Shortly after my spouse started working at Elon University in the fall of 2012, she mentioned a permanent labyrinth located on campus, not too far from her University Communications office in Truitt Hall. It got her attention as a pathway to pause, reflect or meditate. That is, after all, what it’s there to do. She likes that kind of stuff.
As for me, well, I’m not usually quite so New Age. I’m not likely to strike a yoga pose, chant “ommmm,” or walk around in circles. Well, forget the last one. I’ve walked around in circles for years but not intentionally. Anyway, I’m much more likely to say, “hmm, this labyrinth deal sounds cool. I think I’ll have a beer now and find a Cardinals game on TV.”
And I really didn’t think much about the labyrinth again until several days ago when Roselee, who hasn’t mentioned it in a long time, sent me a photo of the labyrinth by email. She happened upon it by accident – the image was filed under the wrong name at her office. It was a photo of the labyrinth taken from the air – probably by a drone. It was a pretty dramatic photo that snagged my attention.
“I gotta go see this thing,” I said.
Roselee told me it was close to my office in Johnston Hall. She was incorrect. It’s ridiculously close, like right behind it not more than 100 yards away. I walked toward a building I learned is Holt Chapel and found the labyrinth beside it, near a meditation garden with a bench in the shade. The labyrinth, a curvy stone path marked by hairpin turns, leads to a center containing a small oak tree.
The first time I walked the labyrinth I decided to see how quickly it could be done on an initial attempt – which basically defeats the purpose of the entire experience. And besides, it can’t be done with much speed (OK, 5 minutes, maybe but falling is definitely a concern) and honestly navigate those turns anyway. The idea behind walking the labyrinth is no real idea at all. It’s a personal exercise without established goals. It’s meditation. It’s reflection. It’s clearing the mind. It’s whatever a traveler on the path wants to find. Users start at the beginning, stroll along the path until reaching the center. There, they pause at the oak tree for as long or as short a time as they wish before following the path back to the start.
What I discovered right away is that I liked this labyrinth quite a bit. Unlike a maze, which can be a series of complex paths that create a puzzle, the labyrinth at Elon offers a clear but circuitous route to the center. Reaching the center is the object of the exercise, for those who are paying attention.
This labyrinth was dedicated in December of 2008. It was built following a donation by the family of the late Helen Jackson Lindsey, who graduated from Elon in 1952. According to a story published on the Elon University website in 2008, the meditation garden was designed by Tom Flood, who is still director of buildings and grounds at Elon and is also associate director of physical plant. I haven’t met him but the one thing I know about Tom Flood is that he’s exceptionally good at his job. Elon’s campus is immaculate and consistently listed among the most attractive in the nation. This spot at Holt Chapel fits in perfectly.
One very compelling feature of the meditation garden and labyrinth is a memorial stone near the entrance. It is in memory of students who died while enrolled at Elon.
I couldn’t find more information online about the labyrinth, which may be by design. After all, a crowd would likely impede the pathway to enlightenment, peace, greater creativity or whatever someone might want to gain from the experience. But it’s also very out of the way on Elon’s campus and something many students might not be aware of. It’s on the far south side of campus near the golf practice center. It’s on the opposite side of the campus from the more bustling Global Neighborhood, Moseley Center and Inman Admissions Welcome Center. It’s across the railroad tracks from the Historic Neighborhood.
Now that I’ve walked it a few times – and I’m not holding a stopwatch any more – I’ve come to appreciate it as a space to get away from whatever I’m doing for a few minutes. When I return to work, it’s with a fresh look at whatever I’m working on. It may help in other ways, too. I did this while working in downtown Burlington at the Times-News. There my favored quiet walking space was Pine Hill Cemetery. But it was often not feasible for me to walk that far or that long a time — especially on a 90-degree day.
“Think of it as a journey, a spiritual journey,” then-Elon chaplain Richard McBride said when the site was dedicated in 2008. “I hope you will use the labyrinth we now have as a place of personal spiritual practice.”
I will. Below are more photos taken at the site.