Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Path for Peaceful Problem Solving

Synchronicities seem to dance through my life. The same year I was invited to attend the training for peacekeeping circles with the Tagish and Tlingit First Nations People of Carcross/Whitehorse, I was also certified as a marriage and child custody mediator. These two experiences were foundations for my work over the next several years, working with families toward peaceful resolution of their differences and working with offenders and crime victims toward accountability, acceptance and forgiveness.

By that time, I had worked for many years in the Family Law area, and saw numerous families destroyed by the adversarial character of divorce court. Couples who had once been deeply in love found themselves in new life situations. Choosing to end a marriage relationship often also ended the feasibility of reasonable communication after divorce. If children were involved, they also became victims. There had to be a better way, one that supported a friendship where love once resided.

Life is not always easy, and our dreams are not always fulfilled in the manner we first anticipated. Yet, like on a labyrinth, each step along the path leads us closer to our destined goal, even when that goal is unexpectedly different that we once imagined. Life happens. People change. Illness, injury or even death occurs when we are least prepared and are most vulnerable.

The process of walking with people and assisting in the navigation through tumultuous times is spiritually fulfilling. It also informed my work with labyrinths when I was called to use the mediation process toward peaceful conflict resolution with children. The call was to move beyond sitting at a table or in a circle and speaking from the heart. The call was to incorporate movement to encourage participation, enhance the experience and embody the process. The result was more than I anticipated.

The CrossRoads Problem Solving Labyrinth ™ is a dual path, mirror-image labyrinth template for the long-used mediation process. The process itself is not new. My now adult daughter used it as a Peer Mediator in elementary school (perhaps peacekeeping is hereditary?) What is new is the incorporation of the labyrinth walk. It is well known that children love labyrinths. Facing the task of having to sit down to talk out a problem in an office is far less enticing than the idea of working through the problem creatively while walking a colorful labyrinth. You can read more about the labyrinth at:

But the stories from teachers, students and faculty are testimony to its effectiveness. One child psychologist calls it “simply brilliant.”

The labyrinth is, and also teaches, a path to peace in our sometimes troubled world.

But why limit it to schools and children? Problem solving and conflict resolution can be as easily done with adults, in relationships and in corporate settings with great results. Moving through our problems into solutions.

Interestingly, a version of this same design is available for wedding ceremonies - walking separate paths to the center, then walking out into the world together. How symbolic it would be if couples would return to this labyrinth path to work through difficult challenges throughout their marriage.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Labyrinthine Life Journey

This year is proving to be filled with surprises and unexpected blessings. In just one month my path crossed with three spectacular women, previously unknown to me, each one producing a new collaborative adventure, sending us off together on journeys of personal challenge to explore new ideas, to stretch, to move deeply, to connect and use our unique gifts to provide opportunities for spiritual transformation. When one is open in heart and soul, the universe responds in most incredible ways.

Life continues to amaze me with its interconnections. One experience builds on another and as we look back across the years we see the connections that were not previously evident. It is something like standing at the center of the labyrinth and gazing out over the winding paths, seeing each of the turns as a necessary part of the process of reaching the goal. Taken individually, the turns may be irritating or cumbersome, but as a whole, each builds upon the others. Joys, sorrows, milestones and loses, each offers a valuable lesson. A life is created from each experience and no two are alike. The labyrinth can teach us to take stock in the life we can call our very own; to honor our own individual path and delight in anticipation of what lies ahead, unknown and unseen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Dancing Heart

I just returned from the beautiful Mandala Center in Des Moines, New Mexico where I led a weekend retreat/workshop entitled Labyrinth: Pilgrimage of Prayer.

It was a most incredible weekend with an expansive star-filled sky and full moon lighting the outdoor labyrinth set against a view of the Capulin Volcano, a national monument. We walked, danced and created both labyrinths and prayer, and explored our varied pilgrimage journeys as prayer experiences.

My work with the labyrinth has expanded over the last decade and more. I began using the labyrinth in my art, creating labyrinths on paper and cloth, and using the meadows as my artist’s canvas. I explored these paths for my personal enrichment and spiritual awareness, but soon found myself spreading out and engaging others. Now I find myself in a rather unique position in the world of labyrinths. Not only am I a labyrinth maker, with well over a hundred installations in my portfolio, but I am also an educator, retreat leader and spiritual director. I have friends who are labyrinth makers and I have colleagues who are labyrinth facilitators, but I know no one who does both as extensively.

I love the creative act of making labyrinths and I equally enjoy the process of leading people to the threshold of a spiritual encounter. The more I explore and experience the labyrinth, the more deeply I integrate it into my life and my work. It is fair to say that the labyrinth symbol is a template for the manner in which I encounter life.

Metaphorically, the labyrinth adapts to so many varied situations. Is it that the shape resembles the human brain? Or that the name also refers to an inner ear organ of the body affecting balance? Perhaps the meandering paths soothe and cleanse my soul like the gentle switchbacks of a lazy river. Certainly ancestral spirits are represented in the labyrinths built from stones. The more I explore the labyrinth, the more uses and interpretations I encounter. I will await a time when the fascination ceases, but in the meantime the opportunities for expansion seem endless. That delights my soul and sets my heart dancing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stone Trek: Where Millions Have Gone Before

I love to travel. Perhaps it is the spirit of my maternal grandmother who, at 14 years of age, traveled alone to America from her homeland in Sweden, leaving her family behind. Mor Mor Ragnhild is a young child in this family photo.

Or my father, also a Swedish native, who left his family and homeland after college and traveled to the USA to find employment in the big world outside of Scandinavia. Both traveled by ship across the Atlantic. Both entered through Ellis Island. Both traveled alone with few possessions. Both were here for many years before returning to visit their homeland. Both communicated primarily by written word with their loved ones thousands of miles away.

In today’s world we can communicate instantaneously with email and Skype. We don’t wait weeks or months for news to arrive. Letter writing, especially handwritten correspondence, is no longer the norm, but an artform. Only the imagination and fleeting memory recalls those times. I keep a cache of beloved correspondence, handwritten and yellowed on thin, almost transparent airmail stationery, written mostly in Swedish, that formed the lifeline, the umbilical cord of communication with the extended family, now mostly deceased. I can’t read the letters, but I can hold them and feel the love that was longingly tendered therein.

My inherited love for exploration of new places, communities and ways of life fuels my fascination with the ancient labyrinth symbol. Thousands of years old, embraced by widely diverse societies, this ancient symbol holds such mystery and intrigue. Traveling to and setting my feet or tracing my fingers along paths that have been traversed by people hundreds or thousands of years before me is awe inspiring. The mystical question remains open to theory and speculation, “Why?” Why were the ancient ones drawn to this form and why are we now returning, drawn once more to this ancient form? Is it an umbilical cord of Spirit? These are meander paths that bring us to our deepest wisdom, self-awareness and insight, if we allow ourselves to tread there.

Whether sliding my feet along the worn-smooth stones of the medieval cathedral labyrinths, or

tracing my fingers in circular labyrinth paths carved on boulders four thousand years ago, my breath is taken away. Perhaps it is this vacuum-like action that also opens my heart and inspires my soul.

Ancient wisdom still resides, be it in physical structures or in our very cells and DNA.
All are spiral in nature, stirring the whirlpool of consciousness.
Tread lightly, tread deeply, but tread nonetheless.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Early Encounters of the Labyrinth Kind

Labyrinths and mazes have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a child, this fascination was in the form of playful challenges and games. I remember while visiting the dentist office I would hurriedly page through the Highlights for Children magazine to the maze page, hoping that some previous patient hadn’t already completed the challenge. I still have the labyrinth game I received at age 12. It was the only desire on my birthday wish list that year and it occupied many hours of my time as a young girl.

As an adult, when I began studying peacekeeping, spirituality and mediation, I was led to encounter the labyrinth in a new way, this time not for games, but as a tool to support spiritual exploration and self-awareness.

My first encounter on a canvas labyrinth was far from pleasant, but the result was life changing. I walked a large 36 foot canvas labyrinth, similar to the above photo, as part of a breakout workshop at a national church convention.

There were 30 or more people walking this labyrinth at the same time, and I was fully occupied by trying not to lose my place on the path amidst the crowd. So much so that I was entirely unable to release that anxiety and breathe into a contemplative mindset. I was so relieved by finally reaching the center that I felt exhausted. Yet, as I stood in the center, I observed others on the labyrinth path who appeared joyful, tearful or otherwise immersed in a deep prayerful experience. Captivated by the observance that this labyrinth encounter offered the potential for much depth in human spiritual experience, I returned to the labyrinth room later when no one else was walking. There, by myself, I could explore the mystical meandering path with a calm heart and spirit. Inspired, I returned to the labyrinth several times during the conference week. Each time my labyrinth encounter was different. It became a quiet refuge from the busy conference setting.

Intrigued, I returned home and began to research labyrinths. I mowed my first labyrinth two weeks later into a clearing on our five acre property. This labyrinth lasted through the winter. These early days were the first steps on a journey of delight. As I worked with the labyrinth form, I re-connected with my creativity in a way that was integrated with my spiritual path. The journey served me through periods of grief and personal challenges as well as joyful celebrations.

While I define my childhood fascination being related more to puzzle mazes, I was delighted to revisit the Highlights magazine in October 2004 to discover an article on labyrinths. See

It teaches children the same method for drawing a pattern as I explored in my early research, and suggests walking the labyrinth to think through a problem, relax before a test or sports match, calm down when angry or cheer up when feeling sad. I am encouraged by the thought that children of today will grow up learning about the labyrinth not just as a game, but also as a process to experience and embrace life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Standing at the Blogosphere Threshold

Somewhat reluctantly, I am jumping on the blogwagon. I resist most activities that require me to sit at a computer when I could be creating art or labyrinths or petting the cat. In some ways, I think too many experiences of a sibling reading my childhood diary or eavesdropping on a teenage phone call have made me protective of my thoughts and disinclined to journal, be it on paper or at a keyboard. However, in the interest of sharing more of myself and my work, I am stepping out or stepping in to the blogosphere. My intention is to explore the questions regarding labyrinths, why here and why now?

In my discussions I will be using the term labyrinth in reference to the single-path patterns as opposed to multiple path puzzles more often referred to as mazes. The single-path labyrinth is most commonly used in contemporary society as a tool for stress reduction, calming, balancing and escaping the frenzy of the world we live in. On my website,, I offer these words:

Labyrinth walking can provide a sense of calm that is conducive to meditation, self-exploration and prayer. Though the labyrinth is thousands of years old, these ancient patterns still speak to us today. I believe our culture is so steeped in rapid stimulation, information and technology that we are yearning for places for quiet introspection and release. Labyrinths provide that well of solace where we can go to drink deeply.

Likewise, I suppose blogging can also provide an escape or a place for introspection. Perhaps it will offer an opportunity for reflection and dialog that is unlike the brevity and instant flashes we get from Facebook, Twitter and other means of rapid-action social networking.

So, pardon my rambling as I blog my way along the labyrinth path. Step one – crossing the threshold. Breathe deeply, here I go….