On the day of the fall equinox, a colleague and I organized a labyrinth walk, laying out the heavy 22 ft. canvas labyrinth in the stone circle of the Lion’s Memorial Garden. It was warm for late September, and for the exception of the pounding of a drill on the west side of the hospital, a perfect day for the walking meditation. People came throughout the noon-time period—staff, out-patients, families--quietly walking the twists and the turns of the path in socked feet. Some used the time for centering, problem solving, insight or prayer. Some chose quotes to reflect on while walking, like “Fall is proof that change is beautiful,” or carried a hefty stone to symbolize an emotional burden, leaving it at the center of the labyrinth.
One of the oldest contemplative tools known to humankind, its’ design found as far back as 3,000 years in a variety forms and cultures, the labyrinth continues to be popular and today can even be found in healthcare settings to promote health and wellbeing. “The small amount of concentration required to stay on the path, combined with the repetitive nature of following the pattern, is said to produce a calming effect that can do everything from reduce anxiety to combat chemotherapy-induced nausea,” sites the article “The Labyrinth Revival” in the Atlantic Monthly. During our walk, two children of a staff member came up to the information table and tried out our frisbee sized portable finger labyrinths. “It’s so relaxing,” one of the children said, following the carved path with her finger all the way to the floral center and then back out again to the exit. Her comment gave me the idea that I could bring these portable labyrinths to patients in the Children’s Hospital.
As a pediatric chaplain, I am always on the look-out for resources for children and their families that might support them spiritually or emotionally during their hospitalization. Families can experience shock, overwhelm, grief, and the effects of stress with a hospitalized child, forgetting how to relax and even breathe fully. Often, I invite them to integrate practices that might bring some calm, centering, some well-being in their hospital experience. Restorative practices, whether they be meditation or prayer, journal writing, time away from the hospital, time in nature, cooking, a talk with a friend, can be helpful. Our hospital staff also need to be reminded to take care of themselves, not only because of their demanding role as caregivers, but because of these extraordinary times when illness, financial difficulties, home schooling, care for aging parents, loss of social rituals or a monthly massage, may take a toll physically and mentally. It may be as simple as sitting quietly and taking deep breaths for five minutes. Or stepping outside and taking a walk. Might I recommend on special seasonal days, that you join us for a labyrinth walk.
We at the Department of Spiritual Services are here to support you. For more information about our services, programs and resources, please visit our website: https://uihc.org/spiritual-services