TLS Members e-Newsletter

Members eNewsletter
At least four times a year, TLS members are rewarded at their inboxes with a copy of the Labyrinth Society e-newsletter. It serves as a means of direct communication with the membership and provides an historical record of the Society.

Letter from the Borderlands

Vanessa Compton
Guest Editor, former Publications Chair

Disclaimer: The editorial below by Vanessa Compton, Canadian citizen and resident, does not necessarily reflect the views of The Labyrinth Society and its Board of Directors. 

When the TLS Communications Team needed help with the Quarterly E-newsletter, of course I agreed! As former Publications Chair, I figured it would be easy. Then the list of articles-in-progress arrived. At the top was the announcement for the 2017 Gathering, Honoring the Labyrinth Environment: Co-Creating with Nature, held this year at IslandWood, an environmental education center on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington.

Site and theme are perfectly harmonised, the guest speakers are masters at their respective building practices, the pre- and post-gathering activities look to be unique and worthwhile, the concurrent workshop schedule once again offers participants an abundance of choice (I was on the Selection Committee—and if you want to get the inside scoop, you should be too). The beautiful site, the learning opportunities, the magical time with a beloved far-flung tribe of labyrinth makers and keepers, connectors and fellow-seekers, all together so briefly once again, I suddenly realised, were going to be at the other end of a journey across a border which, for ethical reasons that mattered to me, I did not want to make at this time.

Faced with a dilemma, friends of the labyrinth heed its call and throw their bodily selves into walking it through.  Barefoot in our backyard turf 7-circuit, I wondered if others felt this way. Answer: Grassroots. Reach out. Alright then. In a personal statement, I described my problem, and the ideas it provoked about the labyrinth in relation to borders, boundaries, barriers, and dividing lines. I invited readers to respond if these resonated with them:

...labyrinths go on regardless of history, but our knowledge of them is subject to that history. Our practice certainly is.
The topic of Borders is, like labyrinths, full of access points:

  • the labyrinth path divides sacred space from mundane surroundings, protecting walkers as they go inward, yet its purpose (one of them) is to bring us into communion with one another, encompassing our differences.

  • If you think of borders as boundaries, and that establishing them is considered a sign of a healthy individual in relationship, then what can we say about international boundaries, and Borders?

  • Labyrinths are used in Restorative Justice practice and in prisons; is there something to be said about the Labyrinth as a symbol of justice? That it represents an aesthetic of justice? (restorative justice, which keeps the perpetrator within the community)

and I sent it out to the entire TLS mailing list.

The labyrinth is a path through space, defined by lines which are sometimes referred to as walls: no distinction, no labyrinth. Yet, as Tom Vetter reminded us on World Labyrinth Day, when we walk a labyrinth, it’s “like an umbilical cord, a living connection to our Source. What appears as separation between the entrance of a labyrinth and the Center is an illusion, for the path connects you! When a line appears to separate you from someone on an adjacent path, it is an optical illusion.” The lines separate us, but they don’t divide us. As humans, as a species, we are indivisible.

The labyrinth evokes metaphors of journeys, rivers, lifecycles, flow. French geometer Pierre Rosenthiel called it “the geometry of welcome” and, for the research community, “a method for the arrangement of a multitude of metaphors,” though to truly understand it “there’s nothing to be done but to throw oneself bodily into the ...unpredictable volutes.” Once you are engaged, the mystery unfolds. Rebecca Solnit, in a marvellous chapter on the Labyrinth in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, takes you in with her:

It was breathtaking to realize that in the labyrinth, metaphors and meanings could be conveyed spatially. Poet Marianne Moore famously wrote of “real toads in imaginary gardens,” and the labyrinth offers us the possibility of being real creatures in symbolic space. Children’s books ...full of characters ...crossing over  to the other side ...where the boundaries between the real and the represented were not particularly fixed…[The] real is in this context nothing more or less than what we inhabit bodily. A labyrinth is a symbolic journey...but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world… Sometimes the map is the territory. (p 70)  

Responses poured in from that territory: definitions, etymology, stories of place, land, hearts, pictures, poems, and songs; some of the most powerful writing I have seen in a while, and the most insightful.

First, there was the via negativa:

  • (US) “we don't have borders to cross to get to the Gathering this year and so it is a moot point for us. And as far as I can tell, we have no problem flying anywhere we want to.”

  • (US) “It is unfortunate you let your fears, prejudices, and media bias keep you trapped in Canada. I would hope that. Labyrinth enthusiast would be more global... You infect a symbol of strength, freedom, and opportunities Using your bully pulpit regarding your small minded view.” 

  • (CA) “It feels uncomfortable to me to politicize any aspect of our work or endeavours... I may share some of your concerns but I don't think it's wise to create divisiveness or a perspective stance within the Labyrinth Society. Consider your audience, many may be Republican Americans, some with very conservative and fundamentalist beliefs... how to keep conversations open, questions generative…”

And a sampling of the via positiva:

  • (UK) “I value the fact that you are raising the issue and wholeheartedly support your doing so.”

  • (AU) “Just opened an email from TLS in order to end my subscription. Then I read your editorial. Thank you, it’s a wonderful reflection, lots to ponder on.  So I won’t end my subscription, will hope to read more from you.”

  • (US) “Thank you, Vanessa. That is my major concern even with my students. People so desperately need to know that their voice is heard.”

  • (US) “Thanks for this interesting question! It helped clarify my thinking to be responding.”

  • (CA) “I am so pleased that you are doing this.”

  • (US) “Thank you for addressing borders and all of their implications in relation to the labyrinth. Goodness, it helps to know there are people with similar values all over the world. I think the Labyrinth Society Facebook page has helped me see that over and over. On WLD, many people walked in the rain or even alone because it’s important for our souls and our world.”

  • (US) “Love this conversation and appreciate your frankness and your invitation to add my voice.”

  • (US) “Thank you for your beautiful inquiry around borders, walls and boundaries.”

The via transformativa included insights about borders, boundaries, and walking a labyrinth:

  • (US) Jodi Lorimer:
    “I consulted the American Dictionary of Indo-European word roots. I always find it a fascinating study into the deep meaning of words. In this case, border originates in ‘
    berdh-‘ meaning to cut. Which makes it different from ‘divide’ or ‘separate’ which seem to indicate a classification of some sort. It seems to have much more finality to it, even violence perhaps. ‘Mine, not yours' with 'no trespassing' signs abounding. In this regard it’s related to the Latin ‘forfex’, a pair of scissors. The most endearing aspect of the labyrinth to me is its tolerance, openness to creativity, to adaptability, the lack of rules, that no one owns it, there is no rule book which, by definition establishes borders between right and wrong, us and them. It has been proven time and again that we are a healthier world with fewer borders, more inclusiveness, more shared knowledge, compassion, and resources. Community trumps territory every time.”

  • (CA) “The etymology of the word ‘border’ has to do with the Old French ‘bordure’ ‘seam, or edge of a shield.’ I think of it ideally as a meeting place, maybe because words like border, margin, seam and edge are all words connected with quilting, a practice that often brings together many different colours, materials and textures to form something larger which is composed of infinite variety. But that isn’t how things feel at the Canada/US border these days. It seems frightening and divisive and the US does not feel at all like the wonderful place it once was.”

  • (US) “Borders can define us and limit us, if we choose. Borders can create division or we can reach across the border to hold a hand, make contact, begin a conversation. Some people will choose to walk the prescribed path of the labyrinth, carefully staying within the borders as their steps travel inward to outward. A cancer survivor might choose to playfully cross the path's borders in spirited dance steps.
    Borders can raise the challenge of who is in, who is out, and how will you be received crossing a border.”

  • (US) “I've always viewed the labyrinth as establishing a boundary for going into the center and protecting and supporting my inner journey. But it never ended there. It was always a turning from that center out to the world as I retraced my steps, where those beliefs and conditioned cultural responses that separate us as human beings have softened by my journey to the center--and I return seeing no boundaries between us.”

  • (UK) “WORDS and definitions could be drawn into this as creating demarcation of meanings and ascribed values. A hard & blunt example - I am uncomfortable with the label 'sacred space' which... implies a holiness, which to an atheist is a big turn-off. So the more the term is applied the more I, and others I have spoken to, feel like we sit outside the labyrinth as sacred space.”

  • (US) “as artistic director of the Texas Storytelling Festival this past year …[I] ran into a similar situation. One of our storytellers (an immigrant in state) chose not to come and share their story because they feared consequences in their travel. The organization president felt it was a political stand against the current administration, I felt it was genuine fear and real concern.”

  • (US) “... like a border, the line of the equator is imaginary and, in fact, due to scientific reasons, is actually not a fixed line. To me, borders are similar. They are drawn on maps and sometimes marked on real land, but often changing (as when a river marks a border or when treaties are signed and wars fought.)”

  • (CA) “I recently got something else in my email about boundaries and barriers. I guess it’s a very real topic these days. … What came through on that one was this….
    Boundaries are proactive and barriers are hyper-active and defensive.
    Boundaries are a response and barriers are a reaction.
    Boundaries are free to choose
    Barriers are not about freedom or choice
    My thoughts…...
    Borders are, I think, the permeable difference between a boundary and a barrier. The challenge, at this time is where we sit in this liminal space. Borders are often considered the space between the countries, not here and not there. It is considered a space where we are still free to choose a response or a reaction. It’s not a place we are used to be being as a collective. We are usually there as individuals. We have a choice to respond, or react given the time and space given to us. It is a labyrinth of thought, outside of time and space and we must all walk it, alone if we are to come together.”

  • (US) “In regard to borders. I think of a border I lived next to for 6 months.
    In 1982 at age 24, I lived in Israel where I was a volunteer at a kibbutz (farm), Kfar Ruppin for 6 months. Kfar Ruppin was right on the border with Jordan. That is, if you went beyond the fence of our community, you would come to a fence. Beyond the fence was a minefield. Beyond the minefield was the River Jordan.
    Beyond it, another minefield on the Jordanian side.
    What I am thinking about is. I wonder, if the river could think and feel, how it would have felt about fences and soldiers and minefields separating its banks? Separating people? I would think this would feel very wrong to the river. Because the nature of a river is to flow and move and to give without restriction.  I may write a poem on this theme. Thank you for inspiring this idea. Why so often do we humans including political leaders put up mental minefields? Why do we hate? I just don't get it.” [The poem was written and sent, and I will include it in a longer article - VJC]

  • (US) Lea Goode-Harris 
    “I am not traveling abroad for the very reasons that you are not traveling here. Yes, there are feelings as if the borders have become entrapments. That the ease of visiting far off places are inaccessible and the path before me has narrowed and become confined. I feel as if the boundaries have become a maze and that I cannot escape…
    “I see the labyrinth before me. Maybe the journey to the center is complete and all you need to do is walk out in any direction? Maybe the path before you becomes too tight and the center beckons you to step over the lines and into its open space? Maybe the lines are only a dance floor for you to twirl and move and bow and bend with free expression? Maybe it is time to respect the quiet walking of others and move with respect and rhythm with those who share your path? Without those lines and boundaries there would be no definition of path, no journey to the center and back, no delineation of sacred space. However, if we make the labyrinth into a dogma of rules, then those boundaries tighten and there is no longer the many ways to explore the path before you.
    “Fear takes over. Fear of other. Fear of change. Fear of losing the beliefs that appear to hold my world together. I stop. I breathe. I take just one step and breathe again. One more step and all there is, is this moment of stillness. This place of being with what is. I notice the breeze. I hear the construction across the street. Birds sing. I see ant scurry across my path. I take another step and feel great movement within me. I breathe again and rejoice that I am here. That these words can fall from my fingers and I am left with enormous space within me and around me. And from this place… all things are possible.”

  • (US) Connie Fenty:
    “When I read your thought-provoking letter, I instantly gravitated toward your second point comparing personal boundaries in relationships to international borders and boundaries. Just briefly, I would say the difference in the two is whether these boundaries are consensual. In relationships, if the boundaries are not consensual, it has been my experience that they don't work. One could say the same thing about international boundaries. For example the ever moving border/boundary between Israel and Palestine. There's also the issue of how international boundaries became defined. Often times they were arbitrarily established after one of war or another. International boundaries are territorial in nature as opposed to personal/psychological when thinking of boundaries in relationships. Just doing some comparison and contrast here.”

  • (UK) “Having freedom to travel like this is something that I think I and many of my countrymen can so easily take for granted  - apart from well-known territories that are off bounds to just about everyone, there really are very few places that we can't travel to, even if some places may not always be safe to venture to.”

  • (US) “read your email and first off I am so saddened and dismayed at our state of affairs and as an American citizen I apologize to you a Canadian that you don’t feel you can come to US and for our conference! I thought of this new song I just heard and thought you might find it inspiring or comforting. Karen Drucker is one of my all time favorites! I hope you can hear the song and see Karen Drucker's video!

  • (US) “Borders and boundaries are set up to provide an illusion of safety. Boundaries or walls, keep the unwanted out, keep the unwanted in, keep the fearful in, keep the feared out, create a structure for guidance, or creativity in order to maintain a status quo, and provide limits which may be restricting or freeing. It is my opinion that all relationships, individual or international, to be healthy relationships ought to have healthy boundaries and the awareness of a co-designed relationship that is flexible and negotiable. This is a current challenge for many governments and people affected by bad human behavior...
    When working with a group of elementary children with the labyrinth I witnessed a beautiful interaction of those who walked between the lines, on the lines and across the lines. They were all held in a place of safety, trust and connection. We then discussed their experience and debriefed the walk. The children had been focused and engaged and had had a delightful experience. They were energized, curious and interested in creating their own labyrinths. The adults were challenged, caught in their own minds by their own restrictions and by rules. This provided interesting learning for all. What did the children still have that the adults had lost?”

  • (CH) Agnes Barmettler (who says hello to old acquaintances)
    "This ancient sign is inviting everyone to enter or to feel free to leave. The way is open and is leading me without any barriers from the first circuit to the next. Going step by step each standpoint changes my point of view and make me think, where originally I come from, who I am now and where I'm going to. It is like a long voyage of discovery around the earth. I don't need any passport nor the permit of any government. Being on this way, I make my own experiences and might get irritated by the unexpected turns. I begin to see many different aspects of the world and myself, so far unknown to me, such as my hesitating to accept a new insight into the way of life I usually chose to follow. Suddenly I may get aware of how to find out, when I'm trapped by silly wishes. Maybe I meet someone encouraging me to try unusual steps and to trust being guided by the designed path ahead. I might learn to acknowledge some individual restrictions, I have to get along with. Hopefully I try to see and to respect my own boundaries by recognizing my mistakes and taking them as a given chance to improve myself. It's a long, meandering way for a human being to go on. We finally may emerge from the first level to the following levels of the increasing wisdom to become, who we could be."

And, via creativa, how do we move forward, together?

  • (CH) Agnes B
    “The Labyrinth might help us to find out of the ways we should not follow any further, or help us to understand which way of life will guide us in confidence and peace to keep the world in balance… Our main security problem on this planet is far beyond the protection of some man-made country frontiers, of drawing border lines in order to get locked in or out, enacting immigration laws, building walls, fences and prisons, or using military force. These things are empty promises, pretending to give us more safety and a better life. Our most dangerous security threats are some narrow-minded thoughts we still keep like a barrier within our heads and hearts.”

  • (US) “Perhaps we have taken our freedoms for granted. We engage and challenge as we are able, crossing boundaries, taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. We walk the labyrinth in search of solutions.”

  • (CA) “where do we all meet when no longer thinking from the physical earth learned mindscapes of culture and politic....Where do our spirit energies fuse and become one? Where is the source?”

  • (UK) “Weapon-enforced boundaries and selective entry criteria are a cruel contrast to the open peaceful welcome a labyrinth permanently offers. As political language tries to make division seem totally normal  - expelling ‘the other’ from ‘our’ circle an actual rational response so the perennial message of the labyrinth is a clarion call of silent acceptance - no matter what. The shared journey gives us back our humanity, helps shine a light on the obvious reality: what we have in common is so much more than that which we don't.”

  • (UK) “The totally democratic access to the sacred that a labyrinth gives is probably the best gift we can give the world right now.... It is such a fear-free ‘thing’ to be able to offer for townscapes and temporary festivals and cuts through all that ‘civic negativity’ as we re-learn how to live together. I’d love to think my Veriditas training in Chartres gives optimism to the outreach ideas going forward—it is fair to say that England and South Africa (just two places I’m a bit more familiar with) have faced the multi faith /race/ no faith/mixed cultures inclusion right from the word go on labyrinths compared to an assumed communality as perhaps it has been until recently in the USA?”

  • (CA) “I have been going back and forth about whether or not I will go to the Gathering this year. I feel much as you do about this challenge. I just don’t like the idea of crossing the border these days. Years ago, when I lived in Montreal during the sixties I went back and forth to visit my brother in Boston and I always felt welcome, despite my anti-war pins and hippyish attire. When declaring the goods I carried I happily displayed my books and magazines about civil liberties, protest marches, and revolutionary behaviour. Some of it elicited raised eyebrows or humorous comments from border guards but there was no trouble about it. That has all changed.... We in the labyrinth world frequently quote TS Eliot’s ‘At the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place where we started and know that place for the first time.’ I am not a big fan of nostalgia but it does seem to me that Americans need to look at the beliefs and values that were once at the core of their communities and really get to know them.” [As a Canadian with a similar story, this touched me deeply. For Montrealers, NYC was the epicentre of art and culture and cool]

  • (US) “Looking at things from different angles does help in these times. Being reminded of both/and regarding borders will be helpful.”

  • (US) “How can the labyrinth be used to bring the world into community? What can we say about international boundaries and borders? Good questions! and an opening for much more discussion and conversation.”

  • (US) “Labyrinths provide a structure of safety, trust, and connection. We humans are in the midst of a paradigm shift. The world is holding both a state of failure and hope at the same time. This may not change in our lifetime. Hope is a foundation for creativity. Yes, there are facts, site locations and history about the labyrinth that make the study of the labyrinth interesting. Accessibility to labyrinths across borders, perhaps the idea for a new outreach. My curiosity lies in what can we learn from the labyrinth about ourselves and our community to be more present in the world.”

  • (UK) “binary [sacred/profane] gives you a dualistic either/or.... and quite often neither answer seems to fit. The phases are 'thesis' set an 'anti-thesis' leading to a 'synthesis'.”

  • (US) “River please flood the fences / the minefields / River please wash away anger / hatred ignorance mistrust / Wash away our old stories / that no longer serve

  • (US) “Here is what I would love to see and be part of. Somewhere along the border between the US and Canada there is a forest or a farm or ranch where one can straddle the border. Let’s build a labyrinth there with the center straddling both countries and the path winding in and out of both as well.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

I am sure the idea of borders and boundaries will also make no sense in that place. Let's build it.”

There was much more, and I hope to do justice to people’s statements in greater depth at a later date, but this will provide some idea of how passionately people want to bring the labyrinth’s lessons to our current, tumultuous, shared reality. Since Canada, like South Africa, undertook the long and difficult Truth and Reconciliation Process, bringing us all with it to embody as best we can, an image of reconciliation that resonates for me is that (somehow) we gather on Vancouver Island in BC and ask First Nations people to carry us in a flotilla of war & peace canoes all the way to Bainbridge Island, the old Suquamish tribal summer camp. Somewhat more possible might be to build a labyrinth that straddled the line between both countries, so that we could all “throw ourselves bodily” into that place beyond borders and experience ourselves in unity with one another as creatures. I have no doubt that there are artists and imagemakers and writers and dancers out there who will come up with brilliant conceptualisations for this. Bring it on!

Finally, a “Thank you!” and Respect! to all those people who so generously and bravely put their thoughts into words and shared them with me. If you feel moved to contribute your own response to the Border discussion, please contact me.  As well, TLS has launched a new World Labyrinth Committee to further the mission of serving the global community by helping to spread the word about World Labyrinth Day, encouraging more events and greater diversity in participation, and as always, supporting those who create, maintain and use labyrinths worldwide. I invite those of you who wish to participate in that conversation to contact me or Lars, and to look for it on the TLS Global Group Facebook page. This needs all of us.