A couple of years ago at the start of the first Garden Club of the year, I asked the group what they wanted to do in the year ahead. I allowed them to choose a space in the school that could be something they transform by planting some seeds or making a bit more green. That was the first time I heard about the “Big Rock”. I never even really knew about this place until the group of 30 or so of the kids brought me to this space just beside the gravel field.
Of course all the kids loved it! It had this massive boulder called the “Big Rock” that the kids immediately showed me how they all ran and clammered up to sit on, it has 3 benches, a wonderful oak tree and is surround by the forest. There is even a creek near by that you can hear after the rains.
Most of the kids wanted flowers and maybe an arbor…a gate to welcome people I now remember was also part of the ideas…maybe a few more trees but mostly, lots of flowers.
The plans and ideas sat in a folder for awhile and then while searching for garden ideas to create without much of a water source (no way our hose could get to that space and rain barrels are yet to be approved by the district) I came across the idea of building a labyrinth in this beloved space.
What is a labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a path design that can be found in many forms: traced in the sand on a beach at low tide, painted on floors of cathedrals, lined with rocks in the dessert, rolled up in a canvass that can be spread out on a floor, or painted on concrete in all kinds of spaces. They are tools that people can use to find peace; a walking path of winding designs with one way in and one way out and a centre to stop and pause and reflect. Ultimately, labyrinths are mindful tools that anyone can use when faced with an issue. The idea is that instead of looking outside for answers, the person walking the labyrinth finds the answer within themselves by the time they walk out of the labyrinth.
A huge idea for a school right? In a system where kids are mostly inside the classroom learning all their subjects; except if they happen to have a garden 😉
We had no idea how to build or create a labyrinth. There are several sites on the net, a man who creates them at low tide at the beach at Spanish Banks (http://walkingalabyrinth.blogspot.ca/) sometimes and there is a labyrinth lady too. But when it came time to write a grant, ask for funds and design this thing, Merrill my side kick parent, Al our principal and I had never really experienced anything like this before. The key thing was though, we were all willing to figure it out. Everything is figure outable after all!
2 years pass by with many design ideas out the window. We looked at paving stones, adding a slab of concrete and painting the design on, in laid concrete or rocks. They all went out the window as the main concern was to be honest, what would the kids do with the rocks or paving stones? Would they could they pick them up and throw them at each other? How can we get this approved if there is any trace of threat of injury despite the intentions of what it is “supposed” to be used for?
Finally, after attending a summer wedding at the UBC Botanical Gardens, I came across a labyrinth there…I almost actually didn’t even see it at first because the design was in laid right into the grass.
Finally we had a design that would work. Mind you, we had submitted a proposal with the paving stones that was approved by the District so changing it to this we felt would be even better and easier to get done. Also, the costs of crushed gravel vs paving stones was a big difference.
A grant submission went into the Evergreen Foundation which was a group I had long wanted to become more connected to anyway as Dolores Altin and I were connected from the first time we met several years ago now. A year after that, we finally had funding to start this project.
Most labyrinth projects at schools are created by teachers who are on board first. We worked a bit backwards, getting the staff on board after funding was secured. It wasn’t a hard sell though. Here we were offering a space to use for the classes outside of the classroom; a place for teachers to bring their kids when they were facing a conflict and needing resolutions. Comments from the teachers included: “I’ll be first to line up and use it on a Monday morning!” as yes, it does seem really easy for an adult to wrap their brains around.
But what about the kids? Getting kids engaged in planting of food seemed so much easier. Would they “get” what this labyrinth thing is even?
All I could go with was what I knew of my Garden Club members and here was where a lesson in trust comes into play. You just never know what a kid already knows. When we talked about this idea to the group of kids who wanted to do something at the Big Rock, I wasn’t sure if they’d go for it. Some were definitely confused but one pair of siblings knew exactly what I was talking about. The two sisters went to a church that had a labyrinth and quickly, the older sister became my “go to” student for support. She always corrected anyone who thought a labyrinth was a maze for example: “no, a labyrinth has one way in and one way out” she would say. I also had the most memorable heart felt conversations with Anna when we talked about the idea of sand blasting our names on to the Big Rock itself.
In a conversation up to the Big Rock one day during the planning phase,Anna thought about how great it would be to add all the names of the Garden Club members who came up with the idea for the Labyrinth. In reflection however, she said this: “The only thing with adding our names to the rock and not anyone else is that everyone else will feel left out and that’s not ok.” Instead of squashing her whole idea, I suggested we echo what we have around the garden and engrave the words of Virtues instead, those words will never change as being a part of who we are after all: Peace, Love, Compassion, Trust, Forgiveness, Service, Responsibility, Confidence, Respect, and Patience. I checked with Anna and she liked this idea.
See, this is what I love about these projects; when else would I or anyone have the chance to have this kind of conversation with a student? When else can we allow their light to shine this way? That is the intention with this space and the garden space, platforms for greater heart felt conversations. I just feel blessed to be a witness to these thoughts and so many others these kids can have.
And here we are, on Pi Day March 14, 2014, having just finished presenting the whole idea to the entire school. Standing before the large crowd of 270 (minus one class on a field trip) I found myself wanting to be a channel to my higher self and just allowed the words to flow. I wanted to explain the best way I could what the labyrinth will be, how it can help them, how it is everyone’s and that we need to respect it, how it will be a legacy piece for the Grade 7 students (let alone a math lesson!) and then how to use it when it has been built. All eyes were on me with focus and interest and even the little K’s were for the most part, quietly listening. I included my story with Anna and watched her face light up with recognition. The virtues were mentioned and even though Olivia helped us 3 years ago, her hand still shot up with a memory of the day she painted the word “Confidence”.
We hope to have inlaid slabs of stone engraved with words like Peace, Forgiveness, Love and Gratitude that will be stations for the students to stop and reflect upon in the future as well.
Al our principal, ended the assembly the best way ever, with a slide show compilation of photos of the kids from the past year to the songs “Brave”, “Roar” and “Happy”. Of all the things we can teach our kids and this is where I resonate most with our principal, it is to be happy. I hope this labyrinth as tool for mindfulness will be used for the kids to find their own happiness within themselves.
Stay tuned for posts about our build that is set to happen on April 2, 2014 with 3 of the 12 divisions from the school, an opening ceremony in June and a mindful meditation in May with Child’s Pose, Dana Mahon