April 26, 2004

Organization Hopes to Create Labyrinth at Anabel Taylor Hall

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The Cornell Labyrinth Society held an exhibition and reception in the Carol Tatkon Center on Friday to educate the community on labyrinths — mysterious structures which are believed to have the ability to reduce stress and inspire peace. The traveling exhibition, which is owned by the National Labyrinth Society, was brought to Cornell from Washington, D.C. Three speakers gave talks during the reception and outlined plans to bring labyrinths to Cornell.

David Gallagher, director of the Labyrinth Society, addressed what he described as a misconception of labyrinths being mazes. “A maze is a walkable puzzle, whereas a labyrinth is a single, unitary path,” Gallagher said. He displayed slides of labyrinths throughout history and around the world, including a photograph of the oldest dated artifact from 1200 B.C. “We probably have on the ground well over 3,000 labyrinths in the U.S. and at least 1,000 portable labyrinths.”

Dr. Wong Wai-Kwong, counselor therapist at Gannett, spoke on the benefits of having a labyrinth on a college campus. He noted that the Cornell environment in particular is stressful, citing that the Top Colleges Guide ranked Cornell number one in terms of academic stress. According to him, the number of medical leaves for psychiatric reasons has steadily increased, and mental health issues, especially depression, pose a serious issue at Cornell.

“The students I meet with are often confused, frightened, sometimes desperate,” Wai-Kwong said. “The maze is designed to confound, to confuse. You think, do I go back, go forward, turn around, start all over? There’s only one way to go in a huge whirl of choices. Most choices feel like they’re wrong, and they probably are. With labyrinths, on the other hand, there is no right or wrong, the journey is what counts.”

Wai-Kwong went on to say that the more choices we have, the more overwhelmed we are.

“Cornell students as a whole are problem-solvers. But often times, in our desperation to solve problems, we create our own mazes.” Jane Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work, spoke on how labyrinths could be used as a spiritual tool.

“It’s quieting … it amplifies whatever is in you. Life is not linear. The labyrinth invites us to consider that life is not ever neat … life doesn’t change, but your relationship to life changes.”

She said that benefiting spiritually from the labyrinth is an ongoing process, that “lightning doesn’t strike every time.”

Several landscape architects presented their designs for the proposed labyrinth, which they hope to create in the courtyard between Anabel Taylor and Myron Taylor Hall. If the project gains approval, the labyrinth will act as both a stress-relieving entity for the Cornell community and as a memorial for the 21 alumni who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, according to planners.

“It was interesting to learn the difference between mazes and labyrinths,” said Stephanie Wilpon ’06.

Cheryl Yeoh ’05, president of CLS, had the idea to propose a labyrinth for Cornell’s campus last summer at a leadership camp which featured a labyrinth.

“I reflected on how stressed I was from my classes and the loneliness that came from being away from home, and how my friends were experiencing the same thing. I wanted a resource that would allow me to be at peace with myself,” she said.

Disturbed by the high suicide rate on campus, Yeoh “sought to create a vision that would directly alleviate stress.”

Upon walking through the conference’s labyrinth, Yeoh said she felt “calm and at peace.”

“In Ithaca alone I think there are three labyrinths,” she said. “They’re really universal, and they’re found in almost every major religion in the world. It’s very meditative, and helps you to relax and be at peace with yourself. The walk can be very healing.”

Cornell’s administration has acknowledged the project, and CLS is in the process of completing a project approval request. In the meantime, CLS is trying to educate the community on labyrinths and their potential benefit to the Cornell community. The project has garnered support, especially from the director of grounds Dennis Osika and Assistant Dean of Students Alice Green.

“I’m trying to be supportive of what I think is a nice concept and could enhance the campus,” Osika said. “It has a lot of merit and it would make a nice addition to campus if properly done. One of the most critical parts of any project is getting a conceptual design that meets the approval of the executive committee on campus so they can decide if it’s a high enough priority for funding.”

Osika said that the students involved had approached him to ask for his input and technical assistance, as well as his opinion of the project’s merit.

“I was impressed with [the students’] professionalism and give them a lot of credit. I don’t know anyone I’ve spoken to who didn’t think it was a good idea,” Osika said. “With all the problems in the world, it lends itself to greater emphasis on peace.”

CLS will bring a 50-foot diameter portable canvas labyrinth to the One World Room at Anabel Taylor Hall for students to walk through between1 and 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Archived article by Maya Rao
Sun Staff Writer