As a society we’re becoming busier, making it that much more important to make time for quiet contemplation.
St. Albert residents have access to a good tool to promote this kind of mindfulness in a labyrinth at St. Albert United Church – but no specific religious belief is required to reap the benefits.
For Elaine Nagy, the labyrinth ministry co-ordinator at the church, taking the time to walk the labyrinth is a way to enter a prayerful state of mind and wrestle with whatever issues or concerns may be bothering you.
“People find different meditation tools that work for them, and one of the reasons I think I like the labyrinth so much as a prayer tool is because it resonates with me as a way to be mindful,” she said.
Unlike the labyrinths found in storybooks and myths, this labyrinth is not a maze where one can get lost. Rather it’s a single path winding around itself en route to the centre. One simply walks the path, contemplating whatever it is they want to better understand.
Nagy explained she often refers to the three Rs of walking the labyrinth. First you release some burdening thoughts on the way in. You then receive something at the centre, whether it’s an insight or inspiration about some aspect of your life. Finally, you return to the world you came from.
“It’s a walking meditation tool for stress reduction and a greater level of wellness and connection with an energy beyond oneself in a way that’s meaningful to the individual that’s doing it,” she said.
Labyrinths have been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries; the one at the United Church is modelled on the labyrinth found in the cathedral at Chartres in France, which was built in the early 12th century.
Nagy said the resurgent popularity of labyrinths in North America began around 1990, with the first labyrinth in Canada being built at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Vancouver in 1997. It was immensely popular right from the beginning, she explained, as shortly after it was built the city hosted an international AIDS conference. People of all religious persuasions were able to find some benefit to walking the labyrinth.
“It’s precisely because it’s useful both to religious people, who see symbols in a labyrinth, and to non-religious people,” she said. “They find it a useful way to relax and be in touch with themselves, and something beyond themselves.”
The outdoor labyrinth in St. Albert was built in August 2011, and was meant to be a gift for the community so that residents could make use of it whenever they needed to.
Morinville psychologist Thomas Holmes said the practice of mindfulness has a definite positive influence on one’s mental health and wellness, especially as we become busier as a society. Within professional mental-health circles, the idea of mindfulness has come to the forefront.
“Our days are so busy and so filled with activities, it’s what I as a psychologist would call ‘disregulating,’” he said. “Meditation and mindfulness provides that time of personal reflection and in those times we begin to understand our thoughts, emotions and experiences better.”
Benefits of mindfulness, whether through walking a labyrinth or otherwise, include regulating emotions and thoughts, promoting creativity and improving mental processes, and also improve our mood as we let go of some of our built-up stress.
The risk we run by failing to take the time to regulate is that the parts of our brain responsible for higher-order thought processes – as opposed to the lower-order processes like breathing and regulating heart rate – simply don’t function optimally from a physiological standpoint.
“When we’re ‘disregulated’ and we don’t take the time to regulate the parts of our brain we need to, we actually can’t access the cortex,” he said. “We can have sudden emotional reactions to events we might not otherwise have.”
The brick labyrinth in St. Albert, located behind the United Church next to the memorial garden, is available for anyone to use at no charge. For more information contact the church at 780-458-8355.