For the past 19 years, hundreds of people have flocked to an Ashland sanctuary to quietly walk the labyrinth, visit altars created at the four compass corners, say goodbye to the passing year and meditate on visions and hopes for the dawning year.
It’s a sacred space, but aligned with no religion. Whatever spirit and divine guidance you find there, it’s something you brought or created. You will hear occasional live music, gentle sounds, such as Celtic harp or the notes of Ave Maria. At other times, except for the sound of shuffling feet, there will be silence.
The first few steps take you almost to the center, where you spot an altar adorned by crystals, a cow, an obelisk, small icons of no particular significance. You will stand or sit there and supply your own significance.
You walk to the center and, after a pause in the middle, you walk the same path back out, often passing dozens of people, who step aside for you.
It’s an ancient device found worldwide from the earliest years of civilizations 5,000 years ago. Despite the feisty, often violent conflicts among religions, this curious, twisting sanctuary offers nothing to fight about.
When you’re done walking it, you can sit in chairs on the side of the room and watch others walk, each of them filled with their own holy thoughts or no thoughts — or maybe thoughts of getting home to do the dishes.
There is no “getting it.” It just is. You can walk it for hours. You can find a rare element of peace not available in our busy daily lives — and, though it’s held on church ground (the Methodist Church annex on Laurel Street), it’s not what you’d find in any church. No scripture, no Psalms, no beliefs, no supreme being.
We asked Ashlanders why they came, what they found and what they take home to their lives:
Jared Cox — It’s my wife’s birthday. We are here looking for ways of transformation to the new year that will be meaningful instead of just stuff. We hope to let go of what we need to let go of and clear space where compassion is the order of the day — or year.
Sandy Newman (wife of Jared) — This is a nice way to do a walking meditation with people. It’s exciting to be a participant, to have the space to be really quiet. We have two children at home. It’s a bigtime value to have mindfulness. Life gets really busy. We’re taking this opportunity to slow things down. This and meditation help a lot.
Claire Krulikowski — It’s a time for me to refresh and set my focus on how I’d like the new year to go and how I would like to be. It’s sublime. I particularly like the quiet time when there’s no music, though I do like to walk with music too. In the next year, I’m looking for more success in my writing, to get it out there more. I found politics interferes with my personal interactions and internal satisfaction, so I want to reset and shift that whenever angst appears and put it in a higher perspective.
Anna Cassilly — It’s a wonderful opportunity to pause and go within. It’s a wonderful metaphorical tool to facilitate that journey. It brings you into the moment. I can just be with my breath and feel the energy of other people and something special we share with other people on New Year’s Eve. It’s a great opportunity to let go of the past and be open to what’s coming in and set intention for the new year.
Elizabeth Austin (creator of Ashland’s New Year Labyrinth) — The real reason I continue to do the Labyrinth Walk is I felt called, that interesting prompting from within that leads to meaningful work (or play). And when I saw how deeply it touched others, the more fulfillment I received. And on and on it goes, a beautiful, inspired circle …. To reflect, meditate and speculate and be with people I like. This is the way I like to celebrate the new year. I’m so glad others can and do. People now need and want a way to express meaning in life, more than ever. You don’t have to believe in anything specific, except to be kind to others, and peaceful. Doing this expresses my love of all. The vibration of the space and people add to my heart energy. Here, you’re peeking in at the heart of Ashland. People often come with a terrible sense of the sadness and conflict in the world and they want a place to let go of it.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.