A Healing Walk

Here’s a beautiful way to celebrate the approaching Summer Solstice: Visit the Toronto Public Labyrinth on Sunday, June 21 from noon to 1 p.m. You don’t have to be a Toronto psychic medium to enjoy a relaxing walk outside in balmy weather, so why not take pleasure in some meditative quiet time and walk a labyrinth? Perhaps you, like one woman I want to tell you about, may find the experience both life-changing and healing.

The Toronto Public Labyrinth is located in Trinity Square Park, next to the Church of the Holy Trinity, which is between the Eaton Centre and Marriott Hotel. On a map, look for the intersection of Bay Street and Dundas Street West. The labyrinth is wheelchair-accessible, and a Braille sign is available. The park is always open and lighted in the evenings.  There is no cost to walk the labyrinth.

Though the labyrinth is always open, on special days like equinoxes and solstices, live Renaissance music accompanies walkers.

Jo Ann Stevenson, of Markham, Ontario, is the co-founder and president of the Labyrinth Network (www.labyrinthnetwork.ca), a group which oversees the labyrinth. The Network is also dedicated to spreading the word about the how spiritually energizing it is to walk the circular path. There are about 120 labyrinths in Ontario; the group’s Web site also has links to other labyrinth groups and sites around the world.

For the uninitiated, there’s a great difference between a labyrinth and a maze: A maze is a complex system of paths that lead to many false ends, and its goal is to confuse people. A labyrinth, on the other hand, has only one path, and encourages walkers to relax and go within themselves. The one path leads to a central “node point”, which invites walkers to pause, reflect and meditate.

“The labyrinth pattern strikes me as otherworldly,” Stevenson says. “While walking, I get the feeling something has come down to touch the earth.”

Stevenson, a retired journalist, has been walking labyrinths since she was in college. Her favourite is at Chartres Cathedral in France: “It’s made of hallowed stones that have been there since the 1100s, and you can feel the people who walked there before you.”

She also credits walking the labyrinth with helping her survive breast cancer. Being diagnosed with the disease filled her with such stress and fear; she found she could no longer meditate. But she missed the practice. So the next time she walked a labyrinth, located in a nearby church, she purposely moved slowly, and imagined herself holding a candle that symbolized the divine helping her navigate the uncertain twists and turns of her life.

“Afterwards, when I went to the cloak room to get my coat, a woman said to me, ‘I saw your candle.’ Suddenly, I choked up,” Stevenson remembers. “That confirmed for me the labyrinth was a special place – a metaphor for a life full of turns, and we don’t know how long our life will be. But we just know it’s special.”

The next day, Stevenson called Toronto City Hall, trying to find out what it would take to put a labyrinth in a public park. Interestingly, Ann Turner, a gardener, was also petitioning Toronto to create a “Healing Garden”. City officials connected the two women and in 1997, a labyrinth was built in Trinity Square Park. The labyrinth has wheelchair access, so anyone who wants to travel the peaceful path can do so.

Stevenson and Cathy Anderson collected people’s experiences on labyrinths in their book Mystery Stories From the Labyrinth, which is available on the Web site. But her favourite tale is her own.

“My life is about being connected to my spirit,” she says. “The labyrinth helps me stay connected.”

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. Write me at carolyn @ carolynmolnar.com , and please visit me again!

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