Thursday, September 20, 2012

First Steps

5 circuit tape labyrinth with 'escape hatch'  ..and the blur of children
Children in the Labyrinth

     The bulk of my Labyrinth work is done chalking variations of historical labyrinths. The Pennsic War, a Medieval re-creationist event, is where I create the most.

"It is wonderful that you make these for the children. They love them so much."

Hundreds have said this to me. "They are not just for children," I used to cry out. "Adults can use them too." 
Now, I just smile and thank them. 
     The pitter patter of little feet fill my Labyrinths to overflowing. Children will walk and re-walk the same labyrinth more than ten times at one go. Nine small bodies cram themselves into a Five Circuit that spans a few feet across. They race to the center, joyfully screaming that they solved the puzzle. With only circles lightly sketched upon the pavement, children ask if the Maze is done yet. With a few circuits and turns visible, I am trampled by enthusiastic feet seeking whatever path they can find. Games are invented and rules change faster than the children run. The Labyrinth is not just walked, it is toddled, strollered, run, scurried, raced and even crawled. Rarely is it walked.
     Working in Children's Mental Health for over a decade, I have observed many children. Biochemically, Children react differently to certain medications than adults. Drugs that will calm and focus a child are stimulants to an adult. The opposite is true as well. Labyrinths follow the same pattern. What may be a soothing experiance for one, might be an energizing, yet focusing time for the other. It may wind them up, but they come out sharp and aware. 

     "NO, Slow down. Now try it calmly. NO. walk slower. It is supposed to be a CALM thing. Like meditating..NO, SLOW DOWN!" 

     Those who learn of the Labyrinth first as a Meditative or Prayer tool seem to be very uncomfortable if it is used in any other way. I have seen people trying to force a young person to walk it slowly, disrupting her joy. Coercing her to be calm. They seem almost offended. As if the Labyrinth is being profaned. 
     We learn that how we react to others in the Labyrinth reveals to us something about ourselves. This may apply outside the Labyrinth as well. Are they disrespecting the Labyrinth? Or are they taking joy in life? Look within, what does your reaction tell you about yourself? Remember, some of the great Cathedral Labyrinths were torn up because someone thought the joyful racing of children was disruptive and counter to the Divine nature of the place. You don't want to side with those people.. do you?
     Almost 2000 years ago Pliny the Elder described the Labyrinths of Crete and Egypt, but warned that they were not the same as
   "What we see in pavement(mosaic) or open fields for the play of children." 
"ut in pavimentis puerorumve ludicris campestribus videmus"
Play is how children learn and develop. The Labyrinth can be an amazing tool to encourage them. Stimulating right and left brain, Gross motor skills ( and fine motor with finger labyrinths),  Limits, crossing the center line, peer interaction and more. A family who regularly enjoy my Chalk Labyrinths describe their use of my labyrinths as a motivator. The lure of the Labyrinth helps convince the child to leave camp. It has been used as a reward for potty training and compliance. Upon seeing me at work on one of the first labyrinths of the Event, the father cried out, "Thank God you are here, she woke up this morning and said 'LET'S WALK THE MAZES TODAY!'" Luckily, by then, there were Labyrinths to walk. I am honored that their daughter is growing up walking my art. 
     As you walk the path, you do not force the labyrinth to bend and turn at YOUR will. Do not force the path of others. Guide, advise, encourage, but do not force. 

From the feet of children we may see our own path anew.


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