Labyrinth – A Sacred Journey


When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze but they are not the same thing.  A maze is a puzzle to be solved using logic to navigate the turns and blind alleys to find the right path.  A labyrinth has only one path.  It is unicursal.  The way in is also the way out.  There are various labyrinths that have evolved over time, with the most well known being the Cretan, Medieval, Classic and Chatres patterns.  

Lake Erie Arboretum, Pennsylvania. Photo: wikipedia

Labyrinths have been found in all cultures and continents since 2500BC.  Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Indians, Mayans, Europeans, Africans, Australians and Native Americans have all discovered the pattern of the labyrinth at some time and it has been adopted as a sacred symbol by many religions as a metaphor of a spiritual journey. 

Ancient Labyrinth at Galicia, Northern Spain. (Photo: wikipedia)

A labyrinth is an ancient and archetypal symbol related to wholeness.  It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path that we can walk.  It’s a physical metaphor for life’s journey, the journey each of us makes to our deepest self and back out again out into the world, usually with a renewed understanding.  When walking a maze, you make decisions at each turn.  A labyrinth offers only one choice.  Will I enter or not?

Hedge Labyrinth at Villa Pisani, Venice. Photo:wikipedia

 I’ve walked a labyrinth several times and each journey is different.   I’ve walked alone, slowly and quietly.  I’ve taken thoughts in with me and left them behind.  I’ve walked with others.  I’ve sat at the entry and decided not to walk.  I’ve walked in grieving and come out lighter.   I’ve walked in with expectation and come out empty handed.  I’ve stomped my way through anger sometimes.  I’ve let someone else set the pace.  I’ve sat down in the middle.  I’ve been bored.  

City of Troy, Yorkshire, UK. Photo: courtesy Simon Garbutt (wikipedia)

 I’ve paused before exiting deliberately trying to hold my new perspective as I return to my world.  I’ve shuffled past people along the way or had them overtake me.  I’ve kept a steady rhythm or varied my pace.  I experienced nothing but frustration.  I’ve felt lost even on a one way path.   I’ve experienced an intangible force that has united me with the greater scheme of things, anchored me to heaven and to earth.  Each time, it’s a new experience and teaches me something. 

Boston College Memorial Labyrinth. Boston, USA. Photo: wikipedia

 To me it’s a physical meditation, my eyes are open, I soon find a rhythm, I am moving yet feel more still as the journey goes on, it connects me to the sacred in a simple but mysterious way and reminds me the sacred cannot be confined to a particular place or building or culture or religion.  

Latin inscription on a pillar at the centre of a labyrinth. Cambridgeshire, UK. Photo: Michel Diujves, wikipedia

The decision to enter the labyrinth is a metaphor for our spiritual and sacred journey – and that decision is not always easy.  If you get the opportunity to walk a labyrinth, it will transform you in some way, if you let it.  You don’t need to know much more than this to begin, there is no right or wrong way to ‘do it’.  That is the wonder of the labyrinth, and again reflects our journey of life. 

Stone Labyrinth on the island on Bla Jungfrun, Sweden. Photo: wikipedia

I love the circular patterns of the labyrinth.  It’s a reminder that life twists and turns, life is not a straight path.  It doubles back on itself, takes us where we don’t expect to go, sends us back along the same way sometimes, offers a new perspective, and frustrates us with its long way around.  

Labyrinth at Aschaffenburg, Germany. Photo: wikipedia

But it also allows us to go at our own pace, to experience a new angle at every turn, to rest in the centre of ourselves and take an all around view.  It encourages us to move forward, keep going, turn, breathe, rest, retreat and return. Every journey is different.  It brings balance and calms the soul.  And that feels like life to me.  

Edinburgh, Scotland.

Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo: wikipedia)

If you’re interested in walking the path and seeing what you find, check out these  Australian labyrinths  or the   World-wide Labyrinth Locator  for somewhere near you.   

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral (Photo: wikipedia)

 A fantastic online Labyrinth is available too.  It is quite simple to use and recreates the  Virtual Walk of the Chartres pattern found on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France (see photo above).   When we’re busy, tired and don’t have time to slow down, these online paths are a real challenge.  Maybe that’s just what we need…   Let me know what you find or lose on your journey.

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Beautiful Home Libraries


leather-bound

A few years ago we spent several weekends visiting homes with the view to buy.  In between scheduled visits, we stopped in at a property that was way out of our league but we were killing time and thought we’d have a look.  Stella was a very professional agent and she patiently showed us around the entire place, despite us clearly not being true prospects.  She lead us through the six car garage, into the sauna and past the his and hers dressing rooms.  I knew this wasn’t going to be our new house, but it was quite a treat to walk through a fantastic mansion and dream a little.  All my sense and practicality evaporated when she ushered us into “The library”.   It’s something I’ve always wanted to create in my home.  A quiet retreat where I can curl up with a book, a lap dog, maybe a warm fire, some gentle music.  Ahhhhhhh.   We didn’t buy that house, but I can still remember the feeling of warmth it evoked and I still long to create my own space.  Here are some beautiful home libraries to inspire you (and me!).

Courtesy: The Rusty Typewriter

Courtesy: The Rusty Typewriter (www.therustytypewriter.com)

Courtesy: Lexis Interiors

Courtesy: Lexis Interiors (www.lexisint.com/proj01d.html)

Mark Twain's house library

Mark Twain's house library (www.architecture.about.com)

Here’s a neat little window seat to perch on, I love the lighting in this picture below.

Courtesy: Business Week

Courtesy: Business Week (http://images.businessweek.com)

Home Library: West Newton. Mass.USA

Home Library: West Newton. Mass.USA (http://images.businessweek.com/)

I’m sensing a lot of library designers have gone for the wood-floor-with-rug theme.  I like it!!
Courtesy: Manhattan Cabinetry

Courtesy: Manhattan Cabinetry (www.manhattancabinetry.com)

The Google office in Zurich (below)  has a library room exclusively for staff where they can meet and relax.
At work: Google Office, Zurich.

Photo by pineapplebun (Flickr) Staff library room: Google, Zurich.

I love the mantlepiece in the picture below.
Courtesy: Library Designs

Courtesy: Library Designs (www.librarydesigns.com/fireplacemantels.htm)

The two-tier, walnut-paneled library at Biltmore House (below) contains some 10,000 volumes and a fireplace surrounded by a carved, black-marble mantel. On the second floor of the library, there is a secret door that George Vanderbilt used to come down directly from his bedroom to locate or return a book.

Biltmore House, North Carolina USA.

Biltmore House, North Carolina USA. (www.honeymoons.about.com)

Courtesy: Neville Johnson

Photo: Neville Johnson (www.nevillejohnson.co.uk)

Grand Library (Neville Johnson)

Photo: Neville Johnsons - Grand Library (www.nevillejohnson.co.uk)

Courtesy: Neville Johnson

Photo: Neville Johnson (www.nevillejohnson.co.uk)

Jay Walker is the founder of the Priceline company and lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut USA. His personal library (picture below) occupies 3600 square feet (330 m2) and features books, atlases, artifacts and models of space exploration, cryptography and James Bond films.

Jay Walker - home library, Connecticut. USA.

Jay Walker - home library, Connecticut. USA. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Walker)

Ahhh, happy decorating – let me know how you go.

To leave a comment, scroll up to the Title of this post and click on “add a comment”

An open door


I was reading a magazine last night and came across an article about a guy I knew ten years ago.  It was interesting to see what he’s been up to and where life has taken him.  It got me thinking about how some doors seem to open, while others close.  The door is a beautiful metaphor and has been adopted as a powerful symbol throughout human history.  The doorway can symbolise hope and opportunity, a new start and direction.  It’s a threshold, a passage from one place or state to another.  It’s an entrance, or exit where we anticipate what is on the other side.  It can represent the unknown, a choice or change.  As well as a warm welcome, doors often symbolise closure, leaving and ending.  Here are some beautiful images of doorways from around the world.  Try not to rush them, there’s some detail not to be missed.  Click on each photo to link to the original.  See what they say to you.  Enjoy.

Photo: Andrew P Brooks

Photo: Andrew P Brooks at flickr.com/photos92788661@N00/265494540/

Rome.  Photo: Victoria0805

Rome. Photo by Victoria0805 at flickr.com/photos/ztransmissions/725736472/

Photo: lensational

Photo: by lensational at flickr.com/photos/irene-lensational/3053004345/

Cambodia.  Photo: John Daiken

Cambodia. Photo by John Daiken at flickr.com/photos/59303791@N00/522910339/

el-jazzar mosque.  Photo:natashap

el-jazzar mosque. Photo:natashap at flickr.com/photos/natashap/2478202976/

Photo: TinaManthorpe

Photo: TinaManthorpe at flickr.com/photos/84265607@N00/1167791480/

Fountains Abbey, Nth Yorkshire.  Photo: John Daiken

Fountains Abbey, Nth Yorkshire. Photo: John Daiken at Flickr.com/photos/59303791@N00/1364544241/

Photo: Arthur Koek

Photo: Arthur Koek at flickr.com/photos/arthurkoek/

Photo: jefg99

Photo by: jefg99 at flickr.com/photos/21066820@N06/

Photo: giulifff

Photo by: giulifff at flickr.com/photos/giulifff/2333287594/

Photo: pyst

Photo by: pyst at flickr.com/photos/21603627@N00/

The Tao Te Ching – verse 47 (translation by Ursula K. Le Guin)

You don’t have to go out the door to know what goes on in the world.  You don’t have to look out the window to see the way of heaven.  The farther you go, the less you know.  So the wise soul doesn’t go, but knows; doesn’t look but sees; doesn’t do but gets it done.

Photo: nancz

Photo by: nancz at flickr.com/photos/nancycoyle/492157246/

Volcanic Glass – Obsidian


In the late 1980’s I had a geology lecturer named George whose humour was as dry as the rocks we were studying.  His lessons were always interesting and I clearly remember crates of rocks and minerals, assorted hammers (for all occasions) and lots and lots of dust.  It was during his class that I learned about igneous rocks and handled some incredible volcanic glass.

Obsidian is volcanic glass that is molten lava one minute and solid the next.

Lava eruption

Lava eruption (www.bhargavaz.net/rashi/volcano.html)

This is the Newberry Volcanic Monument in Oregon, USA.  Check out the solidified lava flow (obsidian glass) near the lakes.

Lakes and Lava Flow, Oregon USA. Photo:QTLuong

Lakes and Lava Flow, Oregon USA. Photo:QTLuong (www.terragalleria.com)

Pond at the edge of the lava flow.  Photo: QTLuong

Pond at the edge of the lava flow. Photo: QTLuong (www.terragalleria.com)

The lava cools so quickly it doesn’t form crystals like other igneous rocks (think Granite).  Instead, it cools rapidly and forms globules of glass that look deceptively like a sweet jelly.  It is often black, but depending on the minerals near the lava flow it can be coloured, or have ‘bands’ running through it.

Obsidian Flow (black).  Photo: janined

Obsidian Flow (black). Photo: janined (www.flickr.com/people/janined/)

Mahogany Obsidian.  Photo:MineralData

Mahogany Obsidian. Photo:MineralData http://www.mindat.org/min-27030.html

"Snowflake" Obsidian.  Photo

"Snowflake" Obsidian. Photo: GreatCabochons.com/cabs57.shtml

When obsidian breaks, it doesn’t snap or cleave in clean lines like other rocks or minerals.  It breaks in a circular, concave or convex curves.  This is known as “conchoidal fracture” and gets its name from the latin word for seashell, because of the spiral like pattern.

Conchoidal Fracture. Photo:Geology.com

Conchoidal Fracture. Photo:Geology.com http://www.geology.com/rocks/igneous-rocks.shtml

Conchoidal Fracture

Conchoidal Fracture http://www.geology.about.com/ Click picture to link

It’s easy to imagine ancient civilisations using obsidian as tools and cutting blades.  It is durable, micro thin and extremely sharp.  The Egyptians used obsidian scalpels during their surgery and embalming rituals.

Obsidian Flint Chips.  Photo: Andrew Alden

Obsidian Flint Chips. Photo: Andrew Alden (click picture to link)

Sharp edges that are "flint knapped".

Sharp edges that are "flint knapped". http://www.obsidianlab.com/terminology.html

It’s interesting to note that for surgical procedures today that require fine incisions (think cardiac surgery), our surgeons are returning to precision obsidian scalpels rather than the much ‘thicker’ steel blades.  Amazing huh?

Banded Obsidian.  Razor sharp.

Banded Obsidian. Razor sharp. http://www.gc.maricopa.edu/ (Click picture to link)

Peacocks


The peacock is a magnificent bird.  It’s a creature of inspiration to most of us,  who know (or hope) at some level that we are lovely, but are often intimidated about displaying our true colours in all their splendour.  The peacock displays his beautiful plumage for all to see.

Beautiful Blue Peacock.  Photo by: Absinthius (Flickr)
Beautiful Blue Peacock. Photo by: Absinthius (Flickr)

A peacock feather is a great example of a fractal in nature.  Its iridescent plumage is remarkable and stunning.  The white feathers have a pearlescent quality about them and reflect a different hue depending on the viewing angle.

White Beauty.  Photo: Guiseppe Toscano

White Beauty. Photo by: Guiseppe Toscano (on Flickr)

Woven into the myths and belief systems of cultures worldwide, the peacock presents itself through the science of alchemy, astronomy, Islam and Christianity, as well as Egyptian, Chinese and Indian cultures.  India has adopted the peacock as its national bird.
Peacock - Warwickshire Castle.  Photo: Haribo

Peacock - Warwickshire Castle. Photo by: Haribo (Flickr)

Some types of art depict peacocks looking backwards, towards their own tail.  A peacock’s feathers are renewed each year so this is considered a symbol for renewal.  Cultures around the world often pair peacocks and doves as focal points in the Tree of Life designs.  The one below is from India.

Tree of Life Peacock.  (exotic indian art)

Tree of Life Peacock (www.exoticindiaart.com/product/PB77/)

Peacocks are pure of heart.  They pair with a mate and are loyal and faithful to their partners.  To many, they also symbolise eternal love.   The bright spots are known as ‘eyes’ and inspired the Greek myth that the goddess Hera placed the hundred eyes of her slain giant (Argus) on the tail of her favourite bird.

Blue Eyes.  Photo: TodayIsAGoodDay

Blue Eyes. Photo by: TodayIsAGoodDay (Flickr)

Peacocks are a symbol of beauty, reminding us to take pleasure in life.  It is a symbol of beauty, prosperity, royalty, love, compassion, soul and peace.   In buddhism the peacock symbolises purity and their feathers are highly prized.

White Peacock.  Photo:Be Khe

White Peacock. Photo by: Be Khe (Flickr)

I love this next picture.  It’s a hybrid species, a cross between a white and blue peacock.

The White and the Blue.  Photo: Chi Lui

The White and the Blue. Photo by: Chi Lui (Flickr)

In one of Aesop’s fables, the peacock goes to Juno (the Roman name for the greek goddess, Hera) and he complains that the nightingale has a sweet song, and he does not.  Juno replied that the peacock has great beauty and size.  The peacock asked what good was his beauty without a great voice.  Juno wisely replied that every creature has its gifts and faults, and they should be content with all they have and who they are.

Sand Mandala – Tibetan Art


In 2001, two Buddhist monks constructed a sand mandala in the Ackland Art Museum in North Carolina USA.  It measured over five feet in diameter and is an exquisite piece of Tibetan Art.  Construction is a delicate and painstaking process.

Drawing the Mandala map

DRAWING THE MANDALA MAP. Click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum (www.ackland.org.art/exhibitions/buddhistart)

Throughout construction the monks pour millions of grains of fine sand, (usually coloured stones that have been ground) from traditional metal funnels called chakpur.

Ackland Art Gallery: Mandala in progress

MANDALA IN PROGRESS - click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

The intricate patterns and symbols within the piece are astounding.   I love the vibrant colours, symmetry and symbolism of the work and can appreciate looking at the smallest corner or the piece as a whole.

Ackland Art Gallery:  Mandala close up

CLOSE UP - click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

Ackland Art Gallery: Mandala closeup

CLOSER STILL. click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

Ackland Art Gallery: the mandala grows

MANDALA GROWING. click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

Once complete, the monks perform a closing ceremony that is very sacred and symbolic.  The final product is an absolute wonder.  Imagine a solid week of work creating this masterpiece.  Imagine how your neck and shoulders might ache from being hunched over the board for all that time, gently and carefully placing grains of sand in just the right places.
Ackland Art Gallery:  mission accomplished

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

The closing ceremony is a dismantling.  The monks who took hours to create the mandala also sweep up the mandala, capturing again the coloured sand.  (I want to cry – Noooooo!!!!)
Ackland Art Gallery: dismantling the mandala

BUT FOR A MOMENT. Click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

In Tibetan culture this symbolises the transient nature of life and the impermanence of everything that exists.   I suppose it means you really have to treasure something right in the moment, and remember it.
Ackland Art Gallery: sweeping the sand

THE RITUAL. Click photo to visit Ackland Art Museum

The sand or coloured stone is never used twice.  In some ceremonies it is given to the audience as a blessing, and reminder.  Sometimes the sand is swept up, wrapped in silk and taken to a body of running water where it is released back into nature.  Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, I guess.  There is something lovely about that idea – it started as rock, came from the earth, was pummelled into sand, was handled carefully and deliberately, became beautiful, was celebrated then carefully returned to its source.
In Tibetan ritual arts, the collaboration and execution of the sand mandala is considered much more important than the final product.  It sounds like another way of saying the journey is more important than the destination.  One day, it might just sink in…

Bright Lights, Big City


I’m one of the billions of people on the earth that live on the edge.  Sometimes I think I’m on the edge of sanity, but what I mean here is that I live on the edge of the land.  Actually, I live pretty much on the edge of a continent.

I think I’ve always assumed that there wasn’t much in the middle, in the heart of the land.  Mainly because when I travelled within Australia, it is a remote and arid land (mostly) and the distances over the beautiful but inhospitable terrain are vast.  It got me thinking about the rest of the world.  We know that India and China have massive populations, but what about other areas?  Where do we all live on this blue planet?

The picture below is from NASA and shows the location of permanent lights on earth.  This image was created with ongoing data from the Satellite Program which studies the changes in urbanisation over time.  The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanised, but not necessarily the most populated.  Even after more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit.  Antarctica is entirely dark.  Lights are beginning to appear in the jungles of Africa and South America.  Interesting huh?  See what you can see.

Earth Lights: Craig Mayhew & Robert Simmon, NASA. GSFC.

Earth Lights: Craig Mayhew (www.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=1438)