The Labyrinth: Personal Work

seed pattern--how to draw

How to draw a classical labyrinth–used with permission.

Building a labyrinth can be great fun and it can become very personal work in one’s own life.  I’ve been building labyrinths for a long time.  Most of the time, I build labyrinths for communities to use.  They are most often temporary, to be used for a day, a retreat, or a short period of time, and then they are taken up or allowed to fade back into the earth without permanent marks or damage to nature.  The classical labyrinth is fairly easy to draw, as this illustration demonstrates. Once I learned to do this on paper, it was not difficult to begin doing this on the the floor with tape, or on asphalt with chalk, or in the woods with corn meal or string, or on the beach with sand.

Birmingham Backyard

Patrick family labyrinth, Birmingham, AL 1997

The first personal labyrinth I built was in the backyard of our home in Birmingham.  Our then three year old son joined me one Spring vacation week.  We found the stones scattered over our backyard, and we made this labyrinth.  But, it was more than a labyrinth.  We built something together–time, talk, and trust.  This was all we had to do, and it required us to do it together.  Grossly underpaid Alabama teachers, Lydia and I were working three jobs between us to support our family of five.  The week that my son and I built this labyrinth was a way for me to stop all else and just be with him.  It was very personal work, and it created a place for all of us to come and just be for the years that we remained in that house.

In the Summer of 2005 we found ourselves moving for the second time in three years.  While we were grateful to have found teaching jobs in Gwinnett County, and while the cause for the move was beyond our control, the turmoil that it created for our family was deeply painful.  It was not surprising to me, then, that I found myself, once the boxes were all unpacked, exploring space in the woods behind our house for some more personal Grove 1work–another labyrinth.  This one was much larger.  It required scouting the stream banks near our house for stones.  It took two years, but our family found itself again, in some part through building this labyrinth together.  A few years later when the great 500 year flood hit our neighborhood hard, we were expecting our labyrinth to have been washed away, as at one point it lay beneath 10 feet of rushing flood water.  Not one stone was disturbed.

Do you have some personal work to do?  Why not build a labyrinth?  Why not start by building one on paper, several times today, or whenever you need to center and ponder your life’s questions.  It’s wonderful, powerful, personal work.

Bob Patrick

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