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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Washington Area Labyrinths Inspire New Documentary

Mar 07, 2014 02:54AM

On the rooftop of the American Psychological Association office building in Washington, meditation teacher, Klia Bassing leads class participants on a walk around a stone labyrinth. The labyrinth, which was installed as part of the building’s environmental green roof, is one of several in the Washington metropolitan area that will be featured in Cintia Cabib’s new documentary, Labyrinth Journeys. The film, currently in production, will capture the stories of people who use labyrinths in several different settings and explore the effect this circular pathway has on their lives. Labyrinth Journeys will also trace the history of this ancient structure and symbol, which is still relevant and widely used today.

Unlike a maze, which has many pathways and dead ends, a labyrinth has a single path, which leads to the center and back out again. The labyrinth has existed for over 4,000 years. The earliest labyrinths appeared in Neolithic rock carvings in southern Europe, on coins from Knossos, Crete around 300 BC and on mosaic floors during the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, labyrinths that were large enough to walk on were constructed on the floors of cathedrals and used by Christians who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

Today, labyrinths can be found in hospitals, schools, churches, office buildings, public parks and gardens, correctional facilities, retreats and private homes. The Washington area is home to several labyrinths, five of which will be featured in Labyrinth Journeys

Labyrinths are often used to meditate, reduce stress and work out a problem. As a part of its Cathedral Crossroads program, the Washington National Cathedral hosts monthly labyrinth walks on a canvas labyrinth to the accompaniment of a harpist. Terri Lynn Simpson, who coordinates this evening program of contemplation, says, “Some people walk as part of their regular spiritual practice. Others come when they have an issue they're struggling with and are seeking guidance or clarity.” Across town, the American Psychological Association’s rooftop labyrinth is a peaceful oasis for office workers to unwind. Assistant Executive Director for Staff Initiatives Holly Siprelle says, "We felt it was important to have the labyrinth on the roof to provide people with the opportunity for contemplation—an opportunity to relax and renew."

The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland is one of several medical facilities in the country that uses labyrinths as tools of therapy and rehabilitation for its patients. The striking outdoor labyrinth in the Angel Garden is designed with red and gray concrete paving blocks, while the indoor labyrinth at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence sits at the center of a skylit atrium known as “Central Park”.

Labyrinths are often communal spaces and places to just have fun. Vickie Baily enjoys sharing her home garden labyrinth in Garrett Park, Maryland with the local community. She says, “Whenever I see people looking at the labyrinth, I invite them to walk it any time they wish.” The labyrinth is a favorite destination for neighborhood children, especially on Halloween, when trick-or-treaters traditionally run around the labyrinth in their costumes. At Murch Elementary School in Northwest Washington, parent Lisa Lavelle Burke says she and her son enjoy racing each other to the center of the school’s brightly painted labyrinth. During recess, the school’s peer mediators use the labyrinth, with its peace pole at the center, to mediate their classmates’ conflicts.

Each of these labyrinths is unique in its setting and in the individuals it serves. Labyrinth Journeys will focus on the personal stories of the people who are drawn to this archetypal symbol and explore how it has changed their lives. 

Here are just a few of the labyrinths in our area. To find a complete list, visit:

Georgetown Waterfront Park, 33rd St. and K St., NW, Washington, D.C.  20007,

St. Thomas' Parish, 1772 Church St., NW, Washington, D.C.  20036,

Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD  20902,

St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 6030 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD  20814,

Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 4444 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, VA  22204,

Barton Park, 2401 10th St. N., Arlington, VA  22201,

Cintia Cabib is a documentary filmmaker whose award-winning programs have aired on PBS stations and on cable television. For more information, visit


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