairy circle at night strung with LED light garlands. Yet another special labyrinth event brought to you by the TLS Gathering team!
This group, a wonderful recommendation from Dan Niven who knows them professionally, was the perfect ending to a hectic two days of presentations, meetings, classes, walking labyrinths, eating delicious food, networking, and shopping in the vendor area. Participants were ready to boogie and Sea Star was easily up to the challenge! With a combination of traditional Celtic music, multiple acoustic instruments, and the velvet voice of Fae Weidenhoft leading the way, SeaStar wove an historical and folkloric musical web for Gathering participants, many of whom leapt and danced in wild abandon alone and together in long conga lines. Suffice it to say, good fun was had by all.
Opening and Closing Ceremonies
Sarah Nash, the new TLS Energy Keepers Chair and a Pacific Northwest native, knew whom to call to kick the Gathering off to a ringing start - the vibrational ringing of Tibetan bowls produced by Ron Myhre, woodworker, artist, and sound healer from Port Townsend, WA. “This vibration that they put out is a healing vibration for all living things,” Myhre says. “Vibration is the whole essence. The whole universe vibrates. We respond to these vibrations,” he says. Ron walked around the room with one of his large bowls, treating participants to short, personal, head to toe, sound baths and then participants could walk the labyrinth. A great way to get centered for the weekend!
The start of the Closing Ceremony was a bit disorganized because Sarah was at first unable to find her key helper, Lynda Tourloukis! Sarah was impressed with Lynda's Paperclip Peace Labyrinth initiative and wanted everyone to participate as a closing ritual on Lisa Moriarty's tape labyrinth in the Great Hall. It all came together with the appearance of Lynda with paperclips in hand, the ritual commenced, all walked, each holding a paperclip with thoughts of peace in mind, and finally the paperclips were joined together as a single strand that will be made into a labyrinth dedicated to world peace. As walkers gave up their paperclips, they joined in a double procession through the labyrinth again, this time singing the familiar "Dear Friend" song from past Gatherings.
Family Style Meals
IslandWood, in keeping with its environmentally sustainable policies and mission, serves freshly made breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to workshop attendees with ingredients from its own gardens and other local sources. Meals are served family style at long tables in the dining hall and, during the Gathering, offered a chance for people to interact and connect more intimately than a typical buffet or individually plated style of service. Comments such as, "Hey, can you pass down the salad please?" "Oops, we need more butter and rolls at this end!" "There's whipped cream? I didn't get any! Can I have some from your table please?", were commonly heard throughout the weekend and often proceeded to more intimate discussions as each meal progressed. The fresh ingredients and in-house baked goods were gobbled up by ravenous walkers almost as fast as the staff could bring them out! Thank you IslandWood kitchen staff for keeping our bellies full and our minds sharp.
Labyrinths On the Grounds
Thanks to Tom Vetter, Dan Niven, and Ansula Press for their lovely, fun, and inventive temporary labyrinth installations on the grass and to Lisa Moriarty for her indoor Baltic Wheel labyrinth in the Great Hall. The grass was still green, and maybe a bit wet and chilly in the early morning to walk barefoot, but many did. Ansula's Genesa Labyrinth is always a hit especially as it was the only outside one that was lit at night. She faithfully rebuilds it, from its first inception at Burning Man years ago, whenever there is a TLS Gathering on the west coast and many of us have walked at each location (Troutdale, Vancouver Island, and Bainbridge Island.) Lisa's elegant, double path design was an efficient and fun way to get a lot of people flowing through the labyrinth at one time and was a hit at both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
TLS consciously chooses to change Gathering venues every year and every TLS Board of Directors continues to support this choice. This means much more work for the TLS volunteers who start working on next year's Gathering preparations a year out. This choice also invariably assures that there will be glitches with each new venue that weren't expected in spite of the Steering Committee's best efforts to foresee every imaginable hiccup. The Gathering Steering Committee takes the information from the hard copy surveys and online surveys very seriously and works tirelessly to create future Gatherings that run efficiently and seamlessly for all attendees. If you enjoyed this year's, please join us next year at the 20th Anniversary Gathering outside Chicago.
Also, It was not lost to many of us that this year marked a noticeable increase in the number of men attending. Jeffrey and Denny were a big draw and in their kind, gentle, and playful interactions with attendees, exemplify the balanced, heart-centered, visionary, male labyrinth walker. And indeed, all the men attending were fine examples of this too. It is a heartwarming and hopeful sign - the labyrinth, as an energetic balancing tool, is a positive influence on all genders! Amen, Namaste, Mitakuye Oyasin.
Photos Submitted by Christiana Brinton, Dan Niven, Janice Lewis,
Sherry Biltz, Teri MeCorkle, Beth Langley,
Diane Rudebock, and Jeff Ridder