Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Buxton woman maintains labyrinth

Published in the American Journal

A Buxton woman is creating a peaceful refuge off Joy Valley Road, including a couple of stone circles and a labyrinth, for meditative walking.

Fran├žoise Paradis built her labyrinth, 60 feet in diameter, out of local sand and stones three years ago, when she moved to town from Presque Isle.

“I moved here because I found this place,” she said. Her home, where she also runs a psychotherapy practice, is in a secluded spot surrounded by trees and grass.

“I have all this lawn, that just called for a labyrinth,” which she had been working with for years to help patients.

Labyrinths date back to ancient times, and are often traced to Crete, though most are not like the labyrinth that trapped the mythical Minotaur, which was a series of winding passages hard to find your way out of.

Before the Crusades, wealthy Europeans went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. During the 12th century, the Crusades made roads too dangerous to travel. Some cathedrals were declared “pilgrimage cathedrals,” where people could visit and make symbolic journeys by walking a labyrinth. One of those was at Chartres in France.

Labyrinths, like the one at Chartres, on which Paradis’s is based, are not mazes, but rather single paths with multiple turns between the entrance and a destination spot in the center.

In modern times, they are used for spiritual or reflective purposes in many faiths, and not solely as surrogates for Catholics’ journeys to Jerusalem.

They can be used as part of walking meditation, or as a way to spend some prayerful or reflective time.

“The walk in is kind of a metaphor for your life,” Paradis said. The center is a place where realization and enlightenment can be found, while the walk out is a time to integrate the new realizations into your life.

Labyrinths exist all over the world, in various forms, including labyrinth-like designs made by native people in the Americas and Africa.

Paradis, who learned about labyrinths from a friend in northern Maine, had typically used seven-turn labyrinths, based on the Cretan design. “I had never done a Chartres labyrinth” before moving to Buxton, she said. Now, she uses a 13-turn path based on a design at the Chartres Cathedral.

She uses what she calls a “soul-directed approach,” in which she encourages her patients to understand what their souls want to do.

“When our life is aligned with our soul’s purpose, or our soul’s journey, we’re happy,” she said.

Paradis took a similar approach with the labyrinth. Having felt that the space was asking for one, she followed what she felt. “It’s like it guides you,” she said. “You’re not the one that is in control.” She determined the location of the entrance and the positions of stones in the center, and laid out a 60-foot circle by using a dowsing rod and a dowsing pendulum.

Dowsing, most commonly known as a way of seeking underground water, has also taken on a spiritual significance for some, who believe it can be used to determine energy lines in the Earth, or even in the human body.

“A whole bunch of synchronicities happened” during the construction. The man who dug a hole, to be filled with sand for the base of the labyrinth, recommended a landscape architect who lives nearby.

During the early work, Paradis went away to a dowsing conference and attended a workshop on stone circles. When she returned home, the architect was in the middle of laying out a stone circle, having chosen the plan on her own.

The excavator also owned a gravel pit, and delivered a load of stone, which Paradis used to mark the outside of the labyrinth. She went over to the pit and chose stones to line the paths. “I thought it would take me three or four years to collect rocks,” but it was done in a few weekends of work.

Mostly, the labyrinth is used by her patients, either as a way to relax and focus before a therapy session, or during a session, “when they’re stuck” on an issue or need to make an important decision. At those times, Paradis will have her patients walk the labyrinth with a particular intention, and seek inspiration and guidance during the walk.

But other people find Paradis’s Web site,, which is
named after her property. And four or five times a year, they call up to make an appointment to walk it, or ask about retreats Paradis offers.

She has room for eight people to stay, and is working on renovating a barn to allow more lodging.

Most of her retreats are for her patients, though occasionally other groups will be a good fit for her work. She also opens the labyrinth to the public around the summer solstice. Without an appointment, the labyrinth is closed to the public, to protect her patients’ confidentiality.

Her therapy clients have different reactions to the labyrinth. Some walk it once and don’t ever do it again, while others have transforming experiences.

“It takes so long to go through that your mind just goes quiet,” Paradis said. “Once you’re in the path, if you’re going to continue in the path,” you have to focus. Many people are “amazed at how quieting it is.”