Taking the path for a labyrinth in Greenfield

  • Elise Schlaikjer's labyrinth in Greenfield August 29, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Susan Mareneck, Maggie Sweeney, Sandy Brown and Elise Schlaikjer walk Schlaikjer's labyrinth in Greenfield. August 29, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Elise Schlaikjer, Maggie Sweeney and Susand Mareneck at Schlaikjer's labyrinth in Greenfield August 29, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Saturday, September 02, 2017

It may amaze you to know this, but a labyrinth is not simply a maze.

Rather than the kind of puzzle, with choices along the way for human or mouse, a labyrinth like the kind being planned for Greenfield is a one-course path with no decisions to be made.

“A maze is intended to amuse and deceive you,” says Maggie Sweeney, a member of a community labyrinth planning effort that grew out of a labyrinth group at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew. “It’s a puzzle, like the corn maze in Sunderland. You get in, can you get out again? It’s a challenge.”

A labyrinth, though, has only one way in and one way out. Rather than trying to deceive or trick you, it’s meant to calm and center you, Sweeney says.

“You put one step in front of the other and follow the only route there is to follow, without having to question at all where it is you’re going or why you’re going there ... You’re simply following the path that’s been laid out. There are no choices. Zero.”

The labyrinth — which has a history that goes back more than 3,000 years to ancient Greece — encourages contemplation, much like yoga or walking meditation.

The parish-based project, which is planning a Sept. 14 “community supper and conversation” to discuss what a Greenfield community labyrinth might look like and where it could be located, is something of an unfolding journey itself.

The informal St. James group that’s had monthly labyrinth walks for the past couple of years, visiting labyrinths around the region and spreading out a folded, 30-foot diameter one in the parish hall, was organized by Elise Schlaikjer, whose fascination was sparked by the one she first experienced at a nondenominational spiritual retreat center she attended in Michigan.

“I fell in love with labyrinths,” said Schlaikjer, who used found stones to build one in her Leyden Road yard soon after moving there nine years ago. “To me its an important spiritual practice, and I find my life is richer for having that in my life.”

She began bringing a 30-foot-diameter canvas labyrinth to Saint James to share with some members the passion she has for the spiritual connection that the mysterious geometric patterns bring out for people, in connecting back to the earth and to a simpler life. It can be so transformative. Often, people’s lives are changed in some way. Not a big dramatic ‘aha!’ usually, but in the simple little things. Sometimes people get an answer.”

“They’re contemplative, peaceful,” says Schlaikjer, who hopes one can be built also at the Franklin County jail. “But it’s also a place to be playful. Sometimes people can get way too serious. We’re meant to be playful people, too, and joyous.”

Her church group, she says, is planning this project as part of “a vision that we have that when the society is so in upheaval now, what can we bring to the world that would be something of value to the community.”

Layrinths, which have been having a renaissance in rent years, have been built at hospitals, schools and even jails — like the Hampshire County House of Correction. A short video about that labyrinth will be part of the 5:30 p.m. community supper at St. James’s Whiteman Room, 8 Church St. (An RSVP is requested by Sept. 11 by calling 413-834-1998 or emailing communitylabyrinthfc@gmail.com)

The labyrinth project has won grants from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts as well as the Episcopal diocese of Western Mass.

The group, which is looking for collaborations in building a team to work on the project, has considered putting the labyrinth in the church’s courtyard but prefers a more central location where it will feel more available to everyone, said Sweeney.

Other possibilities could be on the grassy area owned by Eversource behind the Hayburne Building closer to the center of town, or at the hospital or the Town Common, if that’s what everyone agrees on, says group member Susan Mareneck.

“We’re really trying to keep an open mind,” she says, pointing out that labyrinths have been built of gravel, stone, concrete, grass, and with lavender and lilic bushes, in a variety of sizes. “There are so many possibilities.”

The planning process, Sweeney says, has all of the uncertainty of following a labyrinth path.

“I’ll think as I go around, ‘I’m going to the center this time, but then the path takes you on more circuits and you think, ‘Oh, I’m not as far along as I thought,’ then it takes you back again, and then it takes you there. It’s a cyclical thing, much as life as cyclical. Yes, think I’ve been here before, but I was in a slightly different place last time … You never know exactly when you’re going to reach that place in the middle or how many times you’re going go before you get there. … All can do is follow the path.”

Prue Berry of Rowe, who helped create a community labyrinth behind Montague Center Congregational Church this summer, adds, “It’s a wonderful thing. As you walk the layrinth, you get more and more out of your own cognitive mind and more into your kind of spiritual space. Just the walking of the labyrinth alone relaxes you. You’re not watching your cellphone, you’re not Tweeting… You are just there, you and the labyrinth and the sky and the earth. And the more you walk, and the slower you walk, the more there you get.”

You can reach Richie Davis at


or 413-772-0261, ext. 269