A labyrinth has one path that winds to the center that turns back on itself several times. Once at the center, there's only one path out. The journey in and back is a metaphor that can help quiet and focus thoughts for prayer and contemplation.
"The labyrinth is a place of walking meditation," explained Annelle Brown Tanner. "It's in a lot of hospitals."
Rapides Regional Medical center has installed a labyrinth for the community, the second in Rapides Parish. There also is one at the Wesley Center in Woodworth.
This also will be the second labyrinth located at a Louisiana hospital, said Annelle Brown Tanner. The other is at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette.
Annelle and Martin Tanner are Veriditas-trained advanced labyrinth facilitators who introduce people to what it means to walk a labyrinth. They also help build and design them.
About five years ago after attending a training session, the Tanners came home with a vision to create a labyrinth at a hospital, where the felt one was needed. The couple approached RRMC.
Lars Howlett, a professional designer and builder with Discover Labyrinths, is building a 7-circuit aligned design outside Rapides Cancer Center.
"What that means is the entrance is aligned to the entrance in the center," said Annelle. "It's a Chartres Essence. It dates to 800 years. It's a medieval-style labyrinth."
The Chartres is the longest, oldest continually walked labyrinth, she said. It's similar to the one in the Chartres Cathedral in France except that one has 11 circuits.
Some of the earliest patterns were found on stones and walls, then in churches and cathedrals.
Though it is not certain, Annelle said the labyrinth is believed to represent walking in a pilgrimage to a holy city such as Jerusalem.
"When it was unsafe to walk that far — too far to walk. But whole families would walk. There's some discussion that maybe the pilgrims even went around on their hands and knees. But they were in a lot of churches."
The practice is not just for Christians, she said. People of any religion, such as Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism, use them.
The one Howlett is building for RRMC is customized, said Annelle.
"This one will have a heart space," she said, which can be approached from four paths. It is not walked on but can be used for reflection as the walker makes their way around the labyrinth.
Some mistakenly think that a labyrinth is a spiral or involves trickery like a maze, but there is no trickery involved.
"Once you step onto the labyrinth, you just follow the path," said Annelle. "It is a peaceful, meditative time for you to listen and to reflect."
It can be walked as slowly as anyone wants, even if others are on the path. People can walk around each other just as they would on a sidewalk.
There is only one path that leads to the center, which represents a space or an encounter where the walker listens to what God is telling them.
"Often, people find insight in the center," said Howlett. "Or they find peace in the center. Or they find idea. Or just a moment out of schedule. Out of routine."
Labyrinths are sacred spaces, Howlett told a crowd gathered at the Rapides Cancer Center for a blessing.
There are times in life when people will be drawn to these places more than at others.
Annelle said she had a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She walked the path every day for a year.
It can be used for a number of things, said Howlett, such as healing, stress reduction, dance, creativity, problem solving, team work, conflict resolution and times of transition. And, there is no greater tool for processing grief.
Howlett feels a labyrinth is special for a hospital since many people are there in times of transition. whether it be personal or familial.
"This can be a space for patients, families, for staff — anyone in the community can find the labyrinth here and hopefully, it can reflect back to them what they need," said Howlett.
Annelle is delighted that it's near the Rapides Cancer Center. Martin was once a patient there, so the location has personal significance for the couple.
It also is within walking distance of the Emergency Department and the Women's and Children's Hospital.
"People can walk anywhere they are on Rapides campus and have time alone, by themselves, and walk," she said.
At other hospitals, Annelle said, some surgeons will walk labyrinths before doing specific surgeries.
"I'm a nurse, too, and some of us have dealt with some sort of tough times," she said. "It's time for us to come into perspective and ground ourselves."
Annelle and Martin know of pain and suffering since they worked on the Fetal and Infant Mortality and Child Death Review panels for the Louisiana Department of Health. The groups review all fetal and infant deaths and all unexpected deaths of children under 18.
Journey of life
"Many times labyrinths are metaphor for the journey of life," said Annelle. "We talk about release, receive and return as the steps of walking a labyrinth where you start with an intention."
What the journey will do is up to each individual walker, she said. Some may come out feeling nothing but answers could come at a later time.
"If you are looking to find an answer to a problem or seeking something, what you end up finding is yourself," said Martin. "To me it's very contemplative. It's very peaceful. It's very inside. It's just for me."
Howlett brought objects from others he's built and other sites around the world to place in the center of the RRMC installation. The purpose was to connect to the energy of those sites and set the new one's intentions.
"You being here is a way for you to connect your energy and and your intention to this labyrinth," Howlett told the crowd. "If you come here, you will keep this labyrinth alive. You introduce this labyrinth to other people, you will keep the energy and the life of this labyrinth going."
Howlett said no one knows when the first one was created so there is no "one way" to use one.
"It's about the experience, not expectations," he said.
Jason Cobb, RRMC chief executive officer, said it's a blessing because the practice signifies renewal, especially with all that is going on in the world right now.
"Not that the pandemic is over, but things look better," Cobb told the crowd. The labyrinth is great way to kick off a new start so it came at the perfect time."
This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Take a meditative journey in the Rapides Hospital labyrinth