Wend Your Way to Peace and Contentment

Reprinted from Toronto Globe and Mail (June 16, 2007) by Melissa Whetsone

Every month, Leslie Bolt puts on her walking shoes, pulls the laces tight and heads from her home in Unionville to the Eaton Centre. But it's not visions of iPods or a new summer dress that fill her head. Instead, she pictures herself rising from her wheelchair and walking a labyrinth.

Just beyond the doors of the shopping mecca sits the Toronto Public Labyrinth. Within its circular shape, which measures about 22 metres in diameter, is a path marked by two-toned interlocking bricks. The path weaves walkers left and right before leading to the labyrinth's centre and back out.

The labyrinth gives people a break from their chaotic lives. "You're outside following this specific path. It's not a maze. ... It's a really relaxing, brings-a-peace-of-mind activity," says Ms. Bolt, a former patient at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), who had surgery for a brain condition.

Labyrinths are enjoying a resurgence as a rehabilitative/spiritual tool, easing into mainstream healing practices. According to the Labyrinth Community Network, there are 91 in Ontario, and the Labyrinth Society lists more than 1,800 in the United States, located in hospitals, churches, schools, jails and people's backyards.

Wanting to share the wonder of the labyrinth, Ms. Bolt teamed up with TRI and Jo Ann Stevenson, chair of the Labyrinth Community Network, which launched the TPL project. "It's a very sort of focused, be-in-the-moment activity and it's very calming. ... It can be spiritually quite uplifting and really good for some people who are agitated or having some mental-health disorders as well," Ms. Bolt says.

Tucked away in Trinity Square Park, with the Eaton Centre, a Marriott hotel and Church of the Holy Trinity as its neighbours, the TPL sits in a surprisingly quiet green space. It's surrounded by a patch of lush grass and encircled by small green shrubs.

The TPL is one of 18 public and private labyrinths in Toronto. Some, such as the one at the Metropolitan United Church, are indoors, drawn on a portable canvas, while others, such as the one in High Park, are painted on concrete. Toronto landscape architect Michael Presutti of MEP Design adapted the design for the TPL, which opened in 2005, from the 13th-century pattern on the floor of France's Chartres Cathedral.

About five patients from the TRI use the TPL on a weekly basis, says Angie Andreoli, a physiotherapist who chairs the TRI's Labyrinth Working Group. "We had done some things really well — their physical rehab, their cognitive rehab — but not so much their emotional or spiritual rehabilitation," she says.

"In trying to build in community integration, transition, interaction [into patient care], we decided that the labyrinth is a really good fit towards meeting all of those goals."

While each walker sets his or her own pace, it takes about 20 minutes to walk the TPL.

"If you've been in a car accident, that's a long walk for you," Ms. Andreoli says, "so they share their amazement with their ability to do an activity that they previously hadn't been able to do."

For patients whose mobility level is restricted, hospitals and TRI have introduced finger labyrinths. These allow them to trace a smaller version of the labyrinth's pattern onto a piece of paper and follow the path with their finger.

The TPL is wheelchair-accessible. A Braille version, which works similarly to a finger labyrinth, is planned for a nearby plaque this month.

You don't have to be in rehab to gain the benefit of the path. Ms. Stevenson estimates that 15 to 20 people from all walks of life use the Toronto labyrinth each day. "It's a universal tool for a spiritual journey."

No minotaurs here

All labyrinths are universal, meaning they have one path that leads you in a roundabout way to the centre and back again. They are designed to calm and quiet the mind.

A maze has branching paths, i.e., there are several different routes to choose from. A puzzle to get lost in, it is designed to trick and deceive.