Spirituality

The Path Within

Labyrinths celebrate centuries-old spiritual practice, combining peaceful meandering and meditative therapy

june-2009-realizing-dreams-2

Author Susan Ketchen

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

She wasn’t exactly “a writer” in those days, but neither was she “not a writer.” Her work involved lots of writing and, once in a while, she found time to play with creative writing. “I never decided not to be a writer; I always figured I’d get to it sometime,” says Ketchen.

Then, in her early 30s, she decided to go back to school and become a therapist. Finally, she earned her first degree, a bachelor’s in general studies, and then (alongside meeting the man who would become her husband, moving to Calgary and leasing another horse) went on to earn her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

All this kept her awfully busy, but writing never faded too far into the background. There was lots of writing for school (including her master’s thesis, which focused partly on the connection women have with horses), and she also published two parodies of therapy in the Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies (her sense of humor is very evident in her book).

In the early 1990s she moved to the Comox Valley where she became a Registered Clinical Counsellor and ran a successful private practice for years.

After Ketchen closed her practice in 2004, she finally could make the time to write fiction in earnest.

“I wanted to know if I could do it,” she says. “Doing it” meant sitting at her desk for two to three hours every morning. It also included taking a course on how to write a novel with Matt Hughes at North Island College.

“The course was great,” she says. “It saved me a lot of floundering around. It helped me structure what I needed to do. And it was very practical; it included things like how to write a cover letter [for a submission to a publisher] and how to format your manuscript.”

As well, Ketchen joined a writers’ group for support and feedback.

After about two years, and numerous rewrites, Ketchen had produced a novel. Unlike Born That Way, this first novel, entitled Malice in Dairyland, was aimed at adult readers. Ketchen describes the book as “the story of a woman whose life follows a well planned trajectory until her hand attempts to push her husband into the path of a milk tanker truck while they are out on a bike ride.”

She sent it out to find a publisher. And in a somewhat roundabout way that sowed the seeds for Born That Way. The first manuscript currently sits, for the time being, in that time-honored depository of first novels, the drawer.

“I was waiting for a publisher to get back to me and was told it would take three months. I thought, ‘Oh, three months—what will I do? I’ll just write another novel.’ That was, well, optimistic, but turned out to be true. I became very disciplined with my time,” she says.

Three months later she had the manuscript of Born That Way. She sent it to a few people for feedback, including author Brian Brett, who was writer-in-residence at Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, a teacher friend, and a medical person (the novel has a medical component). Once she’d received and incorporated the feedback, she Googled ‘Canadian publishers of young adult fiction,’ and made a short list of appropriate publishers.

Ten manuscripts containing the first few chapters went out by mail and email. A couple of months later, an email arrived from Oolichan Press, a small BC publishing house based in Lantszille, saying they were interested.

“There was lots of dancing around the living room,” says Ketchen. That was last fall; the book came out in April 2009.

Currently, Ketchen is embarking on a new adventure: promoting her book. She has given readings at Vanier High School, the Muir Gallery in Courtenay, and the Nanaimo Library.

As well, she is at work on a new book, a sequel to Born That Way, tentatively titled Made That Way. “It’s half done and I’m really enjoying it.”

Ketchen is a member of the local dressage club, and the writers’ society. She is also a monitor with the Wildlife Tree Stewardship Program, which, she says, gives her an official excuse to spend many hours staring out the window—at the eagles nesting at the edge of her property.

Although Born That Way is not a novel that focuses especially on a sense of place, it seems very clear that Ketchen-as-writer is rooted in her home—not just her house, fields and horses, but also the particular rural-urban mix of the Comox Valley.

“The Valley does a bunch of things for me that I wouldn’t get somewhere else. It’s a rural lifestyle, with access to town but it’s a small town, there’s some comfort to it,” she says.

“A friend recently asked me what I’d do if I had a week to live,” Ketchen says. She pauses and then points toward the patch of floor right in front of her. “I’d be right here!” Writing and riding, as she’d originally set out to do.

For more information visit susanketchen.com
Driving on Headquarters Road heading northwest out of Courtenay on a spring day, injection
the world reads like a rapturous ode to the ideal of ‘rural.’ Fluffy white lambs frolic alongside their grazing mothers; green fields unfold gently under golden sunlight. The plum and cherry trees are losing the last of their blossoms, releasing pale petals out into the gentle wind where they spiral and eddy like confetti.

Roadside signs advertise eggs, free-range meat, horse rides and bedding plants. The farmhouses and barns suggest lives that follow the rhythms of the earth, rather than the non-stop rush of cyberspace that seems to drive much of the Western world these days.

At the end of a quiet gravel road is a grassy driveway that winds past grazing horses, sunny pastures and a well-kept barn, ending up at a welcoming country home. And in the house and up the stairs is a small room with a desk, computer, well-stocked bookshelf, and a view up the driveway—a writer’s den.

This home—fields, barn, den, all of it—is where Susan Ketchen has done two remarkable things.

One of these is tangible: a book. In her upstairs room-of-her-own, Ketchen produced Born That Way, a young adult novel she wrote in a three-month period and which was picked up by one of the first publishers she sent it to, Oolichan Press. No easy feat these days, when the vast majority of manuscripts submitted end up feeding the publisher’s paper shredder.

The other remarkable thing is not tangible at all, but is perhaps just as rare: Ketchen has realized her childhood dreams.

Pretty much from the moment she was old enough to think about her future, Nanaimo-born Ketchen knew she wanted two things: to ride horses, and to write. Although her life has taken her in a variety of directions, not all of them necessarily leading directly toward these two desires, she somehow ended up just where she wanted to be.

“Miraculously, I now live on a small hobby farm in the Comox Valley with my husband, two cats, two horses and a flock of chickens. I write and I ride,” writes Ketchen on her website.

Riding and writing meet in her book, Born That Way. The 185-page novel tells the story of Sylvia, a 14-year-old self-confessed ‘horse-nut’ who, much to her frustration, has no horses in her life, beyond clandestine visits to a chestnut mare who grazes in a field near Sylvia’s home.

Her mom is an overzealous psychoanalyst who, in spite of good intentions, smothers Sylvia with her psychological theories, seeing Electra complexes, unconscious sexual drives, and potential neuroses in Sylvia’s every thought and deed. Her dad is friendly and easy going, but distracted and unengaged.

On top of all this, Sylvia is abnormally short. Why isn’t she growing? How can she convince her parents to let her ride? How can she take charge of her own life?

The novel answers all these questions in an engaging, wise and often very funny account in which Sylvia gets help from unexpected allies including her pet barnacles, the Internet, a mysterious blond stranger, and a perceptive psychiatrist. But perhaps most important to her journey are her inner resources: a series of vivid and increasingly lucid dreams, and a deep determination that pushes her forward. Once she learns to trust and direct these inner powers, she begins to transform her life.

“I wanted to write something that would be uplifting for me,” explains Ketchen. “It was winter when I was writing it. It was dark and raining. I wanted something light, not oppressive.

“I’d been doing some research on plot. I’m part of a writers’ group and in response to [my earlier work] they kept saying this is all really well written but where’s the plot? I became curious about ‘what is plot?’ I was reading Jack Hodgins’ book, A Passion for Narrative, and he had a quote from someone saying plot is a character struggling toward the light. That really appealed to me.”

Born That Way reflects Ketchen’s interests—horses, psychology and neuroscience—but it is not autobiographical, she says. The characters and events in the book originated in her imagination and were fleshed out with research when necessary.

“You know, writers say things like, ‘Oh the character showed up and was in the room with me the whole time.’ Well that’s nonsense really, they are in our brain,” she says. But not necessarily the rational, logical part of the brain. The work of the imagination is still very much a mystery and Ketchen really doesn’t know quite how she came up with all the vivid and powerful details of her story.

“The book came to me in little pieces. I had the initial idea that begins the book—a girl riding a horse in her dreams. I started with that, and then things came to me. It unfolded itself to me—in my brain and on my computer.”

Writing, she says, has something in common with riding. “Both are tremendous challenges. You need to think of several things at once and also, you need…” She hesitates a long moment before continuing… “not to think.

“Riding, physically, takes a lot of special muscles you don’t use otherwise. But it’s not just strength that you need. It demands a certain relaxation. You need to flow with the movement of the horse.

“In writing, there are rules and conventions of grammar structure, but there is also the creative side. You can’t write good fiction just out of a rule book. Some of it has to come out of your more intuitive side.

“I can have some intentionality—I’m going to come up here and work on Chapter 3 and I have an idea of where I want it to go. But if I plan it out too much, it’s not as good as the times when I let stuff come to me.

“And that’s where the fun is, when the flow happens. Some of this book just came to me out of left field, I don’t know why or from where, and that’s what’s the most fun,” she says.

This balance—keeping a degree of conscious intention while going with the flow—applies to Ketchen’s journey through life. “I very much believe in keeping my wits about me, but going with things as they happen as well,” she says.

By the time she was 20 Ketchen was already competing in equestrian sports and had published a couple of short stories in Miss Chatelaine, a national magazine. She was obviously on track with her two goals, but a practical inner voice was pointing out that she might need to explore other fields if she ever wanted to make a living.

And explore she did. Her university career was marvellously varied: “I studied everything that interested me: psychology, anthropology, sociology, creative writing, philosophy, economics, social theory, law, business. Just one problem: to earn an actual degree, you’re supposed to focus on something. And ideally, you don’t travel around the country sampling one university after another,” she writes.

Well-educated but degree-less, she still knew exactly what she wanted: to have time to write, to have horses, to live on a farm. So she began a career as a financial policy and procedures writer with the provincial government. She invested in property, hoping to make enough to buy a rural acreage, but was stymied by a market crash. She leased a horse for a while, hiked, kayaked and kept at her job.

She wasn’t exactly “a writer” in those days, but neither was she “not a writer.” Her work involved lots of writing and, once in a while, she found time to play with creative writing. “I never decided not to be a writer; I always figured I’d get to it sometime,” says Ketchen.

Then, in her early 30s, she decided to go back to school and become a therapist. Finally, she earned her first degree, a bachelor’s in general studies, and then (alongside meeting the man who would become her husband, moving to Calgary and leasing another horse) went on to earn her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

All this kept her awfully busy, but writing never faded too far into the background. There was lots of writing for school (including her master’s thesis, which focused partly on the connection women have with horses), and she also published two parodies of therapy in the Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies (her sense of humor is very evident in her book).

In the early 1990s she moved to the Comox Valley where she became a Registered Clinical Counsellor and ran a successful private practice for years.

After Ketchen closed her practice in 2004, she finally could make the time to write fiction in earnest.

“I wanted to know if I could do it,” she says. “Doing it” meant sitting at her desk for two to three hours every morning. It also included taking a course on how to write a novel with Matt Hughes at North Island College.

“The course was great,” she says. “It saved me a lot of floundering around. It helped me structure what I needed to do. And it was very practical; it included things like how to write a cover letter [for a submission to a publisher] and how to format your manuscript.”

As well, Ketchen joined a writers’ group for support and feedback.

After about two years, and numerous rewrites, Ketchen had produced a novel. Unlike Born That Way, this first novel, entitled Malice in Dairyland, was aimed at adult readers. Ketchen describes the book as “the story of a woman whose life follows a well planned trajectory until her hand attempts to push her husband into the path of a milk tanker truck while they are out on a bike ride.”

She sent it out to find a publisher. And in a somewhat roundabout way that sowed the seeds for Born That Way. The first manuscript currently sits, for the time being, in that time-honored depository of first novels, the drawer.

“I was waiting for a publisher to get back to me and was told it would take three months. I thought, ‘Oh, three months—what will I do? I’ll just write another novel.’ That was, well, optimistic, but turned out to be true. I became very disciplined with my time,” she says.

Three months later she had the manuscript of Born That Way. She sent it to a few people for feedback, including author Brian Brett, who was writer-in-residence at Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, a teacher friend, and a medical person (the novel has a medical component). Once she’d received and incorporated the feedback, she Googled ‘Canadian publishers of young adult fiction,’ and made a short list of appropriate publishers.

Ten manuscripts containing the first few chapters went out by mail and email. A couple of months later, an email arrived from Oolichan Press, a small BC publishing house based in Lantszille, saying they were interested.

“There was lots of dancing around the living room,” says Ketchen. That was last fall; the book came out in April 2009.

Currently, Ketchen is embarking on a new adventure: promoting her book. She has given readings at Vanier High School, the Muir Gallery in Courtenay, and the Nanaimo Library.

As well, she is at work on a new book, a sequel to Born That Way, tentatively titled Made That Way. “It’s half done and I’m really enjoying it.”

Ketchen is a member of the local dressage club, and the writers’ society. She is also a monitor with the Wildlife Tree Stewardship Program, which, she says, gives her an official excuse to spend many hours staring out the window—at the eagles nesting at the edge of her property.

Although Born That Way is not a novel that focuses especially on a sense of place, it seems very clear that Ketchen-as-writer is rooted in her home—not just her house, fields and horses, but also the particular rural-urban mix of the Comox Valley.

“The Valley does a bunch of things for me that I wouldn’t get somewhere else. It’s a rural lifestyle, with access to town but it’s a small town, there’s some comfort to it,” she says.

“A friend recently asked me what I’d do if I had a week to live,” Ketchen says. She pauses and then points toward the patch of floor right in front of her. “I’d be right here!” Writing and riding, as she’d originally set out to do.

For more information visit:
www.susanketchen.com
Driving on Headquarters Road heading northwest out of Courtenay on a spring day, viagra buy
the world reads like a rapturous ode to the ideal of ‘rural.’ Fluffy white lambs frolic alongside their grazing mothers; green fields unfold gently under golden sunlight. The plum and cherry trees are losing the last of their blossoms, releasing pale petals out into the gentle wind where they spiral and eddy like confetti.

Roadside signs advertise eggs, free-range meat, horse rides and bedding plants. The farmhouses and barns suggest lives that follow the rhythms of the earth, rather than the non-stop rush of cyberspace that seems to drive much of the Western world these days.

At the end of a quiet gravel road is a grassy driveway that winds past grazing horses, sunny pastures and a well-kept barn, ending up at a welcoming country home. And in the house and up the stairs is a small room with a desk, computer, well-stocked bookshelf, and a view up the driveway—a writer’s den.

This home—fields, barn, den, all of it—is where Susan Ketchen has done two remarkable things.

One of these is tangible: a book. In her upstairs room-of-her-own, Ketchen produced Born That Way, a young adult novel she wrote in a three-month period and which was picked up by one of the first publishers she sent it to, Oolichan Press. No easy feat these days, when the vast majority of manuscripts submitted end up feeding the publisher’s paper shredder.

The other remarkable thing is not tangible at all, but is perhaps just as rare: Ketchen has realized her childhood dreams.

Pretty much from the moment she was old enough to think about her future, Nanaimo-born Ketchen knew she wanted two things: to ride horses, and to write. Although her life has taken her in a variety of directions, not all of them necessarily leading directly toward these two desires, she somehow ended up just where she wanted to be.

“Miraculously, I now live on a small hobby farm in the Comox Valley with my husband, two cats, two horses and a flock of chickens. I write and I ride,” writes Ketchen on her website.

Riding and writing meet in her book, Born That Way. The 185-page novel tells the story of Sylvia, a 14-year-old self-confessed ‘horse-nut’ who, much to her frustration, has no horses in her life, beyond clandestine visits to a chestnut mare who grazes in a field near Sylvia’s home.

Her mom is an overzealous psychoanalyst who, in spite of good intentions, smothers Sylvia with her psychological theories, seeing Electra complexes, unconscious sexual drives, and potential neuroses in Sylvia’s every thought and deed. Her dad is friendly and easy going, but distracted and unengaged.

On top of all this, Sylvia is abnormally short. Why isn’t she growing? How can she convince her parents to let her ride? How can she take charge of her own life?

The novel answers all these questions in an engaging, wise and often very funny account in which Sylvia gets help from unexpected allies including her pet barnacles, the Internet, a mysterious blond stranger, and a perceptive psychiatrist. But perhaps most important to her journey are her inner resources: a series of vivid and increasingly lucid dreams, and a deep determination that pushes her forward. Once she learns to trust and direct these inner powers, she begins to transform her life.

“I wanted to write something that would be uplifting for me,” explains Ketchen. “It was winter when I was writing it. It was dark and raining. I wanted something light, not oppressive.

“I’d been doing some research on plot. I’m part of a writers’ group and in response to [my earlier work] they kept saying this is all really well written but where’s the plot? I became curious about ‘what is plot?’ I was reading Jack Hodgins’ book, A Passion for Narrative, and he had a quote from someone saying plot is a character struggling toward the light. That really appealed to me.”

Born That Way reflects Ketchen’s interests—horses, psychology and neuroscience—but it is not autobiographical, she says. The characters and events in the book originated in her imagination and were fleshed out with research when necessary.

“You know, writers say things like, ‘Oh the character showed up and was in the room with me the whole time.’ Well that’s nonsense really, they are in our brain,” she says. But not necessarily the rational, logical part of the brain. The work of the imagination is still very much a mystery and Ketchen really doesn’t know quite how she came up with all the vivid and powerful details of her story.

“The book came to me in little pieces. I had the initial idea that begins the book—a girl riding a horse in her dreams. I started with that, and then things came to me. It unfolded itself to me—in my brain and on my computer.”

Writing, she says, has something in common with riding. “Both are tremendous challenges. You need to think of several things at once and also, you need…” She hesitates a long moment before continuing… “not to think.

“Riding, physically, takes a lot of special muscles you don’t use otherwise. But it’s not just strength that you need. It demands a certain relaxation. You need to flow with the movement of the horse.

“In writing, there are rules and conventions of grammar structure, but there is also the creative side. You can’t write good fiction just out of a rule book. Some of it has to come out of your more intuitive side.

“I can have some intentionality—I’m going to come up here and work on Chapter 3 and I have an idea of where I want it to go. But if I plan it out too much, it’s not as good as the times when I let stuff come to me.

“And that’s where the fun is, when the flow happens. Some of this book just came to me out of left field, I don’t know why or from where, and that’s what’s the most fun,” she says.

This balance—keeping a degree of conscious intention while going with the flow—applies to Ketchen’s journey through life. “I very much believe in keeping my wits about me, but going with things as they happen as well,” she says.

By the time she was 20 Ketchen was already competing in equestrian sports and had published a couple of short stories in Miss Chatelaine, a national magazine. She was obviously on track with her two goals, but a practical inner voice was pointing out that she might need to explore other fields if she ever wanted to make a living.

And explore she did. Her university career was marvellously varied: “I studied everything that interested me: psychology, anthropology, sociology, creative writing, philosophy, economics, social theory, law, business. Just one problem: to earn an actual degree, you’re supposed to focus on something. And ideally, you don’t travel around the country sampling one university after another,” she writes.

Well-educated but degree-less, she still knew exactly what she wanted: to have time to write, to have horses, to live on a farm. So she began a career as a financial policy and procedures writer with the provincial government. She invested in property, hoping to make enough to buy a rural acreage, but was stymied by a market crash. She leased a horse for a while, hiked, kayaked and kept at her job.

She wasn’t exactly “a writer” in those days, but neither was she “not a writer.” Her work involved lots of writing and, once in a while, she found time to play with creative writing. “I never decided not to be a writer; I always figured I’d get to it sometime,” says Ketchen.

Then, in her early 30s, she decided to go back to school and become a therapist. Finally, she earned her first degree, a bachelor’s in general studies, and then (alongside meeting the man who would become her husband, moving to Calgary and leasing another horse) went on to earn her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

All this kept her awfully busy, but writing never faded too far into the background. There was lots of writing for school (including her master’s thesis, which focused partly on the connection women have with horses), and she also published two parodies of therapy in the Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies (her sense of humor is very evident in her book).

In the early 1990s she moved to the Comox Valley where she became a Registered Clinical Counsellor and ran a successful private practice for years.

After Ketchen closed her practice in 2004, she finally could make the time to write fiction in earnest.

“I wanted to know if I could do it,” she says. “Doing it” meant sitting at her desk for two to three hours every morning. It also included taking a course on how to write a novel with Matt Hughes at North Island College.

“The course was great,” she says. “It saved me a lot of floundering around. It helped me structure what I needed to do. And it was very practical; it included things like how to write a cover letter [for a submission to a publisher] and how to format your manuscript.”

As well, Ketchen joined a writers’ group for support and feedback.

After about two years, and numerous rewrites, Ketchen had produced a novel. Unlike Born That Way, this first novel, entitled Malice in Dairyland, was aimed at adult readers. Ketchen describes the book as “the story of a woman whose life follows a well planned trajectory until her hand attempts to push her husband into the path of a milk tanker truck while they are out on a bike ride.”

She sent it out to find a publisher. And in a somewhat roundabout way that sowed the seeds for Born That Way. The first manuscript currently sits, for the time being, in that time-honored depository of first novels, the drawer.

“I was waiting for a publisher to get back to me and was told it would take three months. I thought, ‘Oh, three months—what will I do? I’ll just write another novel.’ That was, well, optimistic, but turned out to be true. I became very disciplined with my time,” she says.

Three months later she had the manuscript of Born That Way. She sent it to a few people for feedback, including author Brian Brett, who was writer-in-residence at Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, a teacher friend, and a medical person (the novel has a medical component). Once she’d received and incorporated the feedback, she Googled ‘Canadian publishers of young adult fiction,’ and made a short list of appropriate publishers.

Ten manuscripts containing the first few chapters went out by mail and email. A couple of months later, an email arrived from Oolichan Press, a small BC publishing house based in Lantszille, saying they were interested.

“There was lots of dancing around the living room,” says Ketchen. That was last fall; the book came out in April 2009.

Currently, Ketchen is embarking on a new adventure: promoting her book. She has given readings at Vanier High School, the Muir Gallery in Courtenay, and the Nanaimo Library.

As well, she is at work on a new book, a sequel to Born That Way, tentatively titled Made That Way. “It’s half done and I’m really enjoying it.”

Ketchen is a member of the local dressage club, and the writers’ society. She is also a monitor with the Wildlife Tree Stewardship Program, which, she says, gives her an official excuse to spend many hours staring out the window—at the eagles nesting at the edge of her property.

Although Born That Way is not a novel that focuses especially on a sense of place, it seems very clear that Ketchen-as-writer is rooted in her home—not just her house, fields and horses, but also the particular rural-urban mix of the Comox Valley.

“The Valley does a bunch of things for me that I wouldn’t get somewhere else. It’s a rural lifestyle, with access to town but it’s a small town, there’s some comfort to it,” she says.

“A friend recently asked me what I’d do if I had a week to live,” Ketchen says. She pauses and then points toward the patch of floor right in front of her. “I’d be right here!” Writing and riding, as she’d originally set out to do.

For more information visit:
www.susanketchen.com
“Walking a labyrinth is a unique and truly memorable way to honor and celebrate various milestones in your life,” says Linda Magnusen.When viewed from above, a labyrinth looks like a puzzle, a maze or perhaps some kind of weird crop circle left behind by extra-terrestrials who visited earth under cover of darkness.

A labyrinth is, however, none of the above. Simply put, a labyrinth is an ancient symbol representing life’s journey. People walk through the uni-circular pattern of the labyrinth, pause to relax and meditate at its centre, then walk out feeling better. It is a non-denominational, centuries-old spiritual practice.

A labyrinth can be laid out on the ground in a variety of ways. It can be painted on a concrete or other solid surface, identified with colored bricks or paving stones, or be a simple arrangement of stones on any natural surface, such as grass, gravel or sand. Sometimes, a series of candles are placed on the labyrinth pattern and people walk its path at night. This provides an even more mystical and spiritual experience.

Labyrinths can be very large—or small enough to, quite literally, let your fingers do the walking. You can still feel the benefits of a labyrinth by using your finger to trace its path when printed on a piece of paper or displayed on a computer screen.

Although they may look similar, a labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze—it is not a puzzle to be solved, with dead ends and blind alleys. Walking through a maze is a “left brain” task that requires logical, sequential, and analytical activity to find the correct path into and out of it. A labyrinth, on the other hand, has only one uni-circular path to the centre and then out again. It is a “right brain” task, involving intuition, creativity and imagery. The only decision you need to make is whether to enter the path or not.

In short, a maze is designed to make you lose your way. A labyrinth is designed to help you find it. Once most people understand the concept of the labyrinth, they are often still confused about how to pronounce it. The ‘y’ is silent, so you simply say “lab-rinth.”

Although labyrinths are relatively new to modern-day society—and to the Comox Valley—it is a holistic meditative tool that has been used by many cultures and religions throughout history. Evidence of its use dates back to 500 A.D.

Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has written that the fundamental element of mind/body medicine —the elicitation of the relaxation response—can be traced back to the earliest civilizations. It appears that one of our most basic bodily avenues to better health is the simple following of the breath, in and out, and the avoidance of distracting thoughts.

Dr. Benson’s research (some of it dating back to the 1960s) has revealed that focused walking meditations, such as the labyrinth, are highly effective at reducing anxiety and eliciting what he refers to as “the relaxation response.”

When eliciting the relaxation response your metabolism decreases, your heart beats slower, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes slower, your blood pressure decreases and your levels of nitric oxide increase. (This helps boost blood flow and enhances sex.)

Perhaps, as a result of research like this, the concept of building and using labyrinths to improve personal well-being is currently enjoying a renaissance. You can now find them throughout the world, at hospitals, prisons, churches, universities, public parks and even individuals’ yards. While researching this article, I looked at three labyrinths in the Comox Valley region. Two were in the development stage and preparing to celebrate their grand openings at the end of May. There are however, rumors of a few others in undisclosed locations. A fourth labyrinth will be built at Innisfree Farms in June.

It is generally believed that the resurgence of labyrinths is due, in part, to the fact that we live in a society with changing views and attitudes. In this fast-paced world, many have lost touch with their inner voice and with nature. The labyrinth is a powerful tool to help relax our frenetic minds, bodies and spirits. It is also a tool that is bridging the ever-widening gap between traditional religious rituals and new spiritual practices.

We, as a society, are being drawn to the labyrinth and exploring it as a healing tool because it provides a safe place to clear the mind and to receive answers to life’s troubling questions. It is a place to feel grounded in the present and to help guide you in the future.

The Labyrinth at Kairos

Linda Magnuson, owner of Kairos Guest Suite in Comox, is proud to have built one of the first labyrinths in the Comox Valley. Magnuson, who moved here from Alberta in 2003, says the project was inspired by a casual conversation with her daughter, Kari Magnuson, in 2004. At the time, Kari had recently been involved with a community labyrinth-building project in Nelson, BC. The idea of building a labyrinth in celebration of Linda’s upcoming 65th birthday was born one afternoon, as the two women stood on Linda’s deck and contemplated her massive backyard—at the time, a “blank slate” of green grass.

“We spent the winter researching labyrinths and working on the design for the one we would build the following summer [2004],” explains Linda Magnusen. “My yard would allow the construction of a 40-foot diameter, classic seven-circuit Cretan pattern. [Some labyrinths are larger and have an 11-circuit pattern.] My family and friends came together one hot August weekend to build my labyrinth. I really appreciated their collective efforts. It was the best birthday present ever!

“We built it using soft cedar mulch to walk on. To form the pattern, we handpicked smooth stones from a supplier in Cumberland and sun-bleached oyster shells from a local oyster plant. A hand-made log bench in the centre of the labyrinth provides a welcome place to sit and meditate.”

The Labyrinth at Kairos’ grand unveiling and dedication took place in June 2005. Since then, dozens of people —including guests of Kairos Guest Suite, friends, neighbors and perfect strangers—have chosen to walk its path of prayer and contemplation. With respect for both Magnusen’s and her guests’ privacy, visits to the Labyrinth at Kairos are by appointment only.

Magnuson has also welcomed hospice staff, volunteers and terminally ill patients to take a walk on the “mild” side in her backyard. Their reactions, she says, are varied. Some people want to talk about their experience. Others do not. It is a deeply personal and spiritual encounter. She is also open to hosting weddings, engagements, memorials and other life transition celebrations at Kairos. “Walking a labyrinth is a unique, informal and truly memorable way to honor and celebrate various milestones in your life,” she adds.

This past May, about 40 people gathered in Magnuson’s backyard to celebrate World Labyrinth Day. “The event was wonderful,” she says. “We were delighted to have the Mystic Valley Voices lead us in chanting and then, at 1 pm, they chanted with us as we all walked the labyrinth together.”

One Response to The Path Within

  1. This is a question concerning genealogy!!!! I Googled magnuson and got your site!!! A friend of mine in Campbell River is searching for her grandmother’s family.Her grandmother married Gunnard Emil Magnuson in Nelson on July 7th,1929. A second marriage for both of them.
    Are you related to them? I’d appreciate a reply. Thanks,Elaine Oh,her grandmother’s name was Dora Emily Green.