Maze maker sets up ‘pop-up labyrinths’ in Burrillville

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BURRILLVILLE – They’re meant as a meditative device – a quiet activity to help the participant collect their thoughts and discover a sense of peace.

And now, Burrillville resident Jennifer Phillips is setting up labyrinths throughout town as a way to help others cope with stress during the pandemic.

Thanks to the Hollywood portrayals of the complex mazes, the word “labyrinth” has a mystical connotation for many, bringing up visions of gnomes to outsmart, and dragons to slay.

But the meaning and modern day use of the devices is far more calming and simplistic.

“I am not one who can sit and meditate, and I know how good it is for you,” Philips told NRI NOW this week. “Walking through a labyrinth gets you into that meditative state by clearing the clutter in your mind. The walking helps you disburse that energy.”

Phillips first encountered the concept of labyrinths through her work as an herbalist while attending the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, where they had a labyrinth set up for participants. At her teaching garden in Pascoag, Jenza’a Garden, Phillips grows and teaches others how to grow medicinal herbs.

Describing herself as a “failed meditator,” Phillips notes that there’s a particular appeal to labyrinths for those who have difficulty calming their minds: the set paths eliminate thoughts about time, and questions about how long you’re supposed to do the activity.

“The nice thing is there’s an end point,” she said. “The goal is to get to the center, and then return.”

While some labyrinths are indeed extensive, if you’re imagining a massive walled maze spanning across an endless field, think smaller. Based on ancient patterns, the mazes can be minimal size, and the one Phillips has painted in the parking lot of Berean Baptist Church on Chapel Street is around 24 X 24 feet, far more a short meander than an adventurous journey.

It’s in keeping with others built in gardens and other small, hidden spaces by fans of the meditative paths. One of the best known labyrinths, on the floor in the cathedral at Chartres, France, is only 42 feet across.

Phillips trained to become a labyrinth facilitator at the non-profit Veriditas International in San Francisco, Cali.

“There’s tons of patterns out there,” she said.

Labirinto della Masone in Italy

Best described as circuitous paths that lead from a beginning point to a center, labyrinths are found all over the world, from the Swedish Lapland, where some 100 of the paths can be found along the islands and coasts, to Gedimedu in India, where one discovered in 2015 is believed to be more than 2,000 years old. The phenomena itself dates back tens of thousands of years and more than 5,000 can be discovered via the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator. 

They are created with all different materials, from elaborate patterns on tile floors to long canvasses rolled out for events. Many outdoor labyrinths are built with stones, and one that Phillips built at her home was created with wood.

Many fans believe that the center is a sacred space.

Phillips decided to create pop up labyrinths in Burrillville as a volunteer service to the community.

“We’re in a stressful time and I wanted a way to give back,” she said. “There’s a lot of medical reasons to do it. I can bring something to the community.”

If you do encounter one of the labyrinths around town, she asks that you walk alone, or with members of your household, and wait your turn at a distance.

Phillips plans to create more, and her next will be painted on the grounds of Hero’s Park by the Burrillville Police Station. She is seeking additional locations.

She’s hopeful others will use them as an easy way to destress, as she does.

“You’re simply following a path,” Phillips said. “It’s just a tool that helps to quiet my mind.”

Anyone who thinks they might have a good location for a labyrinth can contact Phillips via Labyrinths by Jenza’s Gardens.

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