Walking As One

Walking is a time-honored way to meditate, ruminate, and otherwise seek clarity. Walking a labyrinth gives each footstep even more meaning. And walking in community brings added sweetness to the experience.

On World Labyrinth Day, May 7, people all over the world gathered to “walk as one at 1” in the afternoon. The idea behind this annual event, according to the Labyrinth Society, is to “create a wave of peaceful energy washing across the time zones.”

The Rivoli Park Labyrinth hosted a potluck and group walk, representing the local community on a day when some 200 public events took place across the globe. An intermittent drizzle didn’t keep us from sharing soup and salad while we made new connections and renewed old acquaintanceships. At 1 it was time to drift into the circle of the labyrinth as we each felt ready.

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Walking the labyrinth as one

I had never participated in a communal labyrinth walk before, and I found it quite lovely to share the labyrinth with others. Each in our own space and yet connected, some chatting, some silent. Sometimes meeting on the path and clasping a hand as we passed each other with a smile. At one point I found myself walking next to an acquaintance who gave off motherly vibes, and I impulsively decided to take her hand until our paths diverged.

When I enter the sacred space of a labyrinth, I like to set an intention or ask a question. My intention for this particular labyrinth walk: To take nourishment from all quarters. I was feeling depleted after a busy week and several short nights. The meal we shared was one source of sustenance, and I wanted to see if I could also be nourished by the air, the rain, the soil, the plants, and the beings around me, both human and nonhuman—and the movement of walking itself.

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The boulder in the center is a perfect resting spot.

Afterwards, I did feel restored.

What makes this labyrinth unique is the fact that it is a pocket park situated on a vacant lot in the heart of the city, a public space developed and managed by volunteers. Lisa Boyles, Rivoli Park’s founder, strives to bring people together through art, so the park has numerous community-made art pieces displayed. (Note the paintings on the fence in the photo above.)

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Walkers can record their thoughts in a log book at the start/end point of the labyrinth. Lisa sees the logbook as a way to encourage reflection and sharing, and to build community among solitary walkers as well.

In fact, creative expression is built into the design of the labyrinth itself.

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The “pole of possibility”

According to Lisa, the pole at the entrance to the labyrinth marks one of three “focus points” in the labyrinth. Volunteers from 2015’s Indy Do Day (citywide service day) decorated the bricks. “The poles at the three focus points,” she says, “were handmade expressly for the purpose they are serving now as delineators of the focus points. This tall one at the entrance of the labyrinth I like to call the ‘pole of possibility.’”

In keeping with the art theme, Lisa invited the “Seeds of Common Sound” music bus to take part. On board the bus, we could add to communal art pieces, play instruments, and get inspired.

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Communal art on board the music bus

Care for creatures is another role of this labyrinth, as it was just designated a certified wildlife habitat. Here is our little group with the plaque.

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I plan to visit Rivoli Park often over the growing season to watch the plant, animal, and insect life flourish there. And to seek nourishment for my soul in this place of quiet reflection.

Placemaking in the City

It’s hard to imagine right now, with a spring storm threatening to deposit up to 10 inches of snow on us, but in a few weeks my neighborhood will come together for an annual spring cleanup. Volunteers will fan out to pick up a winter’s worth of litter, with the support of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.

I love my neighborhood for many reasons–one of which is the dedicated cadre of people who work tirelessly to pull us together for the greater good. It’s amazing what this group can pull off: tree plantings, rain gardens, murals, pocket parks, public art projects, greenspaces galore.

A local artist paints a traffic signal box as part of a public art project. Photo by Heidi Unger.

A local artist paints a traffic signal box as part of a public art project.

Working together on projects has meant lots of neighbor-to-neighbor bonding time. When you’re trying to see past your poncho hood to pull soggy candy wrappers from a ditch, the person standing in the rain with you to hold a trash bag open becomes a good pal.

There’s a sense of solidarity and shared ownership, and civic pride out the wazoo. That leads to more ambitious community endeavors, like painting local artists’ designs on all the major intersections’ traffic signal boxes.

Similarly, in my book research I’ve learned of a group called City Repair, out of Portland, OR. This group works to reclaim urban spaces through placemaking. Rather than waiting for someone in charge to come along and “fix” a neighborhood, City Repair takes a DIY approach (or really DIWO – do it with others!).

Placemaking is all about creating gathering spots, or areas that support other community functions–composting, bike parking, safety, resource sharing, etc.  Examples in Portland:

  • public squares
  • meeting houses
  • community kiosks/benches
  • “solar-powered and artistic innovations”

With its emphasis on ecological and artistic transformations, City Repair is an inspiration. Their site offers placemaking resources. Check them out, and let me know what kinds of community endeavors are happening in your neck of the woods.

Postscript: Just as I was finishing this post, I found this great story of transforming a vacant lot into a public space – simply by adding seating.