Hyde Park, N.Y. is on the east side of the Hudson River. It is where many rich folks built their mansions. Hyde Park is home to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Springwood,” as well as his Presidential Library and Museum. The Vanderbilt Mansion is in Hyde Park, too. But we were there to walk the labyrinth at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
The church was closed due to COVID, but the labyrinth was easily found in the walled yard beside the church.
It shares the space with a cemetery, a crypt, and several venerable, majestic trees.
The labyrinth is a simple brick-lined path in the grass. It is thirty feet in diameter in the classical style. There was nothing particularly special about the construction of this labyrinth, but the location was the most peaceful, pleasant spot I’ve been in so far. Maybe it was the presence of the cemetery that influenced the atmosphere.
After we walked the labyrinth, we sat on the bench beneath the arbor and absorbed the calm.
This was a place where time was altered. Perhaps it was the age of the church and graveyard that spoke of the continuity of nature and the cycles of seasons. We felt welcome.
The 15th of May was warm and sunny. We set off to find the labyrinth at the Grail Center in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Listed as a retreat or conference center, the Grail Center “welcomes to the public to use the labyrinth during daylight hours, and to respect any retreat participant activities that are going on at the time of your visit.” (Worldwide Labyrinth Locator).
The Grail Center proved to be a large, tall house with two circular drives, one in front and one in back. We drove past the front door looking for a sign of some sort, but there was none. We drove around the back circle where four cars were parked. Still no notice indicating the location of a labyrinth. We drove around to the main entrance again, and I got out to investigate.
The top portion of the Dutch door was open. I peered into a spacious foyer where a wooden statue of a peaceful seated woman caught light from the windows. “Hello! Hello!” my voiced echoed.
I heard women talking and laughing, but no one appeared. Not yet willing to give up, I went out to the car and parked it in the back with the others. Then, finally, a young woman came out, asking, “Can I help you?”
She graciously directed us toward the labyrinth, and also answered my questions about the Grail Center. It was in use today or possibly rented for longer by the Rural and Migrant Ministry. (http://ruralmigrantministry.org) I was torn—I wanted to learn more about her organization, but I also wanted to see the labyrinth. That, after all, was the reason we had come.
Off we went, down the hill, following a somewhat indistinct path past two cabins that I supposed housed retreat participants. On our left was an empty stone niche that had once, I guessed, held a religious statue.
The path came to a T and we went to the right, because I could see part of the stone wall that was in the photograph in the WWLL.
We skirted along the higher part of the stone wall which had a low archway built into it.
This doorway was blocked, but further down there was an arch where we entered. It felt to me like discovering an ancient ruin.
My printout stated that “The Grail Labyrinth is a five-circuit labyrinth adapted from the Tarry Town Labyrinth at Temple Cowley, Oxford, England.” It measures thirty-eight feet across.
At the entrance was a tile that read, “Enjoy the journey.”
On a podium was this quote from Rev. Dr. Lauren Artes’s book Walking the Sacred Path:
The atmosphere of this labyrinth and the place itself felt welcoming and warm. Even though the actual labyrinth and the stone walls were worn and in disrepair, the energy of the walkers felt young, especially because of the items many had left on the stones lining the path.
The poem in the following post captures my experience, so I won’t elaborate on that part.
This was my favorite labyrinth so far. I appreciated the setting: the crumbling stone walls, the surrounding woods, the mysterious path leading there.
As we often do, we donated to the labyrinth’s sponsoring organization.
The weekend following our first labyrinth hunt, we scooped up my good friend in North Salem and set out for the labyrinth at the Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield, Connecticut, not far from her house. Three fancy cars were parked in the driveway. The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (WWLL) said the property was always open, so we left the car and followed a path around a storage shed that led into a beautiful garden.
We passed a couple of outbuildings, nicely maintained. On the left was a patch of graceful fiddlehead ferns. On the right a pond glittered in the afternoon light. We wandered further, finding no labyrinth, but a profusion of flowers and shrubs.
A voiced calling out stopped us. “Can I help you?”
“Yes!” we called back. “We’re looking for the labyrinth!”
“That was closed a year ago,” he said. “This is private property now.”
“Sorry,” we apologized, only slightly embarrassed about traipsing around on someone’s land. It was such a pretty place that I didn’t feel too badly for trespassing.
Our next effort was more rewarding. At least we found the labyrinth at the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury. It took a while to locate the labyrinth on the opposite side of the parking lot.
Much of it was overgrown. As labyrinths go (in my limited experience) this one was disappointing, mostly because the stone-lined paths were obscured by grass.
I tried to follow the circuits but couldn’t see some of the turns.
It was again a half-successful hunt, but the tracking offered its own excitement.
Labyrinths are a walking meditation and are often seen as metaphors of our life. The walking meditation can be used for reflection and problem solving with the daily issues. When walking a labyrinth, we discuss the three R’s. Releasing, Receiving and Returning/or Reflection.
Before you walk, pause and take a few moments to quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the walking pace your body wants to go. Do what feels natural.
Releasing- As you enter the labyrinth, you follow the path to the center and try to develop a relaxed, calm state that releases concerns and quiets the mind. This is the time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
Receiving- Upon reaching the center of the labyrinth, on this labyrinth it is called the center rose. The rose symbolizes beauty, love and enlightenment. Each petal symbolizes the aspects of creation; mineral, vegetable, animal, human, the spirit world and the mystery of the unknown. The center of the rose is place of rest. This is a place for meditation and or prayer. This is a time of openness and peacefulness; you experience or receive what the moment offers you. Stay here as long as you feel the need.
Returning/Reflection- You choose when to leave the center, following the same path. This is a time to review and consider the healing forces at work and how they may apply to your life.