Labyrinths are a tool for self-discovery

Therese J. Dube, SASV, hospital chaplain at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, led a Labyrinth Walk at the hospital on July 24. Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak
By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE For centuries, labyrinths have held profound energy and for some individuals on the evening of July 24, they personally discovered this truth during a Labyrinth Walk at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital.

Therese J. Dube, SASV, hospital chaplain, facilitated the event as part of a weeklong celebration to mark the 135th anniversary of the Sisters of Providence ministry in the region. The Sisters of Providence sponsor the Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Westfield, Providence Ministries for the Needy in Holyoke, Catholic Health East's Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS) in Springfield, and Providence Place in Holyoke.

"The labyrinth is a powerful symbol, a splendid archetype for transformation, quietude, inner healing and renewal," Dube said during an interview with Reminder Publications.

Labyrinths have been around for centuries and are considered a path to peace and tranquility. While labyrinths may resemble a maze they are not, Dube stressed.

During an introductory talk before the Labyrinth Walk, which was open to SPHS employees, Dube explained that mazes are created to confuse while a labyrinth has one path to center, and is designed to offer peace and solace to those who enter it.

"The labyrinth is a sacred meeting place for those longing for God, longing to be in Love's presence," she added.

During last week's walk, participants entered the Santa Rosa Labyrinth that Dube painstakingly took several hours to create. The labyrinth design is by labyrinther Lea Goode-Harris, Ph.D., of California. The seven-circuit labyrinth has quarter and half turns like the medieval labyrinths, with the addition of a heart space on the fourth path that is approached from all four directions.

The most recognized and diverse labyrinths include two from antiquity, the Classical Labyrinth, the Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth in Chartres, France, and the contemporary Santa Rosa Labyrinth.

Dube outlined guidelines that one should follow before entering the labyrinth. First, start with attention and become mindful that you are in a sacred place. Secondly, determine your intention why are you walking the labyrinth? For peace? For healing? For psychospiritual growth? Lastly, Dube encouraged participants to choose a mantra a word or phrase to repeat while in the labyrinth that could help reduce the mental chatter one might encounter that would prevent them from being in the moment.

Following her brief remarks, Dube noted "the room is yours" to the participants and encouraged everyone to take in the sights and sounds at their own pace.

A flickering heart-shaped candle led the way into the labyrinth under dimmed auditorium lights as participants slowly worked their way through the seven circuits. Dube had accented the labyrinth with a variety of cacti, succulents and blooming flowers that could be touched and focused on along the path that added to the serene setting.

"If we are present in the moment we can listen to them speak," she noted, reminding participants that plants have a strong life force.

The wide variety of plants was flanked by Tibetan bowls that could be sounded with hand instruments, as well as intriguing sculptures from Africa. Additionally, tranquil chanting music flowed effortlessly across the auditorium. At the center of the labyrinth was a tall wooden sculpture of three merged bodies flowing upward.

"All of the symbols represent unity and remind us we are interconnected to Mother Earth," Dube said, adding that everyone "should be open and let unfold whatever will unfold."

An hour quickly passed and following the session participants agreed that the experience had been personally "enlightening" and at times "soul wrenching." Participants also agreed they were glad they had taken the time to learn more about the labyrinth and its healing powers.

Dube noted that every time one enters a labyrinth the experience is different. She especially finds that to be true each month when she offers the Labyrinth Walk to individuals in the hospital's intensive outpatient program, as well as its methadone, detox, adult psychiatric and adolescent programs.

"When are you doing this again?" she said many of the patients ask her following the sessions.

For Dube, the hours that she spends each month creating the Santa Rosa Labyrinth are a labor of love.

"The experience is so powerful for our patients," she said, adding that when patients come together to walk the labyrinth, something happens that transcends words.

"Like poetry and art, you can't say what it is since it speaks to people differently and profoundly and touches them where they need to be touched," she added.

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