A student tends to Whitman’s labyrinth

Whitman’s new labyrinth provides a spot for meditation and more.

What do Whitman College and Chartres Cathedral have in common? Both are home to labyrinths, maze-like paths that provide a place for reflection and contemplation.

Whitman’s labyrinth was inspired by the one at France’s famous medieval cathedral, but the tradition of labyrinths goes back to well before the Middle Ages. They were the key element to an ancient kinesthetic or “walking” meditative practice that is again growing in popularity around the world, says Whitman’s Interfaith Chaplain, Reverend Adam Kirtley, who has wanted to bring a labyrinth to campus for many years.

“They can be a powerful spiritual and meditative tool that is not necessarily tied to a specific religious tradition,” Kirtley says. He adds that the kinesthetic nature of walking meditation—focusing step by step—can be beneficial for those who find typical meditation styles difficult.

The labyrinth is a project of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, but it was brought to fruition with the help of Facilities Director Tony Ichsan and Landscape Supervisor Jeff Jensen (who built the 36-foot outer circle and an inner meditation bench, both made of logs), as well as many volunteers from the college community who showed up to paint stones before placing them on the path.

Justice and Joy

In addition to being a place to practice meditation, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life also plans to use the labyrinth for events that bring the campus community together to reflect on shared experiences and raise awareness of social justice issues.

The labyrinth’s installation in March serendipitously coincided with the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. In response, Kirtley led “Walking with Loss and Hope,” an evening event that presented some of the ways various religious traditions confront loss and gave students the chance to walk the labyrinth and place candles along the path. The gradual illumination symbolized growing hope.

Although it serves as a beautiful site for serious and silent reflection, the labyrinth can also be a place for connection and celebration. On installation day, students chatted, laughed, and even danced along its path—and that’s just fine by Kirtley.

“Ideally, you bring whoever you are and wherever you are to this space,” he says.

Whitman's Labyrinth