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Walking Kitsap's labyrinths one foot in front of the other
A maze is confusing by definition, with many paths from which to choose.
Rae Hight’s labyrinth, EmmaBella, has only one way out — the same as the path in.
“When somebody comes to a labyrinth, it’s a free market, no rules,” said Hight, a South Kitsap wellness coach. “It’s not about religion. So many people think it’s a religious thing. It’s meditation, period.”
Hight’s is one of several labyrinths in Kitsap — they are maze-looking ground designs curious to the uninformed eye, laid out often with stones, bark wood or greenery. For thousands of years, and in many different cultures, they have been used to meditate, to find focus or strength, or to pray. Found near hiking trails, on resort properties or church grounds, labyrinths have an intriguing presence. But their use — not pagan or cultish, simply spiritual — is truly up to the user.
Poulsbo’s Morgan Hill Retreat owner Marcia Breece built a labyrinth on the retreat’s property. It is nearly 40 feet wide, with eight “circuits,” or layers, and is lined with rocks she collected from her travels. Stones from Nepal, Patagonia and China line the path, which she created, in part, with her own hands.
“It just seemed like the right kind of feeling to have,” she said, adding that one man, in an attempt to visit every labyrinth in the area, came to Morgan Hill via bus and foot just to walk its curves. A couple was married at its center, and many who visit the grounds stay awhile, inspired in thought or writing.
“People that love them really love them,” she said.
Grecian labyrinths are different from mazes, as they only have one route to follow. They are also unicursal, meaning those who enter them exit them the same way.
There are varying designs, the most popular being the Cretan — a rounded stack of c-shaped circuits.
The Chartres design — a more flowery, criss-crossed version — came from Christians in the 13th century. An example of it can be seen on Bainbridge at Grace Episcopal Church, where a labyrinth is marked with stones from local beaches and parishioners’ travels. The labyrinth is modeled after one found at Chartres Cathedral in France.
There are more of them in the area, as well as many near Kitsap, including in Allyn and Gig Harbor. Sacred Groves, an intentional living sanctuary on Bainbridge, has a labyrinth.
Hight said activity within them varies: some walk the paths to the center, then return through the path to the opening, while others simply step out after reaching a labyrinth’s middle. Some run in them, and children often skip or play.
“It’s meant to help you just be present,” she said. “When you’re walking it, it gives you the freedom to appreciate the Earth if you choose.”
She added many hospitals have installed labyrinths on their grounds, as meditation reduces stress levels, which encourages healing. Labyrinth boards — smaller, indoor versions — have been created, as have finger labyrinths, which can be “walked” simply with the hand or the eyes on something as simple as a sheet of paper.
“We walk labyrinths like we live life. It’s a metaphor,” Hight said. “If you come upon a labyrinth, make friends with it. When you see a labyrinth, walk it. Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to feel, what you’re supposed to think. Just walk it.”
Hers is open to visitors one Sunday a month, so long as they call ahead. She walks EmmaBella at least a few times a week, and said it provides a kind of engaged meditation. Before she enters, Hight sets her intentions based on whatever she is thinking or praying about. She stressed that labyrinths are “equal opportunity,” for anyone of any faith or persuasion.
Hight is part of the Western Washington Labyrinth network. Find more information on labyrinths at LabyrinthSociety.org. Read Hight’s blog at RaeHight.com.