A Winding Path of Stones Creates a Space for Reflection, Hope and Meditation.
After you pass Reid Campus Center in the direction of town, turn left and follow the flowering Cherry Blossom tree up Marcus Street. Take a right. There you will find the fascinating, and slightly mysterious, new addition to campus: a labyrinth.
Interspersed with painted stones and bordered by wood, the labyrinth provides an outdoor interfaith space for the Whitman College community.
Labyrinths are single path structures built for the purpose of meditation, reflection and contemplation. The kinesthetic nature of walking meditation can be a helpful focusing point for those who find typical meditation styles difficult. Whitman’s Interfaith Chaplain, Reverend Adam Kirtley, along with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, led the installation of the labyrinth behind Marcus House and the campus bike shop on Shady Rill Street.
“Labyrinths can be a powerful spiritual and meditative tool that is not necessarily tied to a specific religious tradition,” Kirtley says.
On March 27, Kirtley will host the labyrinth’s first event: “ Walking with Loss and Hope”. During periodically spaced presentations, students will learn about how various religious traditions confront loss and hope. They will then be invited to walk the labyrinth and place candles along the path. The light from the candles will represent growing hope.
“It feels like March is the month to acknowledge the loss that we’ve had but also acknowledge that we have reason to be hopeful,” he says as the global community reflects on the pandemic’s toll.
The Story Behind the Stones
The labyrinth was brought to life with the help of Facilities Director Tony Ichsan and Landscape Supervisor Jeff Jensen, who built the thirty-six-foot in diameter outer circle and the inner meditation bench. Religious and Spiritual Life intern and first-year student Merry Cockroft, was also instrumental in coordinating the project.
The Whitman labyrinth is inspired by the Chartres Cathedral, built during the medieval period, in France. The Chartres labyrinth is formed by inlaid stone in the center of the church with space to pause in the center. It is an eleven-circle labyrinth, while Whitman’s has seven circles.
“There is some balance and symmetry that I think adds to the sense of balance we are seeking in our lives when we walk it, and yet it is imperfect. The edges are rough—as are our existences. I think it is rich with symbolism and meaning,” Kirtley says.
Whitman joins many colleges and universities around the world that have built labyrinths in recognition of their effectiveness in serving both people with and without religious tradition. For Kirtley, the labyrinth has already become an essential tool for his regular spiritual practice.
“There are so many folks who come to Whitman without necessarily having a religious tradition but feel a need for spiritual groundedness.”
Kirtley looks forward to aligning the labyrinth with social justice programming. Over time, more and more stones will be painted to reflect the various events held. In the labyrinth, Whitman gains not only a spiritual space but a tool for a multitude of future community events.
However, the labyrinth is not exclusively for silent meditation. On installation day, students were invited to paint some of the rocks that create the labyrinth. The appropriate time to interact with the labyrinth is on an open schedule when you are not rushed. It is meant to be a place to focus and gift oneself the time to absorb the experience.
“Ideally, you bring whoever you are and wherever you are to this space.”