6.3 Labyrinth at Westminster Retreat

The Westminster Retreat at Alamo, California began life as the estate of someone affluent. The property includes a carriage house, pool, and tennis court, in addition to the grand manor itself.  The estate abuts a regional park.  Today, the retreat can be rented for events like the South Bay Writers’ Workshop, I treated myself to this past Labor Day weekend. 

Adjacent to the carriage house is access to a hiking trail.  Early one of morning of the workshop I got myself going for a two-mile, mind-quieting, out-and-back.

On the way back, the morning chill sluffed off, I discovered the estate labyrinth.

I entered labyrinth, given its shape by concentric arcs of brick. Perhaps for the first time ever in my life, I felt an otherworldly cloak settle over my shoulders.   Immediately, everything outside the perimeter became fuzzy an out of focus:  my right brain elbowing my left brain out of the way.

I lived half my life ignorant of the special mission of labyrinths.  I supposed them to be the cousins of crop circles and hex symbols.  Unaware they are instruments of meditation.

A labyrinth has a single, unambiguous path to the center and back. Not be confused with a maze, a complex branching puzzle with choices of path and direction.

I stepped forward, and my pace became funereal as I traced the pattern pausing at each turn.  There to inhale deeply, alert for anything that might be rising from a secret recess of my mind.

In time I arrived at the cul-de-sac at the center of the labyrinth; those last steps revealed a precipice. I looked out at a long valley sprawling before me. 

When I turned around,  I looked at a long twisting downhill mountain trail.  My pace quickened, and my Left Brain began to intrude, asking the length of the uncoiled labyrinth, the diameter, and other technical questions.  He was here to guide me back to the earthly realm.  Left Brain recorded steps as Right Brain smiled a see ya’ later.  I exited the labyrinth.  I turned and saw a 30-foot circle–the long sprawling valley now a 80-foot meadow.

The labyrinth is a metaphor that philosophers and storytellers alike would do well to remember:  no matter how complex the path, it ends at the beginning. 

8 Responses to 6.3 Labyrinth at Westminster Retreat

  1. michael says:

    as does life . . .

  2. David Bauer says:

    Your experience is an interesting one, Al. According to psycho-therapist C.G. Jung
    labyrinths are a type of mandala, which is an archetype reflecting the source of human consciousness. In Jung’s words, ” I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation. … I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate. – C. G. Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

  3. David George says:

    Al, I too discovered the labyrinth during my critique group’s private retreat at the Westminster facility in August. Alas, I was underwhelmed by its diminutive size and lack of vertical confinement. I and my children enjoyed a much more challenging labyrinth in New South Wales, Australia. Very reminiscent of the English garden beauties of lore. Unfortunately, I felt no mystical energy emanating from the Westminster equivalent. Maybe next time. – DG.

  4. I never knew the difference between a maze and a labyrinth, and it’s an important one…Thanks,

  5. karen wittgraf says:

    I just love the word itself..sounds so mystical, so poetical, and used rarely. You have enlightened me, as always. I’ll search for one. Think I can find one in Minnesota? Many mazes, however.
    I see it in my mind, only from references to it from English novels.

    • Katherine Schumm says:

      Karen. Did you find one? The Episcopal Cathedral near Loring Park has one (or did when I lived there). Was a moving experience. Hope you found it.

      • allevenson says:

        I am not familiar with Loring Park. Google says it’s near Minneapolis. I am not sure if/when I will get to that area. I am always happy to have something to add to The Bucket List. Thanks Katherine

  6. Pat Bean says:

    I walked a labrinth this past spring. What a peaceful experience it is. Thanks for sharing. I’m back on the road again, heading to Yosemite tomorrow.

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